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ACC Associate Director of Communications Steve Phillips will be on hand at this year’s Atlantic Coast Conference Football Kickoff, which will be held Sunday July 21 and Monday July 22 at Grandover Resort in Greensboro, N.C. Phillips, who is attending his 22nd ACC Kickoff (and 17th consecutive), will post notes and quotes throughout. Please check back frequently for his most recent updates.
PHOTOGRAPHS AND MEMORIES
The cover of the 2013 Virginia Tech football media guide is dedicated to Frank Beamer, and college football’s winningest active coach was asked to give a critique on Monday.
“It looks like it’s been hard day at the office – my hair’s all messed up,” Beamer said as he examined the primary photo, a head shot that shows him intently eyeing game action with his headphones firmly affixed.
A background action shot shows Beamer during his Virginia Tech playing days. Beamer – who wore number 25 – runs toward the goal line after intercepting a pass with Richmond quarterback Buster O’Brien in pursuit.
“He was slowest quarterback ever … he wasn’t fast, but dadgum if he didn’t almost catch me before I got to the goal line,” Beamer said. “But that’s me, right before I scored and threw the ball up in the end zone. They said, ‘Act like you’ve been there before,’ but I’d never been there before. So I threw it up in the air as soon as I got there.”
Pitt’s planned move to the ACC was first announced in September of 2011. But Panthers coach Paul Chryst said the reality of joining the league did not totally register until his football team completed its final season of Big East competition last year.
“I can’t speak for the players, but I really think it wasn’t until this past January or February,” Chryst said. “That’s when you get the schedule – first you get the opponents, and then you get the dates, and you say, ‘All right this is who the teams are.’
“The players knew it was happening (last year), but they were still getting ready to play a Big East schedule. Once the season was over and that schedule came out, I think that’s when it hit home.”
The 2013 ACC schedule finds Pitt wasting no time plunging into ACC action. The Panthers play host to defending conference champion Florida State on Labor Day Monday night.
“Obviously, we’re very excited,” Chryst said. “We’re excited because of the respect we have for Florida State. We’re excited about more than Florida State. The more our kids watch film, the more respect they gain for the ACC, and the more excited they get about the teams we are playing this year.”
WELL KNEE, FRESH START
Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown is past the point of dwelling on the torn ACL he suffered during preseason practice last August – a non-contact injury that began a series of mishaps to Terrapin QBs.
The well-documented chain of horrific events saw four signal-callers go down and left scout-team linebacker Sean Petty under center for the final four games of the 2012 season.
Brown, who threw for 842 yards and seven touchdowns while starting five games in 2011, was cleared to resume full practice a little over two months ago, when the Terrapins underwent spring physicals.
“I was cleared from wearing my knee brace, nothing held back,” Brown said. “I was cleared from any restrictions as far as any type of running or lifting, anything like that.”
Brown admitted to a bit of a psychological barrier when he first set foot on the field following clearance.
“And I kind of nipped that in the bud right from the start,” he said. “After I got cleared from the brace, I sat down and talked to our trainer and strength staff. They said, ‘We will just ease you out of the brace and make sure you get comfortable.‘
“But the first day I went back out, I didn’t even wear the brace. I did everything I wanted to do and felt comfortable. I came back in, and they said, ‘So that’s how it’s going to be, huh?’ And I said, ‘Yep, I’m ready to go now.'"
UP FRONT CONCERNS (Monday, 4:55 pm)
North Carolina will not only face a vaunted defensive front since when it faces South Carolina in its Aug. 29 season opener, it will do so minus three offensive line starters – including NFL first-round draft choice Jonathan Cooper – from 2012.
“You’re talking about three guys who played a lot of snaps,” second-year head coach Larry Fedora said. “I lose sleep over it – I do. I worry about both sides, our O-line and our D-line and how they are going to play this year.”
Fedora said it is up to returning offensive line starters James Hurst and Russell Bodine to be cornerstones as the Tar Heels rebuild up front.
“They’ve accepted that role,” Fedora said. “They are joined by some young guys who are talented, but they don’t have near the experience. It’s going to take some times for those guys to gel. We’ve got to understand that they are inexperienced and they are going to make some mistakes. It’s coming … but don’t worry about it, and don’t blink.”
