ATLANTA, Georgia Texas A&M Head Coach Kevin Sumlin, Duke Head Coach David Cutcliffe and selected players from both schools took part in press conference on Saturday. The Aggies and Blue Devils will meet in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl on News Year's Eve at the Georgia Dome. Kick-off is set for 8:00pm eastern time. The game will be televised on ESPN. This will be the first ever meeting between the two school on the football field.
An interview with:
THE MODERATOR: At this time I'll
introduce head coach of Duke University, Coach
David Cutcliffe, Coach, good to have you. And we
have quarterback Anthony Boone, and cornerback
Ross Cockrell that will be joining us as well.
Coach, I'll start off with you, and if we can
get an opening statement, maybe you can talk
about how your bowl week experience has been
COACH CUTCLIFFE: Certainly. First
thing I want to say is I love hanging out with my
two friends here. I'd go anywhere with them. Ross
and Anthony are great representations of the Duke
football team and the quality of the player and the
quality of the young man. We cannot say enough
about the hospitality that the Chick-fil-A Bowl
people, Gary, you and your staff have been
incredible. Everything is right to a Coach's liking,
on time and efficient. Now, I love that, so it's really
been a lot of fun.
Atlanta is a great, great venue as a city.
The Georgia Dome has been incredible for
practice. We're actually back in there today. I
think our team the second year in a row as a bowl
game has adjusted to bowl life a little. I think
they've certainly enjoyed themselves as they
should. But our practices, our work has been
exceptional. Our meetings have been meaningful
and exceptional to this point, so I'm very pleased
I think the thing that I would attribute that
to would be the leadership amongst our players.
Our peer leadership in my opinion is second to
none. When you've got people like Ross and
Anthony and the other captains and other seniors
that are committed to the process, then you're
going to get a great week of bowl preparation.
But it's been fun, great events. Certainly
the Chick-fil-A people have treated us well. I got to
change my exercise routine. I've been fed so well
here that I've got to lose a few pounds now, but
we've certainly enjoyed it.
THE MODERATOR: Players, Anthony,
talk about what your experience has been like so
far related to the Battle for Bowl Week, what's
been your favorite event so far?
ANTHONY BOONE: I really enjoyed the
team milkshake competition. That was a lot of fun
just being able to root a group of guys on instead
of like a one-on-one battle. That was a lot of fun
for our O-line to battle their O-line. It was kind of
like a battle of the trenches type of thing when I
thought about it. But as far as the bowl, I really
enjoy the competitive atmosphere that this bowl
THE MODERATOR: Ross, what about
ROSS COCKRELL: My two favorite
events have been Dave & Busters visit that the
whole team took. That was a great time. We got
to spend a few hours in the arcade and just to
hang out. Also I enjoyed the visit to the children's
hospital. I think it's great for us to use our platform
to help bring smiles to people who are in need. A
lot of those kids were in need, and we were able to
distract them, I guess, for a couple of minutes.
THE MODERATOR: Well said, well said.
Q. Obviously, you get the distinct
pleasure of facing a Heisman quarterback two
weeks in a row. What are the unique
challenges you face when trying to prepare for
COACH CUTCLIFFE: He is a very unique
challenge to say the least. He's obviously
surrounded by good players. They're extremely
efficient offensively and well-coached. Then you
throw in his ability to create. I've been doing this a
long time. I don't think I've ever seen anybody
December 28, 2013
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Duke - 12.28.13.doc 2
ad-lib on the field better. So the things that
concern you are giving up explosive plays when
you seemingly have a play defended. So you're
almost having to defend two plays in one snap.
The one that may be drawn up, which is difficult
enough to defend, and then the one that starts
when he starts ad-libbing and moving in and out of
the pocket. That is extremely taxing to your
defense. It requires a lot of discipline on people at
the back end. I know Ross has been coaching his
buddies back there to be very disciplined in all of
Q. That sounds like a nice intro to you,
Ross. Can you talk about this and how it
compares to what you've faced in your last
ROSS COCKRELL: Well, Manziel and
Winston are obviously two great quarterbacks.
Winston is a much bigger quarterback, not nearly
as quick and as fast, I think, but very mobile. The
thing about Manziel that makes him tough is like
Coach Cut said, when he's back there scrambling
around, you can't really tell which routes the
receivers are going to run. They could run left,
right, down the field, come back up the field. A curl
route can turn into -- a ten-yard curl route can turn
into a 30-yard go route, that's what makes it so
tough. You have to cover for so long, and your
technique and your eyes are going to have to be
Q. Coach, could you talk about how
you make losing your coordinator not a
distraction this week?
COACH CUTCLIFFE: Well, we didn't lose
him this week, so that is the first start of it. We're
in normal preparation, so Kurt Roper is doing his
job as he always would and has. We're all kind of
a product of the process. Our coaches too, we've
been together a long time, so the process is
continuing as it would.
