Nov. 17, 2016
University of Notre Dame Football Media Conference
Wednesday, November 16, 2016
Q. What have you seen out of Josh Adams over the last couple of weeks? It seems like his hamstring has kind of healed up and he’s back to full strength.
DeShone Kizer: Yeah. The last couple of weeks we see exactly what we expected to get out of Josh all season. He suffered a couple of tweaks and injuries. He’s a guy who pushes through the first contact. And as our most dominant, and by reps I’m saying most dominant back who’s consistently out there with us. He’s able to extend the field east and west and also be able to put his foot in the ground and break through the first tackle and stay up and get a couple of extra yards for us. His development and his ability to peak towards the end of the season right now is allowing us to get that run game going the way we needed it to be all season and allow the pass game to develop off of that.
Q. Mike McGlinchey was just in here saying he didn’t really have to say anything to Josh because he kept his mentality pretty high earlier in the season. Did you kind of see the same thing out of him that you didn’t really need to go in and say, hey, Josh, you’re going to get through this, you’re still the same guy you were last year, that kind of stuff?
DeShone Kizer: Yeah, no. You didn’t have to say a word to him. He’s a guy who is in his own mind. He plays like a veteran at all times. I think we saw that last year as a true freshman when he stepped up and carried himself, both off the field and on the field, as a guy who we could trust and put a lot of responsibility on, and I think that continued on this season, maybe through a time where we weren’t running the ball the way we wanted to. But now he’s back in full motion, and we obviously are developing our run game really nicely right now and are very confident in our ability to hand him the ball and make big plays.
Q. Do you feel like the Army game was your guys’ most complete offensive game of the year?
DeShone Kizer: I think that in the last couple of weeks we were really getting towards that. I can’t say it was our most complete. There’s definitely sometimes in that game where we’re not executing our best. I think we executed really well against Navy and I think we executed really well against Miami. I think we’re definitely heading in the right direction at this time of the year as needed with the rough start that we had.
Q. Has it been a lot of getting the run game going so it’s not kind of all on your shoulders over that stretch?
DeShone Kizer: You know, it’s hard to say that. I think that it’s more about just executing the plays that are being called. In the beginning of the season we put ourselves in positions where we had to throw the ball a lot in the second half, and I think that’s why the emphasis was on our passing game. Now we’re in a position where we’re having a little more success in the beginning of the game, being able to convert on some big third downs which allows us to get some big time first and second down runs where now at the end of the season you could point any direction and expect success out of both sides of the offense, both run and pass.
Q. You’ve spent a whole season as Scott Daly’s holder. What kind of a teammate and a person is he in the time you got to know him?
DeShone Kizer: He’s awesome. He’s awesome. His consistency is second to none. For a guy who’s a senior, you know, has been through a little bit of everything here and to remain the same as that guy each day is awesome. You can definitely see his development physically in the last three years I’ve been here, and he’s the type of guy that you look up to in terms of remaining disciplined, who you are and who you want to be and taking every rep and every opportunity seriously.
Q. I got one more. Who throws a better spiral, you or Scott?
DeShone Kizer: I think it’s been proven that Scott does a better spiral than I do.
Q. Just wondering, when did you grow more comfortable — it’s pretty clear you are now — with K.J. Stepherson. I know it’s gotta be a process, but so many young guys, if he was like your only young receiver, you could have really honed in with him, but when did you kind of see him where you start to rely on him more and more?
DeShone Kizer: You know, I think in the last three weeks he’s definitely taken off as an elite top receiver in the country. I think that he was in a position at the beginning of the year where we’re going to put him in for a couple of electric plays and then allow some of the older guys to take on more of the reps. I think in the last three weeks we’ve seen that he is a consistent guy that we can trust in and has developed into one of our top receivers. He made a comment to me last week where I came on the sideline, and he got pressed, one play out of the whole game. And after that one play he felt disrespected, and I think that’s the confidence that he has, where he thinks that if there’s a guy out there pressing him, he needs the ball in his hands; and if you have that confidence in yourself, no matter what age you are or how many times you’ve been out there or whatever your experience levels are, as a quarterback you need to make sure you’re getting the ball in his hands because he’s going to make something happen after he catches the ball.
Q. It looked like you guys were trying to get Chase Claypool involved a little bit. There was the horizontal pass to him, and you looked for him on a slant at the end zone, you almost got yourself. What’s the next step for Chase? I know Coach Kelly has mentioned that he’s still kind of learning the game coming from Canada the and rules there.