Fedora chuckled when asked if his players might be motivated to capture the program’s first ACC title since 1980.
“We don’t have any guys who were even alive in 1980, so they don’t know,” he said. “They don’t know. They just know that it hasn’t been done in a while – so why not do it? Those are the things that get you out of bed in the morning, that motivate you when you’ve gotta grind. I think they are excited about having the opportunity to play for a Coastal Division championship. If we do that (first), then we have a chance.”
MORE POLL TALK (Monday, 4:31 pm)
Miami received the nod as the Coastal Division favorite for the second time since joining the ACC prior to the 2004 season.
“I hope our guys aren’t giving it a lot of weight,” Miami coach Al Golden said. “It’s nice that people are realizing we’re making progress despite all the challenges that we’ve had. But I’m not ready to recognize anything on the outside. We have to go out there and do it every day and see what kind of team we can become over the next six weeks.”
Preseason favorites, Golden noted, tend to be the teams that are perceived as having the most talent.
“I don’t want to have the most talent – I want to have the best team,” Golden said. “I want to have the team that understands the game, one that understands how to execute, and how to eliminate all the things that causes teams to lose. Hopefully we’ve made progress with that, but we still have a long way to go.”
Xs AND Os (Monday, 4:31 pm)
Paul Johnson’s five teams at Georgia Tech account for the top five rushing seasons in ACC history. Talk surfaces from time-to-time about opposing defenses finding ways to slow the Yellow Jackets’ vaunted ground attack, but Johnson doesn’t spend time dwelling on those possibilities.
When opposing teams have been able to slow down Georgia Tech’s attack, it has usually boiled down to the simple fact they had talented defenders on the field.
“I’ve said it before, but football isn’t rocket science,” Johnson said. “Any coach from junior high on up can go to the blackboard and diagram, ‘Here’s what you do against this offense’ Then I can say, ‘Here is what you do against this defense.’
“You can go back and forth, and whoever has the chalk last is going to win. But when you get on the field, it still comes down to which team executes their plan the best, and who has the better players.”
NO TIME FOR POLL WATCHING (Monday, 3:06 pm)
Clemson has been picked as the preseason favorite to win the Atlantic Coast Conference for the second time since 1991, but head coach Dabo Swinney predictably downplayed the selection on Monday.
Swinney was an assistant coach in 2008, the last time the Tigers were picked as the overall conference favorite. The Tigers wound up fifth in the Atlantic Division, and Swinney was promoted to head coach midway through the season.
Swinney didn’t “poor-mouth” his obviously talented team on Monday, but he looked at the preseason vote with a bit of realism.
“I know that we’ve got a good team, and I know that we’ve got a lot of guys coming back who have proven to me that they can play winning football,” Swinney said. “They’ve proven to me that they’re committed, and they’ve proven to me that they are serious about being good.
“But I have no idea what everybody else has, and all that. Until you get going, you never really know. There a lot of things from year-to-year. I think is going to be a very big year for the ACC. I am excited about Pitt and Syracuse joining the league, and about Louisville joining next year. I think the league has some stability going into the season that we didn’t have last year. It is a great league that is on the rise, and a league that, in my opinion, is going to produce an overall (national) champion in the very near future.”
ROOMMATE BEHIND TEAMMATE (Monday, 2:48 pm)
For those speculating about Virginia’s starting quarterback situation, offensive tackle Morgan Moses threw another name into the hat on Monday.
“You might see me at quarterback,” the 6-foot-6, 325-pound senior said. “You never know.”
Moses might actually have some inside knowledge of the position, given the fact his roommate is sophomore QB David Watford. Watford took a redshirt season in 2012 but threw for 346 yards and three touchdowns while seeing action in 10 games as a true freshman. Watford should figure into the Cavaliers’ equation this fall – provided he remains on Moses’ good side.
“We have our ins and outs,” Moses said. “We have our little arguments, but I just tell David, ‘I’m not going to block for you then.’ Of course, that gets him heated even more. He’ll say, ‘You always say that, I’m not listening to you.’ “
All joking aside, Moses would like nothing better than to help his friend excel this fall.