We addressed any issues with that the
very first day, and it really hasn't come back up,
and it hasn't popped up into anyone's mind.
Anthony can speak to that. I'm sure he'd tell you
there is absolutely no difference in what we're
ANTHONY BOONE: Coach Roper has
meant a lot to me as far as quarterback and as far
as a mentor when it comes to on the field and off
the field. But as Coach Cut said, we really haven't
talked about it. We talked about it once first day in
the meeting. Since then it's been a normal going
in there, having a few laughs and going over the
film and worrying about our game plan. He told us
the first day, let's worry about getting this win, and
then after that we'll keep in touch. As far as this
week, we need to concentrate on this week and
getting this win.
Q. With all the breakthroughs you've
had in building this program and getting to the
ACC title game and you've been to a bowl, how
big is it to actually win a bowl game? How
much of that is something you're emphasizing
and talking about?
COACH CUTCLIFFE: I think it's extremely
important to these young men. There is a lot of
significance. There are a lot of ways to look at
that. You could say good for your program. It's a
big issue. Hadn't done it since 1961, I believe, and
all of those things are true. But the only thing
that's really, really important about it is these guys
get to win. And that is is the way we're
approaching it. We're preparing them. Their
mentality has been outstanding. That is the
reason it is truly important to go win this football
It's not just the seniors. It's our entire
team, but certainly it starts with Ross and his
classmates to leave on a winning note.
We all know the taste that was left in our
mouth a year ago. I can promise you these guys
do. I haven't lost it yet. So it's extremely important
that we prepare well and play well, then the chips
are going to fall where they are, but we're not
going to leave anything out there if we can
certainly help it.
Q. Could you talk about your match-up
or the defense's match-up with Mike Evans?
Does it remind you of anyone you've played
thus far this year?
ROSS COCKRELL: Our last game we got
to go up against somebody like him, Kelvin
Benjamin of Florida State. They both have similar
size, similar speed. But other than those two, I
think it doesn't get much better than that in terms
of size and speed and athleticism, it's the total
So far defense, you have to play team
defense against a player like that. Someone who
can do as many things as he can, you're going to
need to gang tackle, you're going to need to get
pressure on the quarterback, and we've got to
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Duke - 12.28.13.doc 3
make sure that we stay in our technique. If we can
do those things, I think we can do a pretty good
Q. You're coming off Duke's best
regular season and playing in the best bowl in
history. Can you talk about what it means to
your program and what Duke football will take
away from this experience?
COACH CUTCLIFFE: I think to start with
it's certainly an important game for our program as
well. I mentioned the reason it's most important to
win this game. But we have now a class that came
in a year ago that had gone to bowl games both of
their years in our program. That needs to become
a standard. Then once it becomes your standard,
it becomes a habit, and that's all certainly capable
We've built the program around that,
around consistent success. So these are certainly
huge steps in that regard.
As you move forward, what bowl games do
over a four or five year in a row period, you start
looking at the practice time. If you take a freshman
that entered Duke when we weren't playing in a
bowl, and you talk a freshman that entered into a
school that's played in a bowl game every year, if
you red-shirted after four years, how much more
practice time has he had than a player that never
got this experience? Also, there is no doubt, I've
been around this a long time, when you taste bowl
games, when you taste what a championship
game feels like, you don't forget it. It's a whole lot
easier to get back the second time than it is the
first time to a championship game, I can promise
you that. I hope we have created that. I don't
hope, I know we have created that kind of hunger
in our program.
Q. Coach Cutcliffe, you have been in
the SEC for a long time with Tennessee and Ole
Miss. Can you talk about what you expect the
crowd to be like? I know that you drove here,
but you're kind of in SEC country.
COACH CUTCLIFFE: Yeah, I've been in
the Dome in some big SEC games. The intensity
of the fans, the intensity of the crowd is going to be
special. I certainly think our players will feed off of
it. But for you to learn -- I've done a lot of years
worth of work with silent snap count. Because if
we took an Ole Miss team into LSU into Baton
Rouge, or we took a Tennessee team into
Birmingham back in the day or certainly into
Florida field, you weren't hearing. That's why we
offensively do a lot of things with hand signals. It
requires a lot of discipline which our team is
capable of having.
Certainly defensively Ross and them know
they've got to communicate. It's not as bad
generally when you're on the road in an SEC
game. It's really difficult on offense. Not as bad.
But this Dome is a loud Dome.
I think everyone is going to be surprised at
how loud the Duke crowd is in this ballgame. So
certainly this thing applies both ways.
Q. How would you put Manziel into
historical context? I know you're familiar with
some of the greatest quarterbacks who have
ever played in college.
