State Of The Program: UNCP Football
In the midst of the recruiting process last week, UNCPBraves.com had the chance to sit down with football head coach Pete Shinnick to find out about the recruiting season, as well as the questions that needed to be answered heading into spring football.
To begin, just give a short review of last season.
I think we had a very good plan in place for the 2010 season. I think that we started off really well with beating Fayetteville State like we did and the fact that we were 5-2 and ranked as high as 14th in the country with all of our goals and all of our objectives still in front of us. When you look at what happened to us injury-wise and how our team just could not hold up with who we were playing, then you'll know what happened. We were depleted from game one. If we were able to stay healthy throughout the course of the whole season, I think we would have had a different outcome. I really do. I think the plan was good and I think the guys came out of the gate very well and I think we did a lot of good things. But, when you're looking at (senior linebacker) Adam Deese as the only guy who started all 10 games for us on defense and every other position had different starters, and then you look at (senior offensive guard) Kenneth Ngwu as the only offensive lineman who played every game for us, it's going to be difficult to maintain the success that we had in the past. If you look at our 2008 and our 2009 seasons, we stayed healthy.
You had a lot of success running the ball in 2009, do you attribute those injuries to your offensive troubles and not being able to do as much as you had in the past?
Our offensive line – (junior center) Keith Broderick got hurt early, (senior tackle) Blake Yarbrough got hurt late, (senior tackle) Logan Hyatt got hurt late and (junior tackle) Lance White got a concussion and missed part of a game – we just were never in sync. We felt really good about what we had going in and, if you look at us statistically through the first four games before those things happened, we were moving in the right direction. Offensively, now that it's out and we didn't publicize it, on the Thursday before we went down to Webber International, one of the last balls (senior quarterback) Cory Smith throws in practice – he felt something in his elbow. We later found out it was a severe case of tendonitis. Cory Smith, from after Webber International, he didn't throw a lot of balls in practice. We were trying to get both of the backups ready and they ran into some scenarios that didn't work out for them until we got later on down the road. We were doing everything that we could, but we went through more adversity week-to-week than I have seen in any other season.
Including the first season in 2007?
Yeah, at least in 2007 we knew what we had heading into the last half of the season. It was very similar. I give our coaches and our players credit. We did a good job to finish 5-5. We really did.
The storyline last year was your senior class. In that, talk about what they meant to the program and to the success of the team and, from a leadership standpoint, how difficult they are going to be to replace?
It's an interesting deal because they had only known success for two years. I know that all of them are disappointed in how the season ended. In every one that I have talked to, they are disappointed that we ended the way that we did. Part of our injury-problem was with our seniors. Blake Yarbrough couldn't play as much, Caylon Hann didn't play as many games as he had, Keith Gore missed a game and Rashon Kennedy missed a couple of games. All of those guys, with these high expectations, they weren't able to stay healthy. I think what it did though when you talk about this year's (2011) team, now that we've shown up January 1 and it's a brand new team with no seniors, if you were to walk in our weight room right now, you wouldn't be able to tell what type of season that we had last year. They know how important it is to be in the best shape possible and they know how important it is to not fall into some of the things that we fell into last year. They are working hard and I give them a lot of credit.
Maybe some of the positives that came from the injuries and adversity last year is that some of the younger guys saw some playing time. Talk about what that means to your program going forward and evaluate the performances of the guys.
You're talking about a guy like Te'vell Williams at wide receiver. Jason Perry didn't play at all and Joe Burnett was very limited. If those guys would have been healthy, I don't know if we would have been able to play Te'vell as much as we did. Elliot Powell (running back) is another guy who got tremendous experience, and the same can be said for T.J. Jenkins at linebacker. He got some great experience. And then you look at (offensive linemen) Wes Carter and Phillip Cheek who ended up playing the last three games for us on the offensive line. Devante Bush is another one. He played earlier because of not having some guys that we thought we would have early. We were able to play quite a few freshmen and redshirt freshmen that we weren't planning on playing and that is going to pay huge dividends for us next year.
Talk about your class that you did redshirt. How do you think they'll contribute now that you have actually seen them under your watch?