“David is a great guy who’s fun to be around, and he works so hard,” Moses said. “He really loves what he is doing. Living with him and him being younger than me, it’s definitely like having a little brother. You think about little brothers being nagging sometimes and you’ll be like, ‘Get off of me, I don’t want to talk to you.' But when I see him back there behind me, because of his relationship, I want to keep him protected.”
Moses said Watford has gotten faster and stronger over the past two years. More importantly, he has matured as a player.
“The way he looks at things is different now,” Moses said. “The way he has handled everything after having to redshirt last year says a lot about his character. When you have somebody like that , you want to play for them. He’s a leader in the huddle, and I can’t wait to see what he’s going to do this year.”
NO QB SHUFFLE FOR CAVS (Monday, 2:48 pm)
The quarterback situation at Virginia remained a bit of a revolving door last season. While head coach Mike London said neither David Watford nor redshirt freshman Greyson Lambert has secured this year’s starting job heading into preseason camp, he is determined on one thing: The matter will be settled early this time around.
“This year, there is no quarterback controversy,” London said Tuesday. “Early on in August camp, you will know definitively who the starting quarterback is. As we ended spring practice, David is the guy who has the most experience. But the rein is not handed to David right now because Greyson Lambert is going to be special as well. But I have said (to the staff), ‘Let’s pick a guy early, let’s get established and let’s go.’ “
A LIGHTER LEADER (Monday, 11:52 am)
Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas has shed 20 pounds from his 6-foot-6 frame since last season.
“As far as my game goes, it probably won’t do much, other than I will be in a little bit better shape,” Thomas said. “But from a leadership standpoint, it means pretty much everything. Now, after I’ve been running, I am able to stand up and talk to my guys instead of bent over, asking for air. I am standing upright telling them, ‘Ok, here’s what is coming next. We have to be ready for it.’ They see me working to be the best I can be, and it inspires them to work and be the best they can be.”
Thomas says he now weighs 250 – “on the dot.”
ON THE AIR (Monday 11:45 am)
To say that Monday’s session of the 2013 of the Atlantic Coast Conference Football Kickoff got off to an early start would understate things considerably.
Media members, bowl sponsors, roughly half the league’s head coaches and a handful of student-athletes teed off in the Skeeter Francis Tournament at Grandover around 7:30 a.m. But that was 2 ½ hours after ACC Associate Director of Communications Amy Ufnowski received her first call from a local television station regarding a live interview for a morning show.
Cameras were rolling shortly after 6 a.m. at the greenway adjacent to the golf course, as ACC coordinator of officials Doug Rhoads led things off, along with senior associate commissioner of football operations Michael Strickland.
Head coaches Jim Grobe (Wake Forest), Larry Fedora (North Carolina), David Cutcliffe (Duke) and Dabo Swinney (Clemson) soon followed, along with North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner. Three area TV stations either aired either live or taped spots prior to 9 a.m.
Cutcliffe, entering his sixth season with the Blue Devils, has been a mainstay on the Kickoff morning show circuit, but got the luxury of “sleeping in” on Monday. Cutcliffe’s first interview wasn’t scheduled until around 7:30; he has gone on camera as early as 6 a.m. in the past.
The coaches who didn't play golf and made TV appearances were beginning a full day in terms of media relations. Radio interviews were lined up off and on throughout the morning, with the regularly scheduled sessions with writers and television outlets set to begin at 2 p.m.
RESPECT FOR THE YOUNGSTER
Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd enters his senior season as the reigning ACC Player of the Year, but that doesn’t stop him from respecting his peers or admiring the potential of one of his younger counterparts.
Boyd pulled few punches when asked about Florida State redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston, who looks to fill the void left by departure of veteran standout EJ Manuel.
“ I think Jameis Winston is going to be a really good quarterback,” Boyd said. “I got a chance to watch their spring game.”
Boyd also watched several FSU baseball games, where Winston started a number of games and made several eye-opening plays from his right field position, including several jaw-dropping, on-the-fly assists.
“I’ve seen him throw the ball from the outfield to home plate – unbelievable!” Boyd exclaimed. “I was kind of terrible at baseball, so I would like to see if I could throw one that far.”