COACH CUTCLIFFE: Well, to start with,
to have a red-shirt freshman year and to come on
the scene as he did and consistently put the
numbers up, it's got to be the greatest freshman
year up to that point that College Football has
seen. The excitement meter in the way he plays
takes it through the roof. So to become somewhat
legendary in one year puts you right at the top of
the ladder in the historical sense of what a player,
an individual player, has meant to college football.
We are in an era that we all know that is so
much more closely covered and followed, so with
that, in fact, he may be the most talked about
college football player in history. So he certainly
has earned all of that on the field.
It's pretty incredible when you look at his
two-year totals and numbers that he's been able to
put together. So I think the other thing is he's
exciting. He ad-libs. He's consistent. He plays
really, really well every time he plays the game. I
think that gets lost a little bit when I read
descriptions of him.
Q. A&M has changed the person
making the plays, calls, and offense. Does that
change your preparation any? Have you
crossed paths with Jake Spavital at all in your
COACH CUTCLIFFE: No, not at all and it
can't change because you don't have a basis to
form an opinion of what's going to happen or what
the plan is. You start overthinking then you're not
going to play very well. So we'll prepare our
defense to play against whatever. We've watched
all their games, all their tape. You're not going to
change everything you're doing, so you just go
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Duke - 12.28.13.doc 4
lineup and play football.
So the thought of who is calling them
doesn't worry you nearly as much as who is
Q. We saw today that USA Today has
ranked this bowl match-up as the sixth best of
the bowl season. From your perspective, what
do you think makes this an exciting match-up
that would put it on par with some of the BCS
match-ups that we've got this year?
COACH CUTCLIFFE: I think they may
have missed it by three or four. But other than
that, I think it's a great match-up. You have two
similar offenses that are very capable of getting a
lot of people involved. Both teams have the ability
to run the football; both teams can throw and make
exciting plays. You've got some experience in
both secondaries. Both secondaries have made
critical plays at critical times.
I think certainly you look at two veteran
and experienced offensive lines. The defensive
line match-up, how well each defensive line plays
is going to be very critical in this game.
And I think it's a great match-up in the
kicking game. You have a great specialist on each
side in the punting game. You have outstanding
kickers on both sides. You have outstanding
return men. I think it really when people are going
to enjoy their New Year's Eve watching quality,
exciting football that two teams that really do a lot
of things well. I don't think anyone will be
disappointed in any manner. So it's a game that
when the match-up was announced and when I
talked with Gary, I think we have certainly been
excited since that time. And we'll challenge all of
the things that A&M does well, but we want to put
Duke football on display because our young men
are capable of doing a lot of things extremely well.
THE MODERATOR: Anthony, what do
you think stands out as far as match-ups on the
offensive side of the ball for Duke?
ANTHONY BOONE: I just think our ability
to go out there and be efficient and execute is our
biggest challenge as far as this Texas A&M
defense. Every week we know teams try to find
ways to stop our zone read and find ways to shut
down our passing game. We just have to go out
there and be efficient and play Duke football.
THE MODERATOR: Ross, same question
for you. What are your thoughts on the defensive
side as far as how these teams will stop each
ROSS COCKRELL: Well, I haven't seen
much of their defense, but I can tell you for us we
look forward to this opportunity. This opportunity to
go up against another Heisman Trophy winner. In
my career I've played against basically four or five
Heisman Trophy winners, so we look forward to
this opportunity to go up against the best because
we want to be the best.
Q. Coach Cutcliffe, having been in both
leagues, do you think a true rivalry between the
SEC and ACC exists these days?
COACH CUTCLIFFE: I do. We bump
heads regionally for the most part. Of course we're
up-and-down the Eastern seaboard now. But
regionally we're going to run into each other
recruiting. Right here where we're sitting is one
hot spot where that occurs, and anybody that's in
this business, you're a competitor. So it gets your
competitive juices flowing whether we're recruiting
against each other, whether we're competing on
the field. People keep score in that regard.
This bowl game, people have kept score
as to what has occurred through the years. So I
think everybody has a lot of awareness in that
area. So being a part of the Southeastern
Conference for so long and growing up in it, and
now being a part of the ACC for six years, I'm very
proud of who we are and what we're doing and
where we're headed most importantly, that's why
these match-ups are extremely important to us.
We know where we're headed, and we have to
make sure other people understand that.
THE MODERATOR: To follow that up, the
ACC leads the SEC 11 games to 10 in this game
since they've been playing, and the average
margin of victory is right around a touchdown. So
it's been pretty close and competitive here in our
Q. Anthony, you hear all this talk about
Johnny Manziel and this A&M offense, is there
kind of a Chip on your shoulder? How are you
guys going in wanting to prove against an A&M
defense that's struggled at times this year that
you guys can put up points too?