DeShone Kizer: Yeah. The whole receiving corps, the development all the way across the board has been awesome. We had to throw them into the fire obviously early in the season, and we saw great success rates with them. A bunch of guys were out there playing in some of their first games and now towards the end of the season you see a consistent development across the board. Chase is a guy where with his size and strength he’s very unique in the sense that you can treat him like a tight end in the run game where he’s going to be able to take a corner and block him into the end zone if he has to, but now we’re finding ways to allow that size and strength to move over into our pass game. Obviously he made a couple of clutch catches against Michigan State, and he’s definitely showed some spurts. Now getting towards the later end of the season when you have to start working on personnel stuff and throwing in different packages, he’s a guy that we’re going to have to make sure that he gets a couple touches, because like any of the other guys out there, with his size and speed, he’s able to make some big plays and break off for some big runs. He’s just waiting on his opportunity to get that.
Q. Do you feel that you need to have failure and adversity in order to succeed?
DeShone Kizer: Absolutely. I think this season has taught me that. You don’t respect and appreciate the ups when you don’t go through the downs, and I think that this season has really proved to me that in order to achieve greatness, you have to see what it’s like to be on the other side of it. Last year I was thrown into a fire and came out pretty successful. And that was my whole career up until that point was me being a top athlete in a leading position and being successful. And this year has been the first year where, you know, I didn’t have the start that I really wanted to have, and I really had to experience what it was like to be a losing quarterback. And with that I think I’ve learned quite a bit in a sense of in order to maintain the elite stature and maintain success, you have to be able to feel what it’s like to be on the other side of it so you can appreciate what goes into being successful.
Q. What examples in your life maybe even outside of football are proof that failure does lead to success?
DeShone Kizer: I think my finance grade says a lot about it. Started off a little weak, and now from that I’ve definitely put in a couple more hours in tutoring with my tutor to pick that back up.
Q. What did you say your grade was?
DeShone Kizer: Next question. (Laughs).
Q. Mike McGlinchey was just in here and said that the attitude of the team could have easily gone a different way. I guess how could it have gone a different way and why didn’t it go a different way?
DeShone Kizer: Yeah, you know, once again, we were a bunch of elite athletes who have experienced success our whole careers, from grade school to high school, I would say that 90 percent of the team has never really experienced a true losing record. And with that our mentality could have completely went down a different path in the sense that we could have lost the want and the drive to go out and practice to prepare ourselves to win games. I think everyone’s mindset here going into a season is to win a National Championship and to see within the first four weeks that that opportunity was going to get pushed aside and the chances became slimmer and slimmer as you lose more games. Your mindset could completely go in the wrong direction, and I think with the leadership that we had here with this great group of seniors, we were able to maintain the energy and the focus and the discipline to continue to have that winning mentality and to remain the football powerhouse that Notre Dame is in the sense that our mental side of things allow us to really be engaged in practice and really dive into our game plans each week and really be focused in on the things that allow us to continue to win.
Q. DeShone, just wondering, you’ve talked all year about winning each week and trying to get to a certain goal. Obviously the National Championship was the original goal. Is the bowl game now, the fact that if you win the last two games, you know you can get there, it’s kind of clear cut what it’s going to take. Is that a big motivating factor, do you feel, for this team for the last two weeks?
DeShone Kizer: Yeah, I think it’s definitely a motivating factor, but I think it’s more along the lines of just being a winning program. Six and six is a big feat to get to rather than being five and seven. We want to be a team who continues on a winning tradition at Notre Dame, and I think in order to get to a bowl game, it aligns right along with that. But right now our main focus that we’ve learned through the losses that we’ve gone through is just to win this week. Not only do we have two games out there, but we have two games against two really good opponents. Virginia Tech is one of the hotter teams in the country right now, playing really good defense, throwing the ball all over the place, really electric. And obviously, not to look ahead, but USC is doing the same exact thing. So for us it’s us focusing in on how we can do whatever we can to just go one and zero this week to experience the fight song in the locker room and take on those amazing traditions of winning here.
Q. To get those two wins and get to six and six considering where you guys were at one point in the how big of an accomplishment do you feel that would be for this team?
DeShone Kizer: I think it shows that we’re heading in the direction that we should be. In the beginning of the year we really weren’t, and it was parent through our record that we weren’t on the line that we wanted to be on, and since we’ve acknowledged that and put forth the effort and the time to change that, I would say the Duke game might be a time where we really changed our mental and focused in on it and had a couple of heart to hearts in here to figure out the best way to go about it. Our mentality and our program is heading right back on the right direction of winning. I think to get to a bowl game would be the best part of this season that shows that we are back on that track of winning and getting ourselves in position to continue on the winning tradition that Notre Dame has always had.
