A “Truck Stop” in Indianapolis

After wearing the number three for the Bearcats for the three seasons, Mike Warren II is “RB 30” since they are listed alphabetically at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis this week. Due to a sore hamstring that he tweaked while training in Florida, Warren won’t run the 40-yard dash or do the shuttle drill until UC’s pro day, but he did go through the medical evaluation process in addition to meeting with teams.

Despite leaving UC with one year of eligibility remaining, Warren finished his Bearcats’ career sixth in rushing yards with 2,918 and his 37 total touchdowns rank second behind DeMarco McCleskey’s 41.

I spoke to “The Truck” on Wednesday.

Warren at combine

Mike, you’re here at the NFL Scouting Combine. You’ve got the cool gear and you’re among the best running backs in the country. Describe what this is like for you?

“It’s a dream come true. I’m just soaking it all in. Growing up as a kid you watch the combine. You play football your whole life and the hard work really pays off. I’m honored to be here.”

This is the first time we’ve talked since you made the decision to turn pro and you’re the first Bearcat ever to declare early for the NFL. What ultimately was the key to that decision for you?

“I felt like I proved what I had to do and I want to have a source of income for my family and my kids. That was really the main factor. Coach Fickell gave me great insight. We had a long talk along with Coach Doug (Phillips) and everybody really supported me in my decision. I made that bond with my teammates and coaches and they were all for it and agreed with everything that I was going to do. That’s when I really knew that I did what I had to do here at Cincinnati.”

I found it interesting that the response was overwhelmingly positive. Obviously, they would have loved to have you back, but people are genuinely appreciative of all you did, and excited about your future.

“Yeah, I feel like I’m getting the respect of the fans and my teammates and coaches. I’m a guy that earned everything I got and was humble in the way that I did it. I respected everyone around me and took pictures with everybody and signed autographs. Cincinnati supported me so I feel good about my decision.”

You carried the ball more than 500 times over the last two years and there were games in high school where you carried it more than 50 times. Was that a factor knowing that as a running back there are probably only so many times you can carry the ball in your lifetime?

“That was another big factor for me. Being a running back now, they say the lifespan is not that long. You take a lot of hits and blows – you might get hit every play. You’ve got to be a special type of guy to play running back. So that played a big factor in me coming out early too. I just want to get to the next level and start making some money.”

I saw a stat today that showed that of all the running backs that are here at the NFL Scouting Combine you had the highest percentage of yards after contact. What does that say about you?

“It shows that I’m a hard runner and it’s hard to take me down. I take pride in the first guy not taking me down. It lets teams know that you’ve got a “dog” running back. I like being under the radar. I’m keeping a lot of chips on my shoulder. It’s like Coach Fickell says, “Play hard.” That’s all you can do. Play hard.”

When you work out at your pro day, how important do you think the 40-yard dash is going to be for you?

“I think it will be very important. But every scout on every team here knows that I’m a football player and they know what type of running back they’re going to get.”

You had back-to-back 1000 yard seasons and set the school record for touchdowns in a season. The team had back-to-back 11 win seasons and won a pair of bowl games. How do you feel about the legacy you left behind at UC?

“The numbers don’t lie. But I was always a team player first. My first year we went 4-8 and it left a bad taste in our mouths. After that, we got it rolling and the legacy continues. They’re going to be great this year. My boy Gerrid (Doaks) is going to hold it down and Des (Ridder) is going to hold it down. It started with me and my class and Coach Fickell and his coaching staff and the success is going to continue.”

Describe the unique bond between you and Coach Fickell.

“Man, I can’t even explain it. We get along because we’re both competitors. Coach Fick loves to win and I love to win and that’s really what made me go there with two weeks left before signing day. I decided to go with Coach Fick because I knew what type of person he was and he’s a competitor man. We’ve got a bond. He could yell at me and we’d get into it at practice, but then we would laugh about it after. Coach Fick is my guy and had a really big impact on my life. Plus, he’s sent a lot of guys to the NFL so this is not his first rodeo.”

Were you worried about him possibly leaving for Michigan State?

“Yeah, I was. I was worried about him every year once we started winning because of the type of coach that he is.  But you know, he loves Cincinnati and Cincinnati loves him. I’m glad he stayed. But even if he did leave, I would still support him. That’s the type of relationship that we have.”

Alright, I’ve got to bust your chops about something. You wrote a beautiful farewell thank you letter to Bearcat fans, but you spelled Coach Fickell’s name wrong (he wrote “Fickle”).

“Everybody spells names wrong! I was in a rush but I apologize to Coach Fick.”

I think all you did for the program offsets one misspelling.

“Yeah, I hope so. I hope I did enough and nobody got mad for spelling a name wrong.”

Best of luck. We’re looking forward to watching you as a pro.

“I’m glad that I’ve got Cincinnati fans behind me. And I’m glad that you came out here. It lit my world up when I saw you and I’m glad that you came.”

Thanks Mike.

Pictures and Memories of Chuck Machock

My phone is filled with pictures of Chuck Machock. My head and heart are filled with the stories behind them.

There are several black and white images from his playing days that I saved whenever I spotted one. They were always good for busting his chops the next time we saw each other.

Chuck (#21 in photo) was a standout basketball player at Elyria Catholic High School near Cleveland and came to Cincinnati in 1956 on a full scholarship.  He was a sophomore when Oscar Robertson arrived on campus.  Race relations were obviously very different at that time and it was uncommon for white and black athletes to room together, but Chuck jumped at the opportunity to get to know Oscar better when the Bearcats traveled to road games.