ANTHONY BOONE: It's not our offense or
their offense, it's Duke versus Texas A&M. So we
know that throughout the year our offense has
struggled here and there and the defense has
picked us up, and if the defense struggled our
offense picked them up, and if our defense has
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Duke - 12.28.13.doc 5
struggled we picked them up. So it's not a battle of
our offense against their offense, it's Duke versus
Q. Coach, Kevin Sumlin has mentioned
that he's known you for a while. Just curious
how you guys got to know each other, when,
and how disclosure friendship is or
COACH CUTCLIFFE: I've talked with
Kevin about jobs back when we were both
younger. Assistants or he was a lot younger than
me, I guess you could say, but I was younger then
too. We talked when I was at Tennessee. I think
he got a kick out of the fact that when I picked him
up and gave him a ride around Knoxville or
whatever, we were in my pick-up truck.
I think it was a little different for Kevin at
that point in time. I think it probably told him a little
bit about who I was. It was the kind of pick-up
truck, because I like to fish, that to clean it you can
open both doors, turn a hose on it and wash it
straight through. That's a real pick-up truck. Not
one of these that are fancy. You understand?
Everything in there will dry naturally. So I think he
got a kick out of that.
He is a quality person and an outstanding
football coach. He's a guy that's this profession is
important to me, whether it's through the American
Football Coaches Association, I've been a member
of the NCAA Football Issues Committee, and we
need quality people in this profession that do
things the right way, and Kevin certainly has been
on that path, and hopefully will carry that path
forward as a relatively young head coach.
THE MODERATOR: Coach, do you still
have the pick-up?
COACH CUTCLIFFE: I am not driving the
pick-up right now, because when I took the Duke
job, I put my rods and reels in the attic, because I
knew I did not need much fishing time at that point
in time. We've had a lot of work to do in these past
six years. So the bass have had to wait, and I'm
letting them grow a little bit.
Q. I was wondering if you could speak
to the uniqueness of this match-up? I'm here
in Atlanta with a local affiliate, and we've never
seen you two here before, just talk about the
COACH CUTCLIFFE: Well, it is. I think
the fact that Texas A&M is new to the
Southeastern Conference, relatively new to the
Southeastern Conference, that brings them to SEC
country out of Texas. Duke is new to the era of
modern bowl football games. So I don't think
anybody would have looked back in August -- now,
Gary you'd have to tell the truth -- and said that
Duke and A&M was going to be the match-up at
the Chick-fil-A Bowl. If you could have picked that
one, you wouldn't be sitting here. You'd be a rich
person somewhere else.
But I think it's a great match-up. As we all
know, SEC, ACC, but it's a little bit unique in
regards that Duke has moved to the scene of
representing the ACC in bowl games and certainly
A&M has moved to representing the Southeastern
Conference in bowl games. So we have a dream
match-up, really, if you think about it in that regard.
THE MODERATOR: Not only is it our first
opportunity to host both Duke and Texas A&M, but
I believe the number is in a combined 220 years of
football, this is the first time these two teams have
played each other. So a lot of firsts in this game
for everybody, I think.
FastScripts by ASAP Sports
An interview with:
TONEY HURD JR.
THE MODERATOR: Welcome back.
We'll try to keep the Chick-fil-A hot for you while
we're in here. We'll get started with our second
session here with Texas A&M University. Joining
us Head Coach Kevin Sumlin, running back Ben
Malena and defensive back Toney Hurd Jr.
Coach, we'll start with an opening
statement from you. Maybe just talk about how
your bowl week experience has been so far.
COACH SUMLIN: Well, we're really
excited. We've had a great time here so far. Got
here Christmas night and had a team meeting. We
worked out twice at the Georgia Dome, which is a
fabulous facility. Our guys really enjoy being over
there. We'll be at Georgia Tech at their new
facility, their indoor facility the next two days and
It's been different for me because when I
talk about Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, I don't
even know what day it is. Today is a Wednesday
for us, practice-wise. So we're on a different
schedule. Yesterday was a Tuesday practice.
Really pleased in how our guys approached it with
a full padded, really lengthy workout yesterday to
get back. Today we're Wednesday and we start to
taper off until we get to game time.
But I couldn't be happier with how we've
been treated. The Chick-fil-A Bowl and the people
have been fabulous from our hospitality to the
events and everything that's gone on. Our hospital
visit yesterday, I thought that was very enlightening
for our players.
Like I said, as we get closer to the game,
more and more people start showing up so we try
to get as much work done as we can right now
before family, friends and everybody gets in here
for the event on New Year's Eve.
THE MODERATOR: Ben, talk about what
has been your favorite bowl week event so far?