Q. You’ve been pretty open about just not really sure what’s going to happen for your future. Obviously this potentially could be your last game in Notre Dame stadium if you decide to leave. Do you think about that at all and will you look around at anything Saturday just in case if it is?
DeShone Kizer: You know, the thought has definitely crossed my mind. I can definitely acknowledge that. But I think that with that, you have to treat every game like it’s your last. This season has really shown me that to appreciate every opportunity that you have to step in that stadium. Through a competition with Malik, through a rough start, I think that those opportunities and those experiences that I’ve had in that stadium have been awesome, and I’ve definitely learned to appreciate them. But like I said, there’s so many things that you can learn from through this season. I think one is to take each game for the game it is, to look ahead and to say that this could be my last game, that would add a lot more pressure than is already out there. I think it’s more important to focus in on the opportunity that you have in front of you, and that’s to play just another game out there with my brothers, with a great senior class who I know is going to be playing in their last game and to do whatever it takes to try to bring another win home.
Q. How much do you want to get the W for those seniors?
DeShone Kizer: That would be everything to me. This season has been all over the place, but one thing that’s remained consistent is the leadership that’s come from that senior class. And for us to get a win on the last home game would be absolutely amazing.
Q. Just want to get your thoughts on over your time here is there a game when you’re long gone that you’ll remember most, kind of talk to people about most that you played in, and if it’s just your first game, maybe it’s one that’s more memorable for other reasons for everyone?
Mike McGlinchey: There’s a couple. There’s definitely a couple. I think my first start probably has to go up in there against LSU. Not only was it my first start personally but it was a huge team win and gave us a lot of momentum going into the next season. There’s two that we came out on the losing side of things that were just stellar football games, just in general. It was Clemson and Stanford last year were pretty special games, for obvious reasons, not just because they came down to the wire and we had a shot at going to the playoff. There was a lot of emotion just how close of a team we were. And then obviously playing at home in Philadelphia last year was also one of the more special games I’ve ever had.
Q. Mike, how have you seen a guy like Josh Adams sort of grow through this season? I know he was dealing with the injury earlier on. But lately coming on a little bit stronger. What have you sort of seen out of him this year?
Mike McGlinchey: Josh is just a guy that comes to work each and every day, ready to get better and understands what he needs to do in order to accomplish that goal. He’s a great kid, a hard worker, and he plays hard. And he fought through a lot of injuries that just were kind of bothering him a little bit all through the beginning of the season. He’s starting to get healthy now, he’s starting to catch his stride and we’re starting to see Josh Adams at what he’s fully capable of doing. And once he does get healthy and once he starts catching his stride fully, it’s going to be a pretty scary sight for a lot of teams across the country to watch 33 running down the sideline.
Q. Did you as a captain ever have to kind of bring him up maybe from a low point earlier in the season where he wasn’t effective and he was still dealing with that hamstring?
Mike McGlinchey: I don’t think so. I think Josh always kind of knew what he was capable of. He never got in a low point. I don’t think anybody on this team has really gotten into a low point at all this season. Everybody has done a really good job of staying positive, understanding what they need to work on. Josh and I are actually from the same town in Warrington, PA and grew up about a mile and a half from each other. So we’ve grown closer through that. And I know Josh well. He’s a guy that doesn’t settle for mediocrity. He wants to continue to grow and get better and produce for this football team the way he’s capable of.
Q. Just all season we’ve been talking to you guys about can you get to a bowl game, can you get to a bowl game, and obviously there was a lot of work to be done. Now there’s two weeks left, you guys know if you win the final two games you’ll get there. How much does this team want the opportunity to play in a bowl game?
Mike McGlinchey: I think just as much as anybody else. Obviously we want to play in a bowl game. It’s a huge honor to be able to continue to do that and continue a season, and on top of that it’s a great learning experience for the year to come after that. Everybody wants to be in a bowl game. We don’t want to be a team that doesn’t qualify for a bowl. That would be a hard pill to swallow. And yeah, the fight is there. We understand the challenge that comes in the next two weeks with Virginia Tech and USC the following week, but we’re confident that if we prepare and approach the game the right way, we have a shot. And that’s all we want to do is be able to qualify for a bowl.
Q. Considering where you guys were at one point in the year, would that be a tremendous accomplishment for this team, to get there?