That resulted in the running joke that I used over the years when I reminded listeners of the night in 1958 when “Chuck and his road roommate combined for 56 points at Madison Square Garden.”

Oscar scored all 56.

Robertson’s arrival and the publicity he attracted helped Cincinnati recruit a star-studded roster that eventually made five straight trips to the Final Four.  That made it difficult for Chuck to earn significant playing time so in his junior year, Coach George Smith asked if he would be interested in coaching.  At the time, UC had just two coaches for the varsity and freshman teams – Smith and Ed Jucker.  The freshman team would begin practicing first each afternoon under Coach Jucker, but after an hour he would leave to assist Coach Smith as soon as varsity practice began.  At that point, Chuck would run the remainder of the freshman practice even though he was still a student.  As a result, he aided in the development of many of the players that helped Cincinnati win back-to-back National Championships in 1961 and 1962.

There’s a photo of Chuck crouching in from of the bench when he was the head coach at Central Florida.

In his first season at UCF, Chuck got 17 technicals. According to legend, there was even an ejection where he kicked the scorer’s table so hard that he put his foot through it and lost his shoe. Rather than bending down to recover it, Chuck marched off to the locker room wearing one shoe.

The school president wasn’t thrilled with that behavior so the following year Chuck made him a bet that he would go the entire season without getting a “T.” They promised to go out to dinner after the season with their wives and the loser of the bet had to pay the check.

Chuck made it to the final game before getting his only technical.

That was close enough for the UCF president who picked up the dinner tab.

His best player at Central Florida was Stan Kimbrough and Chuck played a huge role in helping Stan transfer to Xavier for his final three college seasons where he earned a spot in the XU Hall of Fame before making it to the NBA.

So yes, Musketeers fans owe a debt of gratitude to Chuck Machock.

There’s a photo of us holding chopsticks at one of our many meals together.

As one of 10 children, Chuck didn’t go out to restaurants very often as a kid. As a result, he loved to dine out with a preference for Italian food, fish sandwiches (a must on Fridays), burgers, and hot dogs.

Especially hot dogs.

One morning before the Bearcats were about to travel to UConn, I got a call from Chuck. “Hey Jackass,” he said (Chuck’s phone calls usually began with a term of endearment along those lines), “Do you have the internet at your house?” “Uh, yeah Chuck,” I replied, “I have the internet. What’s up?” “Do me a favor,” he said. “Go to the internet and type in East Coast Dogs. You got that? East. Coast. Dogs.” Click. He hung up. East Coast Dogs turned out to be a gourmet hot dog restaurant in Hartford. Hot dogs, brats, sausages, funky toppings, etc. So I called Chuck back and said, “That looks great. Let’s go there for dinner when we get to Hartford tonight.”

When we arrived the place was empty. And filthy. But what the heck, we were there and decided to try it. When I asked the guy taking our orders if he had any recommendations he coldly replied, “I hate hot dogs.” Not a good sign.

If you wanted a soft drink they had a self-serve machine and if you wanted a beer there was a bar next door where you could order one and bring it back into the restaurant. So I went and grabbed a beer, Chuck got a diet coke, and we sat down to eat our gourmet hot dogs. Despite our surly server, they were actually really good.

So we’re enjoying our feast when Chuck suddenly blurts out, “Hey, do you want to laugh your balls off?” I said, “Sure, who doesn’t want to do that?” So Chuck holds up his cup and slowly twists it until I can see the words, “Tip Jar” written on the side. Apparently, he had accidently taken the tip jar off of the counter and used it for his soft drink. After I stopped convulsing with laughter I said, “Is there any money in there?” Chuck said, “I don’t know, let me find out.” He proceeded to swig down the rest of his diet coke and shook up the ice until he could see that there were in fact no coins at the bottom of the cup.

I often referred to him as “Tip Jar Machock” after that.

It reminds me of another story about Chuck and coins.

In our first season together, the Bearcats traveled to a holiday tournament in Puerto Rico and stayed at a fancy resort with a casino. The players used their spare time and spare change to test their luck at the slot machines with the exception of Immanuel McElroy who was married with two young children and was carefully saving every penny of his meal money.

When Chuck noticed that Immanuel could only watch as his teammates played the slots he stood next to him for the rest of the weekend and quietly slipped him coins so that McElroy could take part in the fun.

Nobody was left out of the party if Chuck was involved.

There’s the screen shot of Chuck famously getting kicked out of an NCAA Tournament game in Salt Lake City.

We obviously had a lot of laughs about that in the years that followed. From the seatbelt we forced him to wear in his first game the following year, to my tradition of ending every basketball broadcast by updating his streak of consecutive games without being ejected (Bill Raftery loved that). It was 446 games at the end of Chuck’s career.

That even amused David Letterman.

Whenever the Bearcats were in New York City for the Big East Tournament, I tried to attend a taping of the Late Show with David Letterman. The first time I went, I learned that Dave would take a question or two from the audience before the show began.

The next year I was able to sit in the front row, so when Dave came out to take questions I stuck up my hand and began frantically waving like Horshack from “Welcome Back, Kotter,”

Sure enough, Dave picked me and asked where I was from and what I was doing in New York. I told him Cincinnati and that I was there to broadcast the Big East Tournament on WLW Radio (knowing that Dave had listened to the station as a kid in Indiana). After he informed the audience that WLW was one of America’s great radio stations, I invited him to be a guest color commentator on the Bearcats’ game the next day.