BEN MALENA: I think yesterday with the
milkshake challenge along with the Manning
competition. It was the first time that us and Duke
were actually in the same room. While everything
was really friendly with those competitions, you
could tell that both teams were still competing.
While it's all fun and games, by adding a
competition element to it, it kind of made it more
fun. It was a really great experience especially
we're happy that Cedric actually came out with the
win, because if he would have lost, it would have
been a bad week for him.
THE MODERATOR: I'm waiting for
somebody to break down that Madden game for
me. Can you do that for us? I mean, that was all
the way down to the wire.
BEN MALENA: It was a really good game.
Long story short, the last play of the game, Ced
kicked a field goal on third down, which is a really
good, really good call. Might have mistaken him
for an actual head coach. Calling the play like that.
The kid from Duke actually blocked it, but
he was offsides, but we kicked the field goal, so.
THE MODERATOR: Yeah, that was the
most exciting Madden finish we've had. It was the
first one, but still the most exciting.
Tony, what about you? What's been your
best event so far?
TONEY HURD JR.: I feel like for sure last
night actually getting to see those guys up close
and personal and just competing. All of us on our
team are great competitors. Last night that was
big for us. We want to win the competition this
week and we want to come away with a win in a
game. I feel like last night was a great experience
to start off the competition.
December 28, 2013
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Texas A&M - 12.28.13.doc 2
THE MODERATOR: It's all about the belt.
It's all about the belt. This is actually the belt stand
in. The players actually retained the belt last night,
and they've got it. They're taking it around Atlanta
or whatever they're doing. All right. Let's get to it,
guys. We'll open it up to questions. Just raise
your hand and we'll get a microphone to you.
Q. Kevin, handing over your play
calling duties to Jake, what do you expect to be
COACH SUMLIN: I saw something
yesterday that said I vowed to do something. I
didn't vow to do anything. You have a feel as a
head coach about the direction that you're headed.
A feel for your players, a feel for what direction you
really want your program to go in. So those types
of decisions are always difficult. I think it's a little
different for me because I've been a part of those
types of decisions. You know, the overall aspect
of this program where we're headed, not just for
this game but for the future, that's my
As I said, those decisions are always
tough, but I don't know how much things are going
to really, really change. I just think incorporating a
lot of different players into our offense is important,
and I don't think, I know that's the direction we're
Q. When did you make the decision to
replace coach Kenny with Coach Spavital?
COACH SUMLIN: It's something that I
thought about. The way it was released was the
day I actually talked about it. I know we do a lot of
things that you guys find out about later on, but
there's never a good time. I thought the way we do
things in bowl preparation, we try to have a game
week of preparation at home, and then we gave
these guys a couple three days off for Christmas.
Then we do another complete game week when
we're here. That's why I said today is Wednesday
So with those two game weeks, I just
thought it was important that we had the
opportunity to install a game plan with a lot less
distractions at home and to give Jake an
opportunity to put his twist on it at home and think
about it a little bit more, and when we got here kind
of polish it up and get ready to go.
Q. I'm hoping I can catch you in
somewhat of a reflective mood for once. But
looking at the off-season stuff with Johnny to
the investigation of the start of fall camp to
some really big games and you getting a new
contract and being here today, how has that
tested you as a coach and how have you grown
as a coach going through a season like this?
COACH SUMLIN: There is no manual for
this job. You are always challenged with a lot of
different things. This year I was just talking on the
way over here and we've got some visiting
coaches around that have come back and are here
this week that really they're not involved in bowl
games, but I've talked to a lot of different people. It
seems like so long ago that we were sitting here
talking about all those different things. From the
beginning, from August 4th when all that news hit
to the game of the decade, I mean, there's been a
lot of big moments this year, and that is a
testament to the reason these two guys are up
here, the seniors that have been through a lot.
You have to remember, these guys came to Texas
A&M and when they got here they had no idea that
they'd have the opportunity to come to Atlanta and
play in the Chick-fil-A. Because when they got
here, all the things that went through this year in
Alabama, and the teams that we lost to are really,
really fine football teams. I think everybody knows
We had a chance to win, really, at the end
of three of those four games. So the ball bounces
different ways. But I think we've grown as a
coaching staff. I think these guys have learned a
lot and really, really appreciative of their
experiences as I talked to them of being in the
SEC. Whether we're at home or going on the road
to a lot of different places. So it's all still very new
But I think two years into this situation for
me you're still learning. We're a part of the best
league in the country and probably the best
division in the best league in this country, and for
us to be where we want to be, we're going to have
to continue to grow as a program. Fortunately we
have the administration, the facilities, and the
backing that's putting us in that position to compete
and win in this league.