Mike McGlinchey: I think it would. We started the year, I think we were, what, two and six was the worst it got at one point. So to win four out of the last six against the schedule that we play and the season that we’ve had would definitely be a huge turning point for our program, and especially for the young guys that are in our locker room, I think it would be a very big accomplishment to overcome what we’ve had to deal with this year and the tough losses that we’ve had. I think it would be a huge deal for us to be able to make it to the bowl game especially with the two teams that we have remaining on our schedule.
Q. You said you’re coming back next year, but it is senior day. Do you soak it in in any way just in case something else develops here in the next month for you?
Mike McGlinchey: I think anytime you get the chance to play in Notre Dame Stadium you get to soak it in. It’s a special place. It’s a special day, and on top of that, you kind of approach football as if every game is going to be your last one because you never know when it’s going to be taken away from you. There are a few guys on our team that understand that this is in fact their last game and that’s just a factual statement, and we’re going to be laying it all out on the line for them, and regardless of what, yeah, like I said, it’s just special anytime you get to play in Notre Dame Stadium, but on top of that to put it all on the line for the guys that aren’t going to be here next year is definitely a special thing.
Q. And then what makes Virginia Tech’s defense a tough opponent for you guys?
Mike McGlinchey: Well, they’re talented. They’re extremely disciplined in what they do. It’s back to getting a little bit more of a power and physical challenge than we’ve had the last two weeks. They have a phenomenal group and they’re well coached and they know what they do, and that’s the thing about Virginia Tech, they’re not going to do some of the things that we’ve seen the last two weeks with Army and Navy, they’re not going to be moving a lot. They’re not going to be throwing everything and the kitchen sink at us, but because they want to see if we can play with them. And their defense has done a great job all year of doing their job and ranking amongst the top in the nation in a lot of different categories, and we understand it’s going to be a great challenge, but we’re ready for it.
Q. Mike, as it relates to senior day, you’ve seen seniors come and go in their last game. I’m bringing this up because in the past it tended to be a more emotional game for guys in their last game in Notre Dame Stadium. You guys always talk about treating each game the same, but do you ever notice it being emotionally difficult for guys playing their last game here?
Mike McGlinchey: Not so much in the preparation of leading up to the game, but certainly afterwards. We’ve had guys that are true, true Notre Dame guys that have gone through this program and prepared and done everything the right way and after the clock hits zero on senior day, it hits them a little bit that that’s the last time they’re going to put on the gold helmet in the best stadium in the country. And it brings tears to your eyes just looking at that knowing that that’s over for them, and it obviously brings tears to their eyes knowing it’s over for themselves. And it’s an honor to be able to play at this university. It’s the best in the world. We all know that, and everybody in our locker room cherishes that, and the last time you step foot on that stadium is certainly an emotional day.
Q. Who are some of those guys that reacted — or that you say were true Notre Dame men?
Mike McGlinchey: I mean you have to throw the Martin brothers in there, Ronnie — I mean everybody. Everybody understands that — but the guys that I was obviously closest to were my offensive line teammates, and understanding that what we did and what we did preparing over their four years and my three with Nick and one with Zach, and even my three with Ronnie as well, and one with Chris Watt, it’s just knowing what we go through each and every day and what we put on the field for our teammates, for our school and for our fans, it’s a pretty tough thing to deal with when you know it’s over. And that’s why those guys are so special. That’s why guys on this team are so special is because they understand who they are and what they play for and the prestige that comes along with playing for this university. And the reactions that you get at a senior day are pretty fitting, because it’s tough because they’re your best friends and you don’t get another shot with them on the field that you’ve grown to love. And it’s a special day, and that’s why each year we go into senior day, we better come out with a win because of the guys that have chipped away for four or five years at this program, and it’s for them, and that’s what we want to do.
Q. Mike, do you think that you need failure and adversity to eventually have success?
Mike McGlinchey: I think so. I mean I don’t think there’s any athlete or any team ever that hasn’t gone through some type of adversity, no matter what it would be. I think that’s just how sports and life is. You don’t grow unless you’re uncomfortable, and this team has certainly had its uncomfortable and challenging moments this season, and it’s been fun to see the way guys react and the way the coaching staff and the team as a whole react to it. And it’s been — it’s been a unique season in the fact that, yeah, we’ve had some struggles, obviously our record doesn’t show what we wanted it to show at the beginning of the year, but there’s a lot of small victories that we’ve taken away this year with the attitude, the leadership and things that we know we need to do better and improve on, and we’ve done that so far this year, and we’re excited for the next two weeks, and whatever happens after that, so be it, but yeah, absolutely. You definitely need to have some adversity in your life to be able to get better.