Dave said, “That’s very kind, but don’t you already have a color commentator?”

I said, “Yes, but I might actually need you because my partner got kicked out of an NCAA Tournament game once for yelling at the referees.”

Letterman began laughing hysterically and asked me for the details. By the time I finished telling the story, the opening theme song started and it was time for the show to begin.

Dave ran out on to stage and here’s how his opening monologue began:

“Ladies and gentlemen, I don’t usually do this, but since it’s a Friday night and you’re in such a great mood, I thought I would kick off the program this evening with an impression. This is my impression of a college basketball radio announcer getting kicked out of his coverage of the NCAA Tournament.”

The audience erupted as the camera cut to me laughing like a hyena in the front row.

Dave continued: “The announcer is seated courtside, and he’s broadcasting the game back to…oh, let’s just say Cincinnati. The color commentator is such a homer that when there’s trouble for the home team – the Cincinnati Bearcats – he becomes so incensed that he jumps to his feet and starts heckling the referee.”

More applause and laughter from the audience.

“And it goes something like this,” said Dave. “Foul? Are you crazy! What are you blind! What are you trying to pull! That’s not a foul!”

And just like that, Dave’s ad-libbed imitation of Chuck Machock became a running gag throughout the rest of the episode, complete with the addition of Cincinnati sponsors.

“He wasn’t traveling!” Dave suddenly yelled later in the monologue. “What are you blind!

That’s not traveling! And we’ll be right back after this message from Kroger.”

After each rendition of Dave’s out-of-control basketball announcer, the camera cut to me doubled over in laughter at the Ed Sullivan Theater.

“Harrison brings the ball up to half court,” Dave said a few minutes later. “Bounce pass to Johnson, Johnson dribbles to the key, comes back out, takes a shot from three-point range. It’s good! What! His foot was on the line! His foot was on the line! What’s the matter with you ref! You’re out of here! And we’ll be right back after this message from Queen City Tires.”

It went like that for the rest of the episode. And just before doing the Top 10 list, Dave explained what happened to Chuck and introduced me in the audience.

It was a once in a lifetime experience. The only thing that would have been even better was if Dave had actually joined Chuck and me on a broadcast.

But for all the fun we had over the years ribbing Chuck about his ejection, it wasn’t really a story about an out-of-control announcer. It was about a fiercely loyal friend.

When Bob Huggins was ejected from that NCAA Tournament game, Chuck thought it was a severe overreaction by the official – especially in a game of that magnitude. Chuck wasn’t angry about a bad call against the Bearcats, he felt his friend had been wronged and let the official know about it.

If Chuck Machock was your friend, he had your back.

Finally, there’s my favorite picture of them all. It shows the two of us cracking up on press row.

We called approximately 600 games together and at some point we probably looked exactly like that before, during, or after every one of them. Nobody made me laugh harder or more often.

Chuck was a kind and selfless man who loved his family, his friends, basketball, and the Bearcats.

And we will love him forever.


Thanks Marty

I met Marty Brennaman sometime between the ages of eight and 13. We were introduced through a piece of furniture.

My mother had a hi-fi stereo system that was built into a big wooden cabinet that sat in our living room. There were speakers on each side and if you lifted the top you found a record player and AM/FM radio hidden inside.

At night I would press my ear close to the speaker and scan the AM dial in search of major league baseball broadcasts from distant cities. There was no digital tuner back them. It required the delicate touch of a sushi chef to move the dial an eyelash in either direction before a baseball game seemed to magically appear.

That was my introduction to Marty Brennaman. As well as my future employer 700-WLW.

Announcers like Marty, Detroit’s Ernie Harwell, the Mets’ trio of Bob Murphy, Lindsey Nelson and Ralph Kiner, and especially Van Miller of the Buffalo Bills helped foster my dream of getting into sports broadcasting and gave me an appreciation for those that do it well.

From 2006 to 2011, I was the radio/TV voice of the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox. I lived in Boston and my commute to Rhode Island for a home game was approximately 50 minutes each way with no traffic.

Two things made the drive tolerable. There were 16 Dunkin Donuts franchises between our apartment and the ball park – several open all night – so I never lacked for caffeine or sugar. But more importantly, I passed the time by listening to major league baseball games on satellite radio.

I discovered that my favorite announcers were great for different reasons. Vin Scully was a master storyteller with a poetic gift of language. Jon Miller of the Giants uses his vocal cords like a Stradivarius. Nobody can make the basics of baseball sound so exciting. And the late Dave Neihaus of the Mariners had a joyous tone to his voice that made the ballpark sound like the most fun place in the world each and every night.

Then there’s Franchester Martin Brennaman Jr. (for you trivia buffs, his Grandfather’s best friends were named Frank and Chester and he combined the two names to come up with Franchester).

I’ve written about my reverence for Marty before and jokingly referred to how he holds the greatest streak in baseball history. For 46 years and approximately 7,000 games he’s never botched a big call as the voice of the Cincinnati Reds. Additionally, Marty is the most candid team-employed announcer in the history of broadcasting. When the Reds stunk, he wasn’t afraid to say so.

It’s no coincidence that Marty rhymes with party because he lights up a room the moment that he enters it. He is effortlessly entertaining and that’s what makes his baseball broadcasts so unique. He’s funny, opinionated, and a relentless ball-buster who is also quick to poke fun at himself.