I told these guys, these guys are going to
move on. They have an opportunity to do
something that no one has ever done at Texas
A&M, and that is to win three consecutive bowl
games in three consecutive years. You think of
how long we've played football, and how many
great players have been here and how many great
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Texas A&M - 12.28.13.doc 3
teams have been here, to have that as a goal to
walk away like our senior group last year was one
of four teams to ever win 11 games. These guys
have an opportunity to set another bar regardless
of what happened this year, I think that's important
to them because that's something no one can ever
take away from them.
Q. How much healthier is Johnny now
compared to the regular season? And how
would you characterize his play in the last
couple games where it looked like he might
have been banged up?
COACH SUMLIN: It's interesting. We ran
him a lot more the year before, and he wasn't beat
up. We didn't run him as much this year. We
didn't really talk about it too much; but hitting the
helmet is something that is hard on your throwing
hand. He battled through it. And obviously the
time off, we hadn't played in a month, and giving
him a chance to heal up, I think he feels really,
really good right now.
I liked practice yesterday. I think he's
approaching this game and feeling better. He's got
a bit more bounce. I think the time off for this
team, because it was a pretty good year. I mean,
for these guys that are playing, this league is
rough. But we gave them more time off this year.
We didn't practice for a couple weeks after that last
game and kind of turned it up a notch when we got
back to practice instead of just keeping it going.
I think our team needed some rest not only
physically but mentally with what was going on. I
like our energy level right now. As you said, I think
just watching practice yesterday and being around
our guys they're anxious to play again.
Q. Ben, it's your second year in the
SEC, but do you still feel that sense of
responsibility to represent the league in the
bowl game and come away with that win for the
BEN MALENA: Yeah, I mean, not only for
the SEC but for Texas A&M. We understand the
prestigious league that we represent. We certainly
don't want to get into the loss column, especially in
a bowl game. Just like Coach Sumlin said, for this
senior class and this whole team has an
opportunity to do something in this rich history that
A&M has that no other group of players have
To to answer your question, we do want to
represent the SEC well, but I think it's more for
Texas A&M than the conference.
COACH SUMLIN: It was interesting, the
stat is, correct me if I'm wrong, Gary, the ACC has
won 11 of these, and the SEC has won 10.
THE MODERATOR: That's right.
COACH SUMLIN: We have an opportunity
to try to tie this thing up, and that will be good for
Q. Coach, this is your first trip to one
of the SEC's traditional bowl games. Can you
talk about how this bowl experience compares
to others you've had and what it means to try
to establish your brand knowing that the
Chick-fil-A Bowl is going to be joining the
playoffs next year?
COACH SUMLIN: Yeah, I've been very
fortunate in my career to be able to coach in all
four BCS games. The hospitality here has been
outstanding. You can see why this bowl game,
this venue and this event will be part of the six
championship sites for the college playoffs. We're
very, very fortunate to be a part of that. The
seniors, as Ben just talked about talked about their
goals and our goals as a team, but for our younger
players, this is a great experience because looking
down the road as a coach you're always thinking
about what is next. For us to be here in Atlanta,
which it's twofold. We've got this experience that
we're drawing off of and practicing hopefully for our
younger players we can get back here and be a
part of the SEC Championship game. Then the
bigger goal is you know this is going to be where
the playoff situation is going to be handled.
So, for us, this is a great experience for
our seniors who are leaving, as Ben just talked
about, what our goals are presently. But down the
road we hope to get back here. We like Atlanta.
We'd love to be back here a bunch if we can be
Q. Can you talk a little bit about I know
that Darian's not going to be playing and Duke
has a player that's been suspended. But can
you talk about the Aggies approach to the
ballgame knowing that Darian's not going to be
on your defensive unit?
TONEY HURD JR.: Our defense is the
next man up. All year long we've had some
injuries and some things that have taken our
defense, and we have younger guys that are ready
to step up. I'm sure our younger linebacker Mastro
will be ready to play. Donnie Baggs will be ready
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Texas A&M - 12.28.13.doc 4
to play, and we have a bunch of young guys ready
to make a name for themselves. They've been
working hard to make plays for us. But our
defensive coordinator, Coach Snyder will have our
linebackers ready for this game.
Q. Coach, you talked about the
opportunity for this group to win three straight
bowl games and how important that is. But
how important is it to win the bowl game and
how important is it to go into spring ball for
COACH SUMLIN: Well, we treat bowl
games probably a little bit differently than most
people. We have three phases really, couple
phases that we go through in preparation. It gives
us an opportunity to work our younger players
early. The guys who red-shirted and are not real
starters. The special teams guys get a look at
them and then develop our game plan to win.
I think from our standpoint, from my
standpoint it's obvious that bowl games we like to
not just enjoy the atmosphere but we like to win
those games. I think it does carry over in the next
We talked as a team yesterday about our
performance level and where we want to be and
how we're going to approach this game. I think
based on practice yesterday I couldn't be happier
with our preparation up to this point, how these
guys are handling it. I think we're going to be
ready to go New Year's Eve.