Q. Can you share or think of any other examples in your life that maybe you’ve experienced failure and adversity in that you did see, kind of like reap the benefits of those experiences?
Mike McGlinchey: I think every day you go on to the practice field. I’ve had — I’ve gotten beat more times as an offensive lineman under Harry Hiestand could probably count, and each and every time that I do get beat there’s a lesson in each one, whether it be a technique thing, whether it be getting my head in the right place for why I missed the block. It’s anything. Football challenges you each and every day, and that’s why we love this game and that’s why it keeps you coming back for more because you’re never satisfied and you never have that feeling like I can be done with this, you know. There’s always so much to learn, there’s always so much to improve on, and like I said, each and every day at practice provides its own challenge, and like I said, that’s what makes the greatest players great is coming back from that.
Q. Mike, Coach Kelly yesterday talked specifically about Isaac and James and the job they were able to do during the coaching change on the defensive side and keeping the team together. I was just curious, what did you see from them? I know you’re on the other side of the ball, but as leaders, as leading by example, what were you able to see from them during that time?
Mike McGlinchey: Well, I think first you have to know that Isaac and James are two of the best guys you could ever have in that position for that time. The two of them kept the team together on that side of the ball when it was a trying time, everybody was coming down on them earlier on in the season with some of the struggles that they had, and they found a way to keep everyone together, play for the coaches that are still here and dramatically improve our defense. And it’s a huge testament to them and to our coaching staff that they’ve done an unbelievable job this entire season, and we’re lucky to have Isaac and James especially being captains this year, and they’re the two right guys for the job for the stuff that we’ve been dealing with this season for sure.
Q. And when you go against them on the practice field, when you go against the defense, how have you seen their leading by example, their leadership skills materialize out there?
Mike McGlinchey: I think they’re always making sure everybody’s doing what they need to be doing. They don’t let anybody just kind of coast through practice or anybody — if they mess up, they’re the first ones to tell them about it. They’re making sure everybody’s flying around, having fun and being energized and truly committing to what the defensive goals are and the defensive plan is, and they’ve held everybody accountable to the point where they’ve improved in an unbelievable way this season, and nobody really saw it coming at the beginning of the season with how tough things were, but they’ve turned it around and it’s a testament to those guys for sure.
Q. When you were talking about the small victories, can you just like list some of the ones that really stick out to you?
Mike McGlinchey: I think it’s just the energy, the attitude and the leadership have been the biggest things that this team has accomplished this season. Like we’ve talked about earlier today, it’s easy to just kind of keep going into practice every day, jumping around, having fun when you’re nine and one going into the last game — or ten and one going into the last game of your season like we were last year. This year it’s obviously been a little bit harder to understand what this team is working for now, and everybody has kind of gotten the message that it’s just about getting better personally and as a team, and I think that the way that people have took that with stride and the way that this team has been fighting to get better and coming together, growing closer in this hard time is the biggest victory we could have had. And I think that it could have easily gone the wrong way, and it’s a huge victory for this team that it didn’t, and that’s the biggest thing we’ve held onto this year.
Q. Yesterday Coach Kelly was talking about he finally saw an edge to the team that he was looking for all season, playing with an edge. What in your perspective, what does that mean?
James Onwualu: I think Coach Kelly has a bar of what he thinks the energy, execution, and there’s a bunch of different categories within that, but putting all of that together I think is what he’s really talking about, and there’s been games where we’ve lacked one area and had the other or vice versa, so I think we kind of pulled it all together in this past game and played all around a good game as a team.
Q. What allowed it to come together? Why now?
James Onwualu: I don’t really have an answer for that. We knew that we were just working towards something and working towards being the best team that we could be, and I think it’s just starting to kind of shape around, and guys are starting to realize how talented we can really be.
Q. With your career, the position changes, everything else you’ve gone through, what were the difficult points in that? What were the parts that were hard to get through and get to the point of where you’re at now?
James Onwualu: Yeah, I think for me, some of the difficult parts is just finding the confidence, right, to jump into making a position switch. I made that decision, and I went upstairs and talked to Coach about it. Who knows where I’d be if I didn’t find the confidence to go and have that discussion and have confidence in myself to take on a challenge like that. So that whole challenge was difficult. Then obviously this year has been a challenge as well just with our situation, but two great challenges that I’ve learned a ton from and wouldn’t change.
Q. What would you tell a young guy, maybe a freshman who’s on the team now before you leave, that they’ve come to to make a position change, what would you tell him as some advice that maybe you didn’t know four years ago that you want to let somebody in on?