“I like Marty Brennaman, he’s a live wire,” Bengals president Mike Brown told me a few years ago. “He talks freely and shares his beliefs. He doesn’t hold back. If you don’t like it that’s alright with him. It’s fun being around him.”

One of the great privileges of my professional life was having the opportunity to fill-in on Reds broadcasts with both Joe Nuxhall and Marty Brennaman. And it gave me an idea that turned into one of my favorites stories to put together as a TV sports anchor at Fox 19.

The basic premise was “What would it sound like if Marty and Joe called a Little League baseball game?” So I went to a game with videographer Dan Wood who shot a ton of footage of the kids and coaches (including a Chris Welsh cameo). Then I wrote a script and had Marty and Joe provide the soundtrack. Here’s the result:

Despite numerous opportunities to leave Cincinnati for bigger markets, Marty stayed here and put his name and fame to good use.

He has been the guest speaker at more luncheons and sports stags than we could possibly count, and his annual golf tournament has raised more than three million dollars for the Reds Community Fund.

And who could forget what happened in 2012 when he told a Reds coach that he would shave his head if the team won 10 straight games.

When they did, Marty not only paid off the bet but did so on live TV in an event that raised $100,000 in one week.

Best of all, that night introduced many of us to the Dragonfly Foundation – an organization for children with cancer or blood disorders. The image of Marty kissing the heads of three young girls who had lost their hair due to cancer might just be the greatest moment in the history of Great American Ball Park.

I will miss listening to him call baseball games terribly, but I am so grateful that fate brought me to Cincinnati and allowed me to get to know Marty Brennaman.

Little did I know that the voice I heard coming out of that cabinet several decades ago would belong to somebody who eventually became a friend, mentor, and broadcasting hero.

Thanks Marty.

UC’s “German Giant”

If Lorenz Metz grew up in Texas instead of Germany, he might not be playing football at the University of Cincinnati.

“He probably would have been a guy that only a few schools have an opportunity to recruit,” said UC offensive line coach Ron Crook.

“His potential is off the charts,” said head coach Luke Fickell.

At 6’9”, 322 pounds, Metz has been nicknamed the “German Giant.”

“That’s a big dude,” said safety James Wiggins. “Once he gets on the field he changes. He’s funny and always talking to me outside of football, but once he gets on the field you don’t want to mess with him. You do not want to mess with him.”

Metz grew up playing soccer and table tennis in Germany before being introduced to American football.

“There was a friend in Germany who played club football and he asked me to join the team,” said Metz. “I went to an indoor practice and I kind of liked it. Once we got outside it was even more fun.”

After spending two years playing on the defensive line for the Kirchdorf Wildcats, Metz joined Premier Players International, an organization founded by former NFL player Brandon Collier to help European players earn NCAA scholarships. He chose Cincinnati over reported offers from Michigan and Georgia Tech among others.

“I got offers from other schools but I liked it here the most,” he said.

After arriving at Cincinnati last year, Metz was converted to offensive tackle.

“I never played offensive line before so it was a hard thing for me,” Lorenz told me. “Guys (on defense) are moving left and right and you don’t know before the play what they’re doing. It’s complicated but I’m doing my best.”

“It’s a developmental position where every day, every week, every year you’ve got to improve,” said Crook. “If you don’t come out with the right attitude every day it makes it difficult. He does. He comes out and wants to learn and wants to be great so it’s just a matter of getting him the information and letting him continue to progress.”

Metz only appeared in three games last season meaning he still has four seasons of eligibility remaining. Throughout spring practice he lined-up with the second string offense at left tackle.

“He knows he has a ways to go, but he comes out here with the right attitude and is so thankful and grateful,” said Fickell. “He’s going to get better every single day and that’s the thing you love about him.”

At the end of Thursday’s 15th and final spring practice, Metz blocked a field goal attempt to give his squad a win in a special teams competition.

“I think it was his first time doing it,” said Fickell. “To win the game he puts his big paw up there and blocks the kick so it was really impressive.

“Now we might have ourselves a new little field goal or punt blocker.”

Make that a large one.

Metz says he watched Sunday Night Football games at home in Germany. His favorite NFL team is the Philadelphia Eagles and his favorite player is J.J. Watt.

His coaches say that the “German Giant” has NFL potential.

“He’s come a long way,” said Crook. “He still has a long way to go, but he’s going in a good direction and he’s putting a lot of work into it. It’s very important to him so it’s been fun to watch.”

“I couldn’t even begin to tell you what his upside is as he continues to figure this game out,” said Fickell.

I’d love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@Bengals.nfl.net

If you’re on Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

A Q & A With “The Truck”

Michael Warren opened last season by running for 142 yards and three touchdowns in the win at UCLA. He ended it by earning MVP honors in the Military Bowl as he rushed for 166 yards and two scores in the victory over Virginia Tech.

Despite missing the regular season finale against ECU with a shoulder injury, Warren finished the season with 1329 rushing yards – the third-highest single season total in Bearcats history and only 32 yards off DeMarco McCleskey’s record of 1361 yards set in 2002. Warren’s total of 20 touchdowns (19 rushing, 1 receiving) broke David Small’s previous record of 17 touchdowns set in 1993.

As the Bearcats conclude spring football, I spoke to “The Truck” as he prepares for his junior season.

Did you exceed your own expectations last year?

“Honestly? Going into the season I didn’t expect to have that good of a year. It was just the will and the determination of wanting to win for my teammates. We had a bad taste in our mouths from (the previous) year, you know? But it’s always been a dream and a goal of mine to do something like that in college. I feel like I can do more. Last year people just started to get to know about me.”