Florida State defensive back Lamarcus Joyner is one of the student-athletes who has joined Boyd in Greensboro for the ACC Football Kickoff.
“I haven’t talked to him yet (about the challenges of going against Winston in practice), but that is probably one of conversations we will have later on,” Boyd said.
The Tigers play host to the Seminoles on Oct. 19 in a matchup most feel will have ACC Atlantic Division title implications. By that time, Boyd believes the FSU coaching staff and the veteran FSU players will have Winston well-settled into the offense and comfortable under center.
“With Jameis in the position he is in, taking over for a talented guy like EJ, it will be important for him to have the support of their older guys, and for them to take him under their wing and make them feel like they are with him,” Boyd said. “Because if you don’t have that support you feel like you are alone; you feel like you are on an island. Being that young, the game can be brutal. But I think he will be just fine.”
NEW COACHES, NEW BEGINNINGS
A head coaching change can be a positive or a negative, but NC State senior cornerback Dontae Johnson plans to do everything in his power ensure that Dave Doeren’s first year at the Wolfpack helm is remembered as the beginning of a winning era.
“We aren’t expected to be that good this year, and that’s all the motivation we need right there,” Johnson said. “Everyone has been working hard in the offseason. We look forward to going out there and competing and showcasing what NC State football is really all about.”
Johnson, who made 13 of his 16 career starts in 2013, was named the ACC Defensive Back of the Week last November after playing a huge role in limiting ACC leading receiver Michael Campanaro to five catches for 14 yards in a win over Wake Forest. Johnson hopes for similar big games this fall, but he foresees helping the Wolfpack as a leader off the field as well.
“It would mean a lot, especially for Coach Doeren in his first year here,” Johnson said. “Me being one of the teams leaders, playing a part in winning for him and getting the ball rolling is huge. I really take pride in my university, and I put a lot of pressure on myself to put the passion and the fire back into NC State football and give our fans what they deserve.”
The sentiment is similar at Boston College, where Steve Addazio has stepped in as head coach and, according to linebacker Steele Divitto, wasted little time in winning over his new troops.
“You can tell there is a different feel around the program,” Devitto said. “We feel like more of a team, more of a cohesive unit. And that’s something really special. That’s something we’ve been looking to achieve for a long time. What he has established right now is really going to be amazing down the road; I have my faith in that. But if we could turn the stone this year, so to speak, that would be really great. And that’s what we’re looking for.”
THE NEW GUYS CHECK IN
As Pitt prepares to make its ACC debut against Florida State on Labor Day Monday night, Panthers wide receiver Devin Street has noticed a marked difference just from watching film.
Not only are the Seminoles different from most of the teams Pitt faced while in the Big East, so is the remainder of the ACC.
“Just the playmakers – the Tajh Boyds (Clemson quarterback), the Radad Greenes (Florida State wide receiver),’ Street said. “There are just players out there who make plays non-stop, and that’s what we have to be ready for. The speed and athleticism are the biggest things that are different from the Big East, and I think the tempo might be a little faster, not just at the skill positions, but at other positions as well.”
But any members of the ACC’s “old guard” that expect the Panthers or Orange to back down is likely to be unpleasantly surprised.
“We played against quality opponents last year, and we tested our mettle against teams that had very good records,” Syracuse center Macky MacPherson said. “We beat a very good Louisville team that went on to play very well in their bowl game against Florida; we beat a good Missouri team late in the year. We’ve played quality opponents, and we feel like we can compete in this league.’
MacPherson, a Syracuse native and the grandson of former Orange Hall of Fame coach Dick MacPherson, was asked to sum up his team’s approach to the game.
“Blue collar, hard-working, intense and physical,” MacPherson said. “That’s how all of our players play. We’re all smart guys, and we aren’t afraid to put our faces into someone to get a good block in. We’re willing to go the extra mile.”
TURNING UP THE HEAT
Miami ranked last in the ACC in pass defense in 2012. While armchair analysts are often quick to point fingers at the secondary, senior lineman Shayon Green says it starts up front.
Specifically, Green said, it starts with improving the Hurricanes’ pass rush. Miami ranked 11th in the ACC in quarterback sacks last season, registering just 13 in 12 games.