James Onwualu: I wouldn’t say not that I didn’t know, but I’d say more of just having confidence in the coaches, and they’ve been in the game for so long, and I was questioning some things when I was switching positions, and it’s difficult. It’s totally different way of the game and way to play. So just having confidence that they know what they’re doing and they’re going to coach you to the best of their ability to make sure that you’re performing for the team.
Q. James, you kind of mentioned it after BVG got fired in September that he was one of the guys who really helped you along in your transition, in your position switch. When you think back to the start of it in maybe January, February of 2014, what did his support kind of mean to you during that period?
James Onwualu: Yeah. Well, through that time obviously you’re pretty much failing every single day. Like I’m coming in, never back pedaled in my life really, didn’t know much about defense, maybe just normal coverages, but yeah, you’re pretty much coming in and failing every single day, so to have somebody like Coach VanGorder who is working you through that process and continuing to give you confidence, and hey, you’re learning this today and you’ve improved here, but also at the same time pushing you. And Kyle McCarthy was another guy that really helped me and spent some time. So I think those coaches’ presence and their continuation to work with me gave me confidence through the process.
Q. How much did some of your other teammates at that point, whether was Jalen or Jarrett Grace or Joe Schmidt kind of help you through that transition, too?
James Onwualu: I think a ton because I never hit a sled. I never did like linebacker footwork, linebacker drills. So that stuff, finding comfort in that stuff I think is where I found it more with Joe and Jalen and Jarrett, guys like that that spent some time like hey, like work this little step when you’re going into this drill or try this technique when we’re doing this part of practice. So I think that’s where they really came in.
Q. So basically like the things you’re talking about there, you didn’t have any idea of what you were doing in spring practice 2014, you didn’t know how to hit a sled, how to do any of that stuff?
James Onwualu: It was all new for me. I see myself as a pretty quick learner, so it came to me pretty quick, and it was natural and it was a good transition, but obviously like I wasn’t doing it like Jarrett Grace because he was probably like four years old hitting the sled out in the backyard. So it was new. It was new. It was different than running routes all day and it was a different mentality. So they helped me with that a ton.
Q. Have you had a moment yet during the season to kind of sit back and reflect on your time here or do you think that’ll come after the season?
James Onwualu: Yeah, you know, going into senior weekend, I think that’s kind of coming among a lot of us seniors, and I try to once a week, just on Sundays go down to the Grotto, if it’s by myself or with Martini or anybody on the team and just kind of spend some time to think about how lucky I am to be at a school like this and to have accomplished all that I did and have the opportunities that I have, so try my best to do it once a week and just kind of really think about how lucky I am.
Q. Where do you feel you’ve grown this year, in terms of your linebacking skills?
James Onwualu: I think that before I was just the kind of do-your-job kind of guy. I would hold the edge. I would fit my gap. I’d pressure when I was supposed to pressure. But I never really went out of my way to make a play. I think this year I’ve been playing much more loose, much more flexible, and it’s shown with the plays that I’ve been making.
Q. When you do leave this linebacking corps, how confident are you in the guys who will replace you, specifically Nyles Morgan leading that group?
James Onwualu: Yeah. Nyles is going to be a great leader, but also Greer Martini, that’s a kid that comes to work every single day and shows the linebacker corps how to work. It’s tough to come to practice, especially through a season like this, but Greer’s been a guy that’s backed me up on the energy, the execution. People say he can play any position, he honestly comes to practice every day, works as hard as he can and keeps other players accountable. So between those two guys, I’ve got all the confidence in the world that the linebacker room will continue in the direction that it has.
Q. Did your move a couple years ago now put you in better position to play professional football?
James Onwualu: Yeah, I believe so. If I was a receiver, I had two catches my freshman year, maybe would have had three or four my sophomore and maybe come up with a big senior season of 10 catches. So yeah, I feel so much more comfortable on the defensive side. It kind of fits my mentality a little bit more. Like I was saying earlier, I’ve learned so much about ball sense, and I would like to see myself as one of the smarter linebackers in the country. So I think that definitely helps me thinking about the next step.
Q. They don’t pay receivers to block in the NFL.
James Onwualu: I don’t think so. If they do, then I’ll look at that.
Q. And actually Coach Kelly mentioned he thought because of your special teams ability which you’ve had to be pulled away from this year and your growth as linebacker that you’ve set yourself up for that future, he kind of made an offhand comment he’s not sure you want to play professional football.