The season started well and ended well…

“I can’t do it by myself. A shout-out to my teammates because everybody plays a role. You can’t score 20 touchdowns by yourself or get back on the field by yourself. So a big shout-out to my teammates and my coaches. But you’re right – it started well and ended well.”

You weren’t far off the school record for rushing yards in a season and you missed a game due to injury at the end of the regular season. Is that record on your radar going forward?

“Not really. I really just play the game for my teammates and go out there and compete. I love to compete and try to outplay the running back on the other team. Coach Fickell always talks about competing on every play and if you strain and impose your will on your opponent you get results like that.”

You did get the single-season touchdown record. What did that mean to you?

“Man, I’m blessed and I thank God for getting the record. I didn’t even know how many I had to get, but it’s cool having the record. I’m a record guy. I’ve been breaking records since I stepped on the field for high school football. Records are meant to be broken and I’m sure that at some point, one of those young guys like Tavion (Thomas) or Chuck (McClelland) is going to break it.”

Last year you guys formed a three-headed monster and this year it could be four with the return of Gerrid Doaks. How competitive is it among you guys?

“It’s about the brotherly love and the good competitive spirit in the running back room. We all know there are a lot of good running backs in the room and we all compete every day. I feel like that makes everybody better. When somebody gets their chance they want to make the most out of it.”

How happy is your friend James Hudson to be here (a former high school teammate who transferred from Michigan)?

“James is ecstatic to be here. He loves it. There’s nothing wrong with Michigan. He just feels like he fits better here. He fits in with everybody and he can play. That boy can ball. He’s going to be in the NFL one day.”

Was your positive experience a big factor in James winding up here?

“That’s my best friend. Once I heard that he was transferring I tried to get him down here. He’s a great offensive lineman and I’m a running back. The O-line is looking very good this year and James fits right in and gets along with everybody. He’s an athletic tackle and I just hope that he gets his waiver (to play immediately). I just think that no kid should have to sit out (after transferring). It’s a waste of time. A coach can get a new job and leave without anything happening but when a kid leaves he has to go through all these rules and regulations. I feel like if a kid wants to play they should just let him play. But I’m praying for James.”

I like watching you practice because you’re feisty. Is that a good word to describe your attitude?

“Everybody is feisty in practice. You have to practice how you want to play. If you practice hard you’ll get results in the game. There are guys that are just as good as you everywhere. It makes the team better as a whole if everybody goes hard on every play. You might be playing against your best friend, but when you’re out here on the field you’re not friends.”

Do you have a chip on your shoulder?

“I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder. I was overlooked in high school by a lot of colleges but Coach Fickell gave me a great opportunity to come here and I’m making the best out of it and doing the best that I can. I have a lot of people counting on me and you want to play with a chip on your shoulder. You don’t want to miss out on any opportunities.

When a lot of schools tell you that you’re not fast enough or not good enough it puts a big chip on your shoulder. Especially with all the accolades like winning Mr. Ohio, and running for all those yards and scoring all those touchdowns. You feel like, ‘What results do I get?’ But I’m blessed that I met Coach Fickell and the rest of the coaching staff. Coach Fick gave me a great opportunity and he believed in me from day one. That’s all that matters. When you’ve got somebody who believes in you and is going to push you and can be your father away from home.”

I’d love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@Bengals.nfl.net

If you’re on Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard


Whyle In Position To Play Increased Role

You know you’re great when they name a position for you.

In 2019 the Bearcats offense will include the “K-position.” The K is for Kelce – as in former UC star Travis Kelce who has topped 1,000 receiving yards in each of the last three seasons for the Kansas City Chiefs.

“That ‘K-position’ might be a tight end or might be a wide receiver or might just be someone who is athletic like Travis is,” said UC head coach Luke Fickell. “We’re going to recruit to it and we’re going to use it.”

“It’s a recognition of not only the level that (Kelce) plays at week in and week out in the NFL, but also of the great things he did while he was here,” said offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock. “We want to try to emulate some of those things and play that same style of football.”

The current Bearcat expected to get the most snaps at the “K-position” is senior Josiah Deguara who had 38 catches for 468 yards and 5 touchdowns last season. But the future of the spot could belong to redshirt freshman Josh Whyle.


The highly-touted recruit out of La Salle High School was expected to play a significant role last season before breaking his collarbone while attempting to make a catch on the third day of preseason camp.

“It was a one-on-one (route) in the corner of the end zone,” he said. “I went up and twisted and landed on it weird. I felt it click right away and I knew.”

Whyle missed the first eight games of the season before making his college debut on November 3rd vs. Navy.

“It was definitely hard,” Josh told me. “I couldn’t even get out there in camp and show what I can do. That was probably the hardest part for me.”

The 6’6”, 230 pound tight end only played in four games including the Military Bowl win over Virginia Tech meaning that Whyle can take advantage of the new rule instituted last year that allows a player to participate in up to four games and still qualify for a redshirt season.

“This is a big spring for him,” said Fickell. “He missed (eight) weeks during the season and still got the opportunity to play in those four games. He wouldn’t have been a redshirt guy had he not gotten hurt but this gives him an opportunity to take that other step. He still needs some experience of playing and doing some different things, but this is going to be an exciting spring for him.”

Over the past few weeks at spring practice, the Bearcats offense has frequently featured multiple tight ends from a talented group that includes Deguara, Whyle, Bruno Labelle, Wilson Huber, and Leonard Taylor.