Q. Coach Cutcliffe earlier was talking
about he picked you up in Knoxville,
Tennessee in a pick-up truck?
COACH SUMLIN: Yeah, we talked about
that the other day.
Q. We were wondering when that was
in your career?
COACH SUMLIN: It's kind of interesting. I
had been a graduate assistant for two years and
Coach Tiller moved to Wyoming. I was there for
two years as a wide receiver coach. My first year
at Minnesota, so I had been a full-time coach for
three years. He called me and asked me about
coming to interview for the wide receiver job at
Tennessee. I was young. Shoot, I didn't know a
bunch of anything at that point, but I knew that as a
kid growing up I wanted to go to school there but I
wasn't good enough.
They had the World's Fair there in
Knoxville, and I was down there as a kid. That's a
long time ago. They didn't recruit me. They didn't
think I was good enough, and they were right. But
I had a chance to go there and interview, and he
picked me up in the pick-up truck and we talked a
little football that day with Coach Fullmer and rode
around, looked at houses. I was single at the time.
I was driving around in a pick-up truck. I've always
had a lot of respect for David and how he's done
things. He's had a lot of different experiences with
both the Mannings, whether he was at Tennessee
or at Ole Miss. Just how he's run his program with
class, with character.
Somebody asked me, I said, I'm not
surprised. I'm not surprised at all they won ten
games because of how he does things. He's a guy
that's worked at this profession for a long time.
Pays attention to detail, has a great situation at
Duke and he's a guy that we're sitting next to each
other yesterday at the SCA breakfast just talking
about how things have changed in our lives. In
this profession, you cross a lot of different paths
and you never know.
By the way, they didn't hire me. They
hired somebody else. I wasn't good enough at that
point. I couldn't play there and I couldn't coach
there. But everything worked out. Hopefully I'm a
little bit better now than I was in my third year as a
Q. He said he had trouble getting you
to help him clean out that pick-up. Do you
think that might have had something to do with
COACH SUMLIN: Well, it was. We were
riding around and talking. Part of the interview
process was just riding in the truck with him and
getting to know him. It was a great experience for
Like I said, I've always had a lot of respect
for how he's done things, a class act. It says a lot
about him. Obscure, you get a phone call in the
middle of the day from the coordinator at
Tennessee, and you're like, really? Come on.
Want to bring you down here, talk a little football
and see if you'll be interested in this job. I think
that says a little bit about him as a person. Always
looking outside, paying attention to what's going
on, and that was a real honor for me.
Like I said, I didn't get the job. I know who
got the job. He's a friend of mine too. It's an
experience that obviously I didn't forget and I
wasn't impressive enough at that point to do
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Texas A&M - 12.28.13.doc 5
anything. But everything works out.
Q. Ben, can you talk about what you've
seen from Coach Spavital taking the reins and
kind of leading? Talk about the pace that you
guys expect having the calls right there on the
field and getting back on the ball and moving
BEN MALENA: Yeah, I think that's going
to help a lot, actually, him calling the plays but him
actually being on the sideline and being able to
communicate faster. That will help our tempo out a
He just brings the energy to this offense.
The first day everybody found out that he got the
job. The transition period wasn't hard at all. He's a
very easy guy to respond to. But when you're
thinking about offensive schemes and stuff like that
you know it's going to be on full display New Year's
Eve. So you won't have anything to worry about.
Q. For the seniors, have you seen any
indication that Johnny has taken a senior
approach into this game? Have you seen any
indication that he's kind of looking to this as
his farewell as well?
BEN MALENA: No, I mean, especially
with me being on the offensive side of the ball and
being around him all the time, he's the same
Johnny Manziel as two years ago competing for
the starting quarterback job. He's a work horse.
He approaches every day like he wants to be
better. I haven't seen anything different from him
approaching this bowl game.
Q. The status of Malcome Kennedy,
maybe a little overlooked that he wasn't
involved in the last two games?
COACH SUMLIN: Yeah, Malcome was
beat up a little bit too through the year. He's been
nursing some things. Like I said, this team at the
end of the year had been through a lot. Just
looking at practice the last couple days, I think the
rest that these guys had and how we've
approached this part of the year has really helped
us physically and mentally.
Every now and then as a coach you can
do too much. You always worry about what your
process is going to be, and different teams are
different. We played a lot of guys that were
younger guys and put a lot on these guys, the old
guys, to play a lot of snaps this year. I think just
taking a couple weeks of not practicing and then
jumping back on it has really helped us mentally
and physically. I think Malcome's part of that. I
think there is a lot of running, a lot of hits he's
taken, a lot of different things that have happened.