James Onwualu: I meanwhile we’re in the building we focus on — and I’m still here. I’ve got two games to get a win and hopefully be bowl eligible. So that’s really the focus between a lot of us seniors, and I can speak for Isaac and all those guys. We’re really focused on finishing our career here strong and really leaving our mark and impact on some of these players throughout these last couple weeks and hopefully into a bowl game. And those are the conversations that I’ll have with Coach Kelly after that, but really just try to do everything that I can to improve this program and play my role here. So yeah, I definitely do desire to play in the National Football League, and it will be something that I’ll be chasing here in a few months, but as of now just trying to finish up the career on a high note.
Q. And I asked Mike this as well, four years as a player basic, three years as a starter. Some games you can just look back on you know five or ten years down the line that you are going to remember playing, some stand out to you?
James Onwualu: Yeah, absolutely. Unfortunately, a lot of those games we’ve lost, but I think that kind of comes into play a little bit, because you put so much into a game and then you end up losing it, so that’s the ones that you really feel and are flying home not very happy, and that’s what you kind of remember. But I’d say Florida State, unreal environment, super fun. Michigan here was one that was a blast. Night game, blew ’em out. That was one that we won and will be memorable. And then also Clemson, hurricane, unbelievable environment, top-notch programs playing headed up, and I think those are a few games that I’ll always remember. There’s a ton from each year. I was just trying to get some film on getting the TV copies so I can go back and watch them in the future. But there’s a ton of games that I’ve really enjoyed here.
Q. James, you guys always take great pride in treating every game the same. Considering it’s your last home game, can you treat it the same this weekend?
James Onwualu: I would like to say yes, but it’s difficult. I’ve really invested in this program, and for it to be my last time going on the walk and there’s so many lasts all in one weekend that it’s tough not to take those in and kind of cherish them for the last time. But there’s nothing I want more than getting a win in my last game in that stadium. So that’s what I’m really trying to focus on, and we can celebrate the accomplishments after for my career and for all the seniors’ career. So I’m really looking forward to a win, though.
Q. In previous years did you ever take note of how some of the seniors were reacting to their last game here?
James Onwualu: Yeah. I think, you know, it’s definitely an emotional weekend. You try to keep it together as much as possible, but then you’ve got mom crying and then your brothers over there hugging you, and it kind of becomes a sap moment for a little bit, and I’m sure that’ll happen. But refocussing back for the game is important. You know, like I said, it’s a lot for a weekend, but you try to control it as much as possible.
Q. What are the biggest priorities against this offense this weekend? I know they have three wide receivers that have been really, really good in their careers.
James Onwualu: Yeah. Done well.
Q. And this year. What are the focal points for you guys this week?
James Onwualu: You know, we’ve done a better job at defending on the perimeter, and that’s exactly what we’re going to have to do this weekend, their perimeter offense, they try to get the ball on screens, or hitches, slants, whatever it is. So defending those guys on the edges is going to be important as well as containing the quarterback, pretty good player, so —
Q. You just touched on it a minute ago how the games that you’re going to remember I guess the most are a lot of the ones that you’ve lost, and I kind of wanted to see if you could elaborate on just how you think that failure and adversity eventually lead to success for you personally.
James Onwualu: Yeah. I think each loss makes every win even better, for me at least. You put so much into it. This game’s so unique just because you’re working out and training for just 12 guaranteed — well, not even guaranteed, but 12 events that you’re going to be able to perform and put on a show. So when you kind of let yourself down, you sometimes feel like you let yourself down or your teammates down and it’s never a good feeling, but from that that’s what pushes you to get back to work and try to continue to evolve as a player and be more productive and be the player that you need to be. So I think that’s what those losses and difficulties in this game really push you to do is just continue to be a better player, and keeps you real. It’s tough to be an amazing football team or player consistently. You know, you see a lot of guys have a little fault here with some ups and downs. Unlike basketball where guys score 30 points every single night, it’s not that easy in this game. So like I said, it just continues to push you to know that you always can be better.
Q. I’m sure you’d rather have won those games that you lost, but do you feel like you need that failure and adversity in order to have success, like you need to do those things?
James Onwualu: Yeah, I think you can get it from a lot of different lessons, though. You have that in the off season as well, challenging off seasons put you in that situation as well. I think we need a little bit less of that, and I think we will have a little bit less of that in the future here. So I think focusing on the off season and having some of those challenges prepare us for the season will lead to having a few less of those during the actual season.
Q. And now, Mike was just in here and he talked a little bit about kind of the small victories that you guys can take away from this season, and I just wanted to know if you felt the same way and what you would view as some of those small victories.