“We’re experimenting,” said Denbrock. “I think that’s what the spring is for as much as anything. To move some of those pieces around and see what you’ve got and how far those guys have come.”

Whyle is likely to be a valuable weapon in the passing game while playing the “K-position” this year.

“We met with Coach Denbrock after the season and he thinks it’s best for me right now to drop a couple of pounds to get to 230 and stay there and maybe split me out more than being an in-line blocker,” Josh said. “I’m OK with that – it’s what I did in high school. Then down the road in my college years, maybe I’ll beef up a little bit and start working my way inside.”

“He’s a guy like Josiah Deguara who can get out in space and beat people one-on-one,” said Denbrock. “Linebackers and safeties in particular. And we’ve even toyed with matching them up against some corners that they can out-size and out-physical.”

“I feel like Josh Whyle is a mismatch,” said running back Michael Warren. “You can put him out wide and you can put him at tight end. He’s a great competitor and he can go up there and get the ball.”

Whyle’s potential was evident from his list of more than 30 scholarship offers including such schools as Auburn, Georgia, Tennessee and Wisconsin. After playing for an 11-2 team last season at Cincinnati, he’s thrilled with his decision to stay close to home.

“I don’t want to say that I knew it was going to happen, but everything the coaches talked about while I was being recruited was leading in this direction,” he said. “I love it here and I wouldn’t change my decision if I could.”

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A Few Words About My Friend Mick Cronin

Mick Cronin is the most competitive person I have ever met in any walk of life.

Mick's 300th win

He’s been my friend for roughly 20 years. We’ve celebrated memorable wins together, shared a ton of laughs, enjoyed great meals, and traded parenting tips since our kids Sam and Sammi were born about five months apart.

And yet, I still found him intimidating after a loss

When he would come out of the locker room to do the postgame radio interview, it seemed like his entire body was clenched like a fist. The tension was palpable as he seethed about what went wrong.

Additionally, members of his staff would privately joke about how miserable things were going to be the next day.

That competitive fire didn’t only show up after losses.

On the day of a game he couldn’t eat until it was over.

“When the schedule comes out I immediately look to see if we have 9 o’clock games at night,” he said earlier this year. “Those are really rough days. I can maybe eat a muffin before a night game but I just have too many nerves for my stomach.”

To me, that helps explain why Mick is a tremendous coach and did such a remarkable job in restoring Bearcats basketball to its place among the most successful programs in the country.

He’s a lifelong student of the game and a brilliant defensive tactician. But first and foremost, he demands effort. And his teams reflect his hypercompetitive personality.

“Effort is so important to who wins a basketball game and what you’re willing to accept is everything,” he told me. “You’ve got to try to get that edge. That’s not going to guarantee you victory, but it’s going to give you your best chance.”

Another key to his success if that Mick has the courage of his convictions. While he was always self-evaluating and trying to improve every aspect of the program, his core message never changed.

“Winners know why they win,” he said. “Teams that aren’t winning in sports don’t know why they’re not winning. They think it’s because their teammate doesn’t give them the ball enough or the coach doesn’t run the right plays. They don’t understand it’s because they’re not playing together, they’re not defending, or they’re getting outhustled. They don’t know that. Winning teams understand that.”

It certainly worked at Cincinnati where Mick won 296 games in 13 years, made nine straight trips to the NCAA Tournament, captured back-to-back AAC tournament championships, and won 89 games over the past three seasons – the winningest three-year stretch in school history.

But it might surprise you to know what accomplishment meant the most to him.

At our final weekly radio show of the year – the day after the conference tournament win over Houston – Bill Koch from GoBearcats.com asked Mick to reflect on the job he had done in revitalizing the program after the messy departure of Bob Huggins.

“It’s been a great run and it’s been a great honor of my lifetime professionally to coach at my alma mater,” Mick said. “Nine years ago we won on Senior Day and we dominated Georgetown – who had been to Final Fours and had pros and was a dominant team in the Big East. You know what I went through early on with teams that were outmanned and such. That was the moment where the arena was packed again, it was a Ring of Red game and everybody was wearing red, and there was no more animosity over former presidents or former coaches. People were just UC fans. People that had maybe been pitted against each other and had to pick sides – that was a moment where I thought that was all over with for the most part. They weren’t thinking about all that stuff that went on while I was at Murray State that was unfortunate and hurt the program and the school. To get to that point was my goal when I took the job. So from that point really it’s all been icing on the cake.”

Mick Cronin leaves the program in great shape. With the $87 million dollar renovation of Fifth Third Arena, a talented roster in place, and a great academic track record, there will be no shortage of coaches eager to take his place. Since becoming athletic director, Mike Bohn has made home run hires in Luke Fickell, Michelle Clark-Heard, and Scott Googins among others, and I am excited to see who he lures to replace Coach Cronin.

I am also excited to see how Mick does at UCLA. I have no doubt that the same formula that won big in Clifton is going to work wonders in Westwood.

Most of all I am grateful for our friendship and appreciate all he’s done for Bearcats basketball.

It was fun to have a front row seat.

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Future Bearcat Curtis Wins “Mr. Basketball” Award

When Sean Kilpatrick was playing for Notre Dame Prep in Fitchburg, Massachusetts I was living about an hour away in Boston. After he signed to play for UC, I braved a massive snowstorm and drove to one of his prep school games to see Sean play.

He was awful.

