April 3, 2010
WATCH: Junior QB D. Persa talks with the media
By Skip Myslenski
NUSports.com Special Contributor
The late Randy Walker, when asked about his game, once memorably declared: "I think football's primal. It goes back to the Stone Age. There were cavemen back in the Stone Age who hid in the back of the cave and hoped no one would find 'em, and they went out and foraged and found bits and pieces. Then there were other cavemen who took a club in their hand and went out and kicked somebody's butt with it and took what they wanted to take. We're still doing that. That's what our game is. You've got to learn to come out of the cave with your club in your hand and get after it. That's what people do who prevail in our game."
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Saturday dawned damp and gray and mottled by rain drops, but still it was the finest of April mornings for the 'Cats. On Monday and Tuesday, in their first practices of the spring, they had toiled in shorts and helmets, and then on Thursday they had added shoulder pads to their look. "They tease us," offensive lineman Brian Mulroe will say of this buildup, a buildup that finally ended on this day with their appearance in full pads.
"Today's the day everything comes on and we all know we're allowed to chop and go all the way to the whistle," continues Mulroe, explaining why it was such a fine day for the 'Cats. "Well. We always go to the whistle. But now we can do extra. What we couldn't do without pads we can do with pads. We all love that because then we can't get yelled at for doing anything stupid. Everyone just loves hitting. You were kind of hesitant when you didn't have everything on. But now that everything's on, you just cut it loose and speed around and everything comes into play. It's good."
"We're just so ready to go out and hit somebody," echoes the defensive tackle Corbin Bryant. "Once we get into full pads, everybody gets so amped up. Everybody's just ready. Everybody's just ready to hit and get physical. That's what the game is. It's not running around in shorts. It's being physical all day long."
"It's playing football," coach Pat Fitzgerald will finally say. "It's the first time we've had a chance to do that since the last game. There's so many NCAA rules, this was our first chance to play football. Everything else has kind of been a little bit like basketball on grass. We don't go live that long as far as 11-on-11. But we do a lot of competitive, intense drills, so I love every aspect of it."
A heightened intensity was obvious on the morning, the 'Cats more animated than they had been earlier this week, and their competitiveness was on display through all of their drills. Yet there was still a signature moment to this practice and, appropriately enough, it came in its belly, in the 10th of its 20 periods. For that it is when they paired off for the board drill, a testosterone showdown that so clearly reflected Walker's definition of this game.
Here, in a stark tableau, it was offense against defense, man against man, club against club and let's see who can kick some butt and take what he wants. "This is our drill. This is the essence of what we do. We cannot lose this drill," defensive line coach Marty Long told his charges before it began.
"Everyone gets so pumped up, the coaches, everyone's yelling and screaming," says Mulroe. "Everyone knows this is just you and that guy and whoever gets that six inches of movement, you win. So everyone puts their whole body into it and everyone just goes after it. Anything goes. It's no hold barred. You're just trying to beat the crap out of the guy in front of you."
"The object is not to lose," says Bryant. "So you've got to do everything you can. Scratch. Claw. Pull. Whatever you have to do."
"It's the essence of football," says Fitzgerald. "You've got to go right down the middle of the guy, eyes up, feet and hands, and just fight your tail off. It's a six-inch war. You've got to win the six-inch war. You've got to win that no matter what physical battle you have. If we can move the d-line that much, we've got a crease. If we can get that much penetration, we've got them. Then we've got a chance to win the game. So we want to win that six-inch war."
For the record, there were 24 of those wars fought on Saturday and the offense won 14 of them. Bryant, a senior, was excused from the festivities. ("I'm going to be honest with you, I don't miss it," he says with a laugh.) But Mulroe, a sophomore, was a combatant, and his discussion of his battle with defensive tackle Jack DiNardo shows just how seriously the 'Cats approach this drill.
How'd you do, he is asked.
"I didn't get off the ball and I ended up losing," he glumly answers.
Didn't you get a second crack at him?
"I got cut off. I was up next. I was chomping at the bit to get back. So I've got to wait until Monday now."
Will you go against DiNardo again?
"I'm going to request that. I'm going to request that because I feel I didn't do anything I wanted to do. I want it back big time."
"That drill, we've done it a lot of different ways," Fitzgerald will conclude minutes later. "But it's one that goes back to the (late Michigan coach) Bo (Schembechler) and (late Ohio State coach) Woody (Hayes) days. It's one of those drills that still has a lot of merit."