James Onwualu: Yeah. I mean there’s been a lot to learn from this season, especially for the captains and some of the older leaders. For me, I think — I’ve said this before, but it just comes back to really finding the love and passion in what you’re doing. When everything’s not going very well, it’s pretty easy to break down, and vice versa, when something’s going really well, it’s easy to be a leader and it’s easy to be the all-star player, but when things aren’t going very well, it’s tough to show up every single day and have a smile on your face and work and get other guys to work around and still push themselves to become better players. So I think for me within my room I’ve done a good job of keeping the guys focused on continuing to become better players and playing our role in this game. So that’s a small accomplishment I see in myself. And as the whole team, I think a small accomplishment for the whole team is just that we haven’t stopped. There’s not a guy on the team that I would say has quit on what this season is. They still come to work and still are trying to become better players. I think you don’t really see that in a lot of other programs.
Q. And Mike also said that it easily could have gone the other way.
James Onwualu: Yeah. Exactly.
Q. So how did you guys make sure that it didn’t? Was there something that was said? I know there’s a lot of talk of leadership, and of course, the senior leaders are excellent here, but is there something that happened to make sure that it didn’t go the other way?
James Onwualu: No. I think it’s just the culture of what we have here, and like you said, the leaders and people on the team. Not even really just the leaders, but the younger guys, like I said earlier, Martini buys in to continuing to work, and it’s those younger guys that buy in that keep the program going. It can be ten older guys saying, come on, let’s go, let’s go win this game. But if you don’t have some of these younger guys helping you on special teams and within all the other aspects of the game, it’s really tough to keep the program heading in the right direction.
Q. Yesterday Coach Kelly said that you and Isaac were the guys that kept this thing together, the hardest workers during the most trying times. To hear that from your head coach, that kind of compliment, what does that mean to you?
James Onwualu: It means a ton. That’s kind of what I base my life off of, right? When things aren’t working out, you just work harder. And it means a lot. And that’s what I’ve really tried to focus on. Like I said, it’s a small victory in my book to have just showed up with confidence and work as hard as I possibly can to help the program every single day, so for him to recognize that means a ton.
Q. What do you think running in that tunnel, greeting your family is going to be like?
James Onwualu: The first time running out of the tunnel was crazy. I feel like this one is going to be even more crazy, because it’s the last time, and especially to have two of the people that I love the most in the world out there waiting for me, who I know are extremely proud of me will be very, very rewarding.
Q. And then when you look at the improvement of the defense, what do you point to of the areas where you feel like you guys have improved at the most that has allowed the overall defense to turn things around?
James Onwualu: You know, I hate to put it on the back end, just because that means that they would have had to come back from something, but I think Cole and Drew and some of those guys have done a really, really, really good job of taking some of the new coaching and really implementing it into our game and doing a much better job of containing the ball and keeping it in front of them and playing some routes that are difficult to play. So I hate to say, like I said, that the DBs have really stepped up, but they’ve gone to work the past couple of weeks, and I think we’ll see that this weekend.
Q. As a senior how much do you want to have three games left in your career, not two, how much do you want to get to that bowl game?
James Onwualu: Yeah, I want to get to the bowl game pretty bad, just to have another opportunity to wear a gold helmet and have some more time. Like bowl practices you don’t really have school. You’re kind of hanging out here with your friends and just playing football, and that’s what college sports is all about. So that would be ideal, but I think everybody on the team is just with their competitive mindset wants to win out and beat two great teams in the next two weeks.
Q. And then when you look at where you guys were to the possibility of getting to the bowl game, what do you think if you guys were to win these last two games and get to a bowl game, how big of accomplishment do you think that would be considering where you were at one point this season?
James Onwualu: Yeah, I think it’s huge, just the turnaround and being a solution to this whole thing. It would be very nice to see that some of the work we’ve put in led to something, you know, something that we can hold onto and have another opportunity to compete, like I said.
Q. And finally for me, just making that transition back from the option for a couple of weeks in a row to traditional offense, what are the difficulties in that, and then how much have you guys — how hard has it been, I guess, in this last day to just get back to facing that?
James Onwualu: Yeah, just getting a little rust off, I think. We spent some more time with the offense going ones versus ones as well as having some individual sections that like I said working the rust off, doing some of the individual drills that allow you to get back into some of those movements. Like I was talking to Julian Love, and he was up playing a totally different position, so his first move was forward like mine was and now he’s back there pedalling again, so it just takes a day, couple periods to get used to it.