Kikpatrick’s coach assured me that it was just a rare bad game and that Sean would have an outstanding career at Cincinnati.

I did not have a similar experience when I went to watch future Bearcat Samari Curtis.

In mid-February when Cincinnati had a week between games, I took a peek at the Xenia High School schedule in hopes of seeing the 6’4” guard in action. Fortunately, the Buccaneers had a road game in the Dayton area, so I made the trip up I-75 and when I walked into the gym I spotted Coach Cronin in the stands.

Together we watched Curtis put on quite a show in an 86-72 win. Despite being held to three points in the first quarter, Samari finished with 42 points and went over the 2000 point mark for his high school career.

Samari and Mick

“There are roughly 50 guys in the state of Ohio that have done that before,” said Xenia coach Kent Anderson. “And he missed 11 games. He had a broken hand and missed six games as a sophomore and five last year with a concussion. You never know how many points he would have had.”

Curtis had a school-record 52-point game this season, averaged 34.4 points a game, and finished with 2,109 career points. On Thursday he was named Ohio’s “Mr. Basketball” for 2019. That award has existed in Ohio since 1988 and Curtis is the first Cincinnati recruit to win it.

“I love his competitive spirit,” said Coach Cronin. “He really loves basketball and loves to compete and I’ve seen him play at the highest levels of AAU and summer camps against the nation’s best players.”

Samari Curtis profile pic

The most impressive aspect of Curtis’ game the night I watched him play was his ability to drive toward the basket at high speed with either hand, abruptly hit the brakes, and softly float in a mid-range jump shot.

“I’ve really tried to develop that over the last couple of years,” Samari told me. “I know you have that at the next level.”

“He probably does that better than anything,” said Coach Anderson. “From 12 to 15 feet, he’ll stop on a dime and pull up. He just has such good body control and he can finish around the rim with either hand.”

For the season, Curtis shot approximately 52% overall, 33% from outside the arc, and 77% from the free throw line. He also averaged 5.8 assists to rank second in the Greater Western Ohio Conference.

“He can score any way,” said Coach Anderson. “Three pointers, mid-range, attack the rim, and at the free throw line. There’s really no weak part of his offensive game. As he gets stronger and gets down there in Coach Cronin’s system, I just think the UC fans are going to love him and he’s going to love the atmosphere at Fifth Third Arena.”

Curtis verbally committed to Xavier in February of last year, before reopening his recruitment and signing with Cincinnati in November.

“I think he’s going to be the ideal Bearcat – I really do,” said Anderson. “When he made the switch I thought it was the right fit for him.”

Coach Cronin is hoping that Curtis can contribute right away next season.

“You hope that every recruit can play a significant role right away,” Mick told me. “Samari has great ball skills for a guy that’s 6-foot-4,” said Cronin. “He can pass it, he can handle it, and he can shoot it mid-range, long range, and get to the rim. He’s a high level talent. The adjustment for him will be the speed of the game, the guys he is playing against, and the physicality of the college level. You’ve got to be able to play defense and take care of the ball. If you can do that, it doesn’t matter what grade you’re in.”

Curtis says he is looking forward to getting to Cincinnati and getting to work.

“I’m excited for them to help me get better,” he said. “I know that Coach Cronin, Coach Jackson, and the rest of the staff are going to keep it real with me and help me get better every day. That’s what I love.”

“When Coach Cronin came to our gym a year and a half ago to try to recruit him, he looked him dead in the eye was just honest with him.” said Anderson. “Rather than give him some con job he was brutally honest and it ultimately it paid off for UC and it paid off for Samari because I just think it’s the perfect fit for him.”

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There’s A Freak In The Bearcats Secondary

For roughly 15 years, national college football writer Bruce Feldman has put out his “Freaks List.” In Feldman’s words, freaks have “rare physical abilities that wow even those folks who are used to observing gifted athletes every day.”

His top-listed freak last year was Penn State running back Saquon Barkley. A few years ago it was SMU defensive end (and eventual Bengals draft pick) Margus Hunt.


This year, Feldman put out a list of the Top 50 college football freaks for The Athletic and it includes Bearcats safety James Wiggins who is 33rd on the list.

Here’s what Feldman wrote about the UC sophomore:

“One of the higher-ranked recruits Cincinnati has signed in recent years, the 5-11, 205-pound one-time Miami commit from South Florida is super strong for his size. He benches 405, squats 675 and has tremendous burst, broad jumping 11-0, vertical leaping 37 inches and timing 4.40 in the 40.”

Wiggins was flattered to be included on a list of the top physical freaks in college football.

“I didn’t know that I was going to be on it until (football sports performance) Coach Brady (Collins) told me to go online and check out the freak list,” Wiggins said. “I saw my name and I was surprised. I’m really thankful for what the weight staff did for me in getting me stronger and faster.”

“He’s one of the freakiest kids I’ve ever seen in my life,” said Collins.

Wiggins says his teammates have started calling him “Freak,” but Collins prefers a different nickname.

“I like to call him ‘Mr. Smiley,’” Brady told me. “He makes my day better. When he smiles, I smile. He’s a great kid and I’m so happy and proud of him. I can’t wait to keep coaching him for the next two years.”

Wiggins redshirted in 2016 and saw limited action in 10 games last season – mostly on special teams.

“Last year I had a meniscus injury that took me out of camp,” he said. “So I came back late and was down the depth chart. But the coaches told me to keep grinding and everything would work out. I got my name out through special teams and now I’m here.”