“The pass rush has been a big ordeal for our team,’ the Tifton, Ga., native admitted on Sunday. “Our coaches have all stressed it, and we’ve stressed it to each other. We’ve got to perfect our technique and get better.”
Green believes simplw hard work can provide a quick remedy to some of the problems that plagued the Hurricanes’ defensive line. Green said the unit has committed itself to “staying over” after practices and putting additional time into film studies
“We had a young team last year,” he said. “We had guys who were young, inexperienced, and those guys were playing a role that they weren’t used to. This season, having that year’s experience and having that knowledge that we didn’t have last year, we should be stronger, faster and smarter. We should be a different team.”
DEALT A BAD HAND
Despite putting up numbers in 2012 that earned him second-team All-ACC honors and the envy of most of his fellow college flankers, Wake Forest redshirt senior Michael Campanro can’t help looking back with a sense of what might have been.
Specifically, how might the Demon Deacons’ season have turned out differently had Campanaro not broken a bone in his hand a loss to Duke on Sept. 29?
“It was definitely frustrating, not only on an individual basis, but from a team standpoint,” Campanaro said. “I do a lot of things with our offense, and it put a lot of pressure on other guys to step up.”
The remainder of the Demon Deacons’ receiving corps tried mightily, but Wake Forest clearly missed Campanaro’s presence during the two full games he missed and the time it took him to get back into the flow of the offense upon his return. After opening with wins in three of their first four games, the Deacons won just twice more following Campanaro’s injury.
“We had been practicing getting our offense down all camp, and we had just gotten into a groove, and then something like that happens,” Campanaro said. “Injuries come with the game, but a freak accident breaking a hand like that is tough.”
Campanoro remembers thinking the injury was nothing serious. In fact, he initially did not regard it as an injury at all.
“I had never had a broken bone before, and I thought it was just a cramp in my hand or something,” he said. “I came off the field, and I was telling the trainers I couldn’t really squeeze. They had me do some tests, and they thought it was good. But then I went back out and caught a little bubble screen, and that’s when I knew. It just went numb.”
The Clarksville, Md., native found some consolationin the fact he was able to make it back onto the field in a relatively short amount of time. And with 79 catches in 10 games, Campanaro still led the ACC in receptions per game and posted the second-highest average for receptions per game (7.9) in league history.
“I’m just hoping to stay injury free this year,” Camapnaro said. “I know I need to stay away from the injury bug in order to have a great year, both team-wise and individual-wise.”
DOLLARS AND SENSE
Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner John Swofford believes that almost everyone involved with college athletics is in favor of measures “to enhance the financial well‑being of student athletes that are on scholarship.” The problem, Swofford told reporters in attendance Sunday, is finding a measure that is universally agreed upon and accepted.
“We've been talking about this nationally for several years now without finding something that works,” Swofford said. “And I think part of that is because it's more complicated than first meets the eye. Some of it is the difference in financial capability that programs have in the NCAA and the tremendous range of financial capability that programs have. Some of it I think has been processed. I'm not sure in the early goings of those discussions that enough people were engaged in that process, and when you're trying to accomplish something of that significance and that magnitude, whatever that is, you've got to have buy‑in, and one of the ways you get buy‑in is to include people in the process.”
Swofford suggested several approaches he felt could possibly provide a happy medium.
“I'm not for paying players,” Swofford said. “I just don't think that's what college athletics is about. But I am for looking very diligently at a way to enhance the scholarship itself, whether that's need based, whether it's based on a simple stipend that once existed. In fact, when I was playing (in the early 1970s), it existed, or … whether it's going to the full cost of attendance. But you've got to be able to find something that enough people can accept and digest and support in order to move it forward, and so far collectively we have not been able to do that.“
FAREWELL TO THE BCS
With a playoff to determine the 2014 national champion on the horizon, this marks the final year of the Bowl Championship Series. Swofford was asked to reflect on the BCS, which he feels served the game well during its tenure.
“I was the only guy that was crazy enough to be its coordinator twice -- I didn't learn the first time around.” Swofford said jokingly.“For all its issues and problems I think (the BCS) has been good for college football. The growth of the game during the existence of the BCS has been phenomenal. I'm not saying it was because of the BCS, but it turned the sport in a lot of ways from a regional sport to a national sport where people were interested in what was happening on the other side of the continent because it might affect who played in the National Championship game.”