Jordan Gibbs (defensive line) will have an opportunity to play right away and Josh Barbour (defensive line) will have an opportunity to play right away as well. Tamari White (running back) and Collin Floyd (wide receiver) will have those same opportunities as well. We have some young offensive linemen that will have a chance also. I think it was very beneficial with the guys that we were able to redshirt. It has happened every year that we have been able to do that. Devante Bush, Phillip Cheek and Wes Carter were all redshirted a year ago and those guys were able to step up and do some good things in their first year.
What have you identified as your biggest challenges with the new team, not only on a position-by-position basis, but also from a mental standpoint?
Really, the biggest challenge is, and I mentioned this to them last week in our meeting, we had a good plan and we were in good shape, we just didn't finish as well as we needed to. We have to eliminate some of the problems that we had - and we had some problems and some issues that we dealt with and we worked through - and we have to be able to come out stronger and we have to be able to learn from that. So, the biggest challenge, is getting all of the guys on the same page and getting back to some basics in some things so there are no questions in how we are doing things or what we are trying to accomplish. I like how this team is doing so far. Just finishing with recruiting, we have great facilities for NCAA Division II, we have a great campus that has undergone $200 million dollars worth of renovations over the last 10 years but, to a parent and to a person, all of them are impressed with our players. They are impressed with our players as hosts and our players do a panel where our parents can interview the players with no coaches in the room. We have guys that understand what we are trying to do and the direction where we want to go.
Offensively, you had some key losses, particularly on the offensive line and at quarterback. How do you see those positions shaping up heading into the spring and then into next season?
On the offensive line, I think Wes Carter and Phillip Cheek kind of solidified themselves at that position. We have Keith Broderick back as a starter (at center) and Lance White back as a starter (at tackle). Somebody is going to have to emerge in one of the guard spots. At quarterback, obviously Cory Smith was a starter for a majority of the 27 wins we have as a program, so that is a huge area that we need to fill. Luke Charles played the last game because we wanted to get him some experience and see what he looked like. He came out, fought and played hard. The four interceptions were not a good thing. Two of them were on fourth down so I don't fault him for those. Jonathan Efird transferred in from Western Carolina. We redshirted Preston Perry and Teland Todd is going to be a redshirt sophomore. We do have two other guys that we redshirted in Jeff Homad and Ed Derosier who are walk-ons. It is really going to be a wide open situation. We just signed Patrick O'Brien as well. We are hoping to find the answers by the end of the spring, but we are going to go as long as we need to. If you look at, over the past years, when a guy like Cory Smith leaves, not many coaches name a starter one week into spring ball. So, we are going to take our time with this. We are going to make sure that we have the right people. At wide receiver and running back, we think we have some pretty good guys coming back. At wide receiver, we do lose our top two guys. But, with Jason Perry back and Te'vell Williams back, along with a healthy Donald Britt and Ben Decelle, we have got a good group. At running back, we're going to try and get Travis Daniels back to his 2009 numbers. Elliot Powell showed that he can play very well, we're going to get Adrain Williams back healthy and then we redshirted Tamari White. We feel that those two positions are good.
Same story on defense with the holes on the defensive line and at linebacker. How do you expect those positions to be filled?
The defensive line was obviously very deeply hit. At the same time, it's one that we have got a lot of guys who have played coming back. Derek Davis and Devante Bush have played a lot of football for us. With Josh Barbour being redshirted, we have some guys who have played there. On the inside, Rayvon Stanback and Josh Gooding played a lot at the end of the year when Morris McLaughlin and Adrian Williams were battling injuries. We get to throw Jordan Gibbs into the mix there and Ryan Stiles who ended up redshirting, so it's not like we don't have people who can play. We just don't have the same guys that we have had for four years. Linebacker will really be the place where we will be thin. We finished with Adam Deese, Tarvaris Jackson, T.J. Jenkins Justin Bullard and Karlin Brown. That is quite a bit different than how we started. Justin and T.J. both got a lot of reps. With Fred (Williams) and Jamaral (Rease) healthy now, we feel like we are in good shape. We also signed three linebackers and have a transfer linebacker coming in, so I feel good about that position. In the secondary, Kris (Jackson) and J.D. (Douglas) started in the last game at corner and we feel like we have two good starters. We signed three freshmen and we have a transfer coming in at that position as well. At safety, Quentin Pate and Kellen Rankin pretty much finished the season as our starters because we moved Caylon (Hann) over to corner. So, we're young, but we're not as young as we look. My expectations are very high. We have got a heckuva schedule, and I feel like we have got to get a couple of pieces to this puzzle this spring and in preseason practice.