“He’s got as much ability as pretty much any safety that I’ve been around,” said head coach Luke Fickell. “There’s still a long way to go, but he has the raw natural talent. The ability to learn the football game is where we’re still trying to grow and he hasn’t done it on a Saturday just yet. But I see great growth in him. And I don’t just mean as an athlete – he’s always been that. But his confidence in understanding and playing the game of football.”

Wiggins played wide receiver, quarterback, cornerback, safety, and outside linebacker in high school and credits safeties coach Jon Tenuta for helping him grasp the finer points of secondary play.

“It’s gotten a lot better – especially with Coach Tenuta,” Wiggins said. “He’s a smart man and he made me understand formations and how the game goes. Since I’ve been with him my football I.Q. has gotten way better.”

Wiggins and fellow sophomore Darrick Forrest have been the safeties on the first-team defense at training camp.

“They’ve taken most of the (starting) reps and I feel confident about them and their growth,” said Fickell. “We have to figure it out as we go and create some competition for who the backups will be.”

Wiggins could be a fixture in the Bearcats secondary for the next three seasons, meaning he also has three years to climb Feldman’s list of the top physical freaks in college football.

So how high could he go?

“You know what? He could easily be number one,” said Collins. “If he puts together a good year on the field and we do as well, there’s no doubt about it. He’s number one in my heart. I can’t wait to see what else freakish he can do.”

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Campbell Returns For 6th Year To Lead O-Line

One of the first lessons that athletes receive in youth sports is to never quit.

But two seasons into his UC football career, Garrett Campbell was told by athletics trainer Bob Mangine that he should consider quitting due to knee and back injuries.

Garrett Campbell

“Bob sat me down with my parents,” Campbell said. “He said, ‘You’re at a very susceptible point. I don’t know how much more your body can take and I don’t know how long you can last. It’s a big risk. You might get to play for one or one-and-a-half years here. Is that worth it for you?’”

For the former St. Xavier High School standout the answer was yes.

“I love the game of football and I couldn’t turn my back to it,” Garrett told me. “I talked to my parents for a while and we all decided that it wasn’t time for me to leave yet. Bar none, it was the greatest decision I’ve ever made.

“I’ve had no problems since. It’s been wonderful. The strength staff has always taken care of me and all of my needs if something is sore or something is bothering me. My body feels great and I never thought it would.”

Since his injuries prevented him from playing in his first two seasons at Cincinnati (2013-14), Campbell has been granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA. He was recently named to the watch list for the Allstate/AFCA Good Works Team and the Wuerffel Trophy, two awards which recognize players for the on- and off-field contributions to their school and community.

“You know what’s unbelievable?” he said. “I asked some of the incoming freshman this spring, ‘Where were you in 2013?’ And some of these guys were saying, ‘I was just starting my seventh grade year.’ I said, ‘When you started your seventh grade year, I was starting my first year of ball here at Cincinnati.’ That’s unbelievably mind-blowing to me. It flies by. I still feel like it’s my first or second year here.”

Campbell joined the Bearcats as a preferred walk-on before being awarded a scholarship prior to last season. His return for a sixth year means that the Bearcats will have a veteran back who started every game at left guard last season.

“Any time you can have a guy back who is going into his sixth year and has started every game for the last year, it gives your group a guy that they can lean on,” said offensive line coach Ron Crook. “A guy who has seen everything and has been through everything.”

“Garrett coming back gives up a lot of stability,” said head coach Luke Fickell. “He’s a guy that’s been here for a while and played a lot of ball for us.”

When the 23-year-old arrived at UC, he wasn’t sure that he would play at all.

“I always tell this to the young guys,” Campbell said. “I used to watch the upperclassmen on film and I would see them move so quick and react so quick and I was like, ‘I will never reach that point. I’ll never get there.’ Now when I see myself on film, it’s like, ‘Is that me? Am I doing that?’ It’s a dream come true to see myself in those shoes now.”

“He’s very methodical about everything that he does,” said Crook. “He’s prepared, he works hard, he takes great notes in the meetings and he watches a lot of film on his own. Because of that preparedness and because of the way he approaches things, he puts himself in a really good position when he goes out on the field.”

Campbell is also a success story off of the field. He earned his undergraduate degree last December and posted a perfect 4.0 GPA in the spring semester.

“I have dreams of pursuing med school after this,” he said. “I’ve already graduated with my pre-med degree and now I’m actually working with Bob Mangine down in the training room on a research study with the UC track athletes which has been a phenomenal experience for me. Getting real life experience like that and possibly being involved in a medical journal is going to help me in the long run. It’s really setting me up for the future.”

But first he has a sixth and final year of college football to look forward to.

“My first couple of years were hard,” Garrett told me. “I’ve had three different offensive line coaches here and two head coaches. That’s been difficult and a blessing for me. All of the coaches bring in a lot of great stuff that I can pick and pull from to develop my technique. But the downside is changing every year and re-learning a coach and his system. Under some I thrived and under some I didn’t. Under the ones I didn’t, it was a grind. I was really in the pits and didn’t love football at the time. But I knew that it wasn’t time for me to quit. I knew that there was a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. So I knew that I had to keep pushing through it and when Coach Crook came, it was that pot of gold. It’s been an unbelievable experience and I’ve really connected with him. He’s a great coach and a great guy and for me it was a turnaround.

“The one regret that I have is that I couldn’t get five or six years with this staff. I don’t know where I would be now if they were here.”

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