Swofford acknowledged it isn’t a perfect system, but it is one that has seldom remained stagnant.
“It's had a lot of controversies, which is one of the reasons over that period of time we kept working toward making it better … and I think we have,” Swofford said. “That will have its own history going forward. Certainly, all of the controversy will not disappear, will never disappear, but I think we've taken a major leap forward with the new college football playoff approach. But with all its controversy, I think bottom line is the BCS served college football well during its history.”
Saturday Night Life ... Student-Athlete Symposium Prepares Players for Life Beyond Football
The 2013 Atlantic Coast Conference Football Kickoff does not officially begin until Sunday afternoon, but Saturday evening’s Student-Athlete Symposium provided the 28 players in attendance a chance to for introspection and a look at life both within and beyond the playing field.
Following introductory remarks by ACC Commissioner John Swofford, former NFL player Leonard Wheeler was the first to address the group. He was followed by Steve Shenbuam, a former actor who focuses on training in communication, leadership, character development, and media training.
“It is so smart of the ACC to bring in the student-athletes a day early and give them some communication and life skills before meeting with the media (on Sunday),” Shenbaum said. “It is great that they’re putting time and resources into their student-athletes prior to them being in the media spotlight.”
Wrapping up the night were Stuart and Sharon Crickmer, motivational speakers and developers of computer simulation games focused on long-term investments and life choices.
“We had great speakers” said NC State wide receiver Rashard Smith. “I liked the way the symposium was set up. The speakers got all the players involved and (working) with players from the other teams.”
Smith said he especially took to heart four main message points from Shenbaum: collective competition, empowerment, mystery and humor.
“Those four, if you put them together you could achieve a lot,” Smith said. “Getting the whole team to buy in creates a lot of power and has everyone competing together. Then it’s a mystery as to how far you can go when you bring everyone together. Having fun as a team is the humor side.”
The Crickmers led the student-athletes through a computer-simulation game in which four groups of players (seven to a group) became responsible for making the decisions of a senior on a fictional college football team. The computer program offered up good and bad life events (fighting at a bar, being named Player of the Week) but also chances for the actual student-athletes to choose on behalf of their fictional avatar (should the player accept free gear from a shop whose cashier recognized him as a star player).
The ACC student-athletes cheered when theirs or another’s avatars achieved – and jeered good-naturedly whenever an avatar suffered a poor life consequence. But ultimately, the simulation helped drive home an overriding theme of the night, one which Wheeler had strongly emphasized earlier.
“At some point, life after football is going to arrive,” he said. “And you better be ready.”
As of early Friday afternoon, close to 425 media members had registered to attend the 2013 ACC Football Kickoff. The two-day event will feature each of the league’s 14 head coaches, along with a 28-member student-athlete contingent led by 2012 ACC Player of the Year Tajh Boyd of Clemson … This will be the first ACC Kickoff featuring the conference’s two newest football members, Pitt and Syracuse, and a large banner welcoming all to a “New Era of ACC Football” atop the main entrance to Grandover Resort drives the point home … Specific signage welcoming the Panthers and Orange to the conference was also prominently displayed on Friday as ACC staff members and volunteers began setting up for this year’s event.
The official Twitter hashtag for the 2013 ACC Football Kickoff is #ACCKickoff. Official tweets will include this hashtag, and all media and fans are also asked to use it in their tweets related to the event …. Fans can also follow @theACCfootball for the league’s official tweets
WATCH IT LIVE
There will be three opportunities to watch live video coverage of the 2013 ACC Football Kickoff. The ACC Football Kickoff Commissioner’s Forum, featuring a live question-and-answer session with the media, will be broadcast Sunday, July 21 at 12:30 p.m. Following that, a pair of players from each ACC school will participate in interview sessions on Sunday, July 21 from 1:30 until 6 p.m., while all 14 ACC head coaches will be featured in interviews on Monday, July 22 from 2 until 6 p.m. The live streams will be available for viewing on theACC.com … Archived footage will also be available there after each session.