Last season, you had guys on both sides of the ball that were looked to as leaders – Cory Smith on offense and both Adam Deese and Caylon Hann on defense. Who do you see stepping into those roles next year?
It's interesting. We're kind of finding out where guys are right now. That's the beauty of spring because we have some time to work it out. We do have some older guys that can do that, but I think they are feeling that out also. If you look through the history of this program, Cory Smith has been a starter and Adam Deese has been a starter. I think some of the guys are now saying "hey, it's my turn now." We're trying to develop and cultivate that, and it's one of those things that we are going to work on. It's a work in progress.
Talk about your recruiting class a bit.
Our coaches did a great job and we signed a great class. I am fired up about it. It is maybe one of the best top-to-bottom classes we have ever put together. There is a lot of really good talent at the positions that we needed guys at. It is a very athletic group and we signed a lot of the guys that we ranked as our top guys going in.
What is a typical week for a coach during recruiting season?
Our heavy contact time, when the NCAA says that we can have face-to-face contact, is in December and January and our guys are out of the office a ton. We have burned up a lot of motor pool cars with how much we travel. Each guy on my staff is going out and coming back and coming back every day, and then going out and staying the night on other days. I will give you an example, we had a 6 a.m. Friday workout and we had recruits coming in at 2 p.m. Coach (Jammie) Deese, coach (Jim) Miller and I were in a recruit's house until 10 p.m. that night and he lived 3-1/2 hours away. So, we did not get home until 2 a.m. the following morning by the time we stopped. Our guys will go anywhere at anytime to get the job done and I am proud of all of the hard work they put into the process.
Explain your recruiting philosophy and some of the things that go into the recruiting process.
First and foremost, we target the state of North Carolina. The state of North Carolina is going to be where we spend almost all of our time on high school athletes. We will look out of state for some transfers, but that is number one. With that said, we want to go within a 3-hour radius of Pembroke. We are going to try do everything we can at any high school in that radius. We did get some guys in this class from further away from that because we do recruit the whole state. Secondly, we are looking for the right fit to our program. The guys have to understand that the team is more important than the individual and that the individual is going to get recognition with the success of the team. The recruit also has to be able to fit in when he comes in on a recruiting weekend. Our players do a fantastic job hosting recruits. They spend time with them and, if the recruit doesn't fit in, our guys let us know. They are going to be their future teammates and we want to make sure that they feel good about who we are bringing in and how we are doing that.
Explain to the outsider your winter conditioning process and what kind of strides you look for your players to take.
Number one, there is something specifically that we want to get done with each guy on our team. Each guy has an area that he needs to gain in. (Strength and Conditioning coach) Joey Hannant organizes that and, really, we are looking to improve the weaknesses that we have and make a total gain across the board with every position and with every guy. It's a long process. It starts as soon as the season ends and we are in full swing right now five days a week leading up to Spring Football.
Talk about Spring Football – what you're expecting and what fans should expect – once you get everything going.
We lost a lot of seniors so we have a lot of competition going on. We have a tremendous amount of competition among guys on our defensive line and in our secondary, as well as at the wide receiver and quarterback positions. We've got answers that we need to find. We have got some holes on our offensive line – we redshirted some guys and we have some guys that need to step up. We have got a very good nucleus and we've got a very good group that's coming back, but there will be a lot of great competition in the spring.
Having gone through the four-year cycle now by graduating a big senior class that you have worked with here for all four years, can you grade the progression of the program?
I think we are right on schedule as it pertains to our plan for the program. We were right where we wanted to be going into last season. We were ranked in almost every poll and, most of them we were ranked in the top 20. We started the season by beating Fayetteville State, we went up and played a tough game against Wingate but we were still able to bounce back and beat Carson-Newman and stay as the 14th-ranked team in the country. We were 5-2 at one point last year, so the plan was good and the steps were good, but we just ran into the end of the season where we were very thin and we were very beat up. If you could take away the last three games, I think we are right where we want to be. Now, we didn't finish the way that we wanted to and everyone around here is upset with a 5-5 season. Now, we have got to find out whether we can take the next step. Whether we finished 8-2 or 5-5 last year, this is still a new year for us and it is still a new process. We have got to convey that to our guys and, with the way they started this semester and the way that they are working, I feel really good about where we are at.