But just looking at him now and like these guys
we've talked about, I think they're anxious.
Being in a new environment has really kind
of helped us, I think. You walk into that building
and, like I told these guys, there is a lot of really,
really great players that have played in this
building and, the energy level just kind of rose.
Our guys have done a really good job, I
think, over the course of the last couple years of
accepting the challenge in bigger venues, bigger
games, and I don't look for that to change this
Q. Tony, what are your thoughts on
Duke's wide receiver Jamison Crowder and
what are ways to deal with him?
TONEY HURD JR.: From my point of
view, we feel like they have pretty solid receivers.
They have a good tight end as well. Their
offensive scheme has power. They can put up
points, and in the fourth quarter is where they play
We know we have to play 60 minutes of
solid football on defense and contain the receivers.
I'm pretty sure we'll be man-to-man and throw
some zone in there. But for the most part our
defensive staff will help us prepare.
Q. We talked with the folks from Duke.
This bowl game has been ranked the sixth best
bowl game of the season this year. Coach, talk
about what you think makes this comparing
offense to offense and defense to defense,
what are some of the things you think makes
this game exciting on that level of caliber with
some of the BCS games?
COACH SUMLIN: You know, you're
playing in a very potent Duke team. A team that's
won double digit games, beat Miami, Virginia Tech,
Carolina, North Carolina State represented their
division in the ACC. So they're a very, very
well-coached football team. They're disciplined
and they're good.
I talk to these guys all the time. When you
get around New Year's Day, New Year's Eve, there
are not a bunch of bad teams playing. You've
earned the right to play around that time.
For us, I think just from a national
standpoint, kind of hike last year, but this year too,
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Texas A&M - 12.28.13.doc 6
we're in a time slot where -- I probably shouldn't tell
this story. I told everybody yesterday -- we're in a
time slot that's unopposed. And everybody in the
world will be watching this game because there is
nothing else on. Whether you're at home or you're
at a local establishment, that game is going to be
So from our viewpoint, from a branding
standpoint, it's important how we play. It's a great
opportunity for us to put on display who we are as
not only a football program, but as a university.
I think our guys see that as an opportunity
to show who we are. For these guys who are
seniors for their last football game in college, that's
a big deal. To know that you're playing on New
Year's Eve and there's nobody else on and kind of
like the NFL guys talk about "Monday Night
Football". We're New Year's Eve and there is
nobody else watching. Everybody in the world is
going to be watching. It's a great opportunity for
these guys and for our university to display who we
Q. Ben and Tony, what stands out
about this match-up to you guys?
BEN MALENA: Well, for me, like Coach
Sumlin said, for me personally, and I'm pretty sure
Tony can add to it too, but this is our last college
football game ever of actually being on the field
and strapping the helmet up for Texas A&M. With
everything that we've been through starting our
freshmen year until now, changing. We're
fortunate enough to get a great head coach in
Kevin Sumlin to make us even better, but most
importantly finish out our collegiate career in the
It's like Coach Sumlin said, playing in a
slot where no one else is playing, all eyes are
going to be on us and on this university. We're just
looking forward to representing the University well.
TONEY HURD JR.: For me, I feel like
defensively this is a great challenge for us. We've
had a lot of ups and downs, a lot of injuries and
things we've overcome this season. But we want
to start this -- this game is the start of next year for
our team. And we want to start for next year on
defense, we want to start well. I know Coach
Snyder has been through a lot this season with our
fair share of ups and downs. But with our younger
guys, we want to show they've matured and
overcome the odds. They're prepared to play well.
For our defense, this is a great opportunity for us.
They have a great offensive scheme, great
offensive coordinator. Like I said earlier, they play
well in the fourth quarter, so we know we've got to
come ready to play, and I'm just ready to get back
on the field and have some fun.
Q. I know in a profession that is based
on outcome and performance, how difficult is it
to do the right thing if a player steps across the
line and says, hey, you're not going to play in
this big game?
COACH SUMLIN: You know, that's all
part of it. We're in the business of a lot of people
see Saturday. But we're in the business of
growing young men. One of the reasons -- one of
the crazy reasons, probably, I like college football
is because of that. When you have 17,
18-year-olds, it's kind of like clay. We try to mold
those guys and take their experiences. Because
we've got guys from different backgrounds,
different home lives, two parents, one parent, no
parent, and try to get them at the end of three,
four, five years to be successful. Football ends for
everybody at a certain time. Some guys sooner
than later. But ultimately what we're trying to do is
raise people to be good husbands, people that are
going to contribute to society in a positive way.
Learning those lessons can be difficult sometimes.
How you handle that is part of your job in college
When you have 85 scholarship guys and
40 walk-on guys, everybody's got different issues.
How you approach that as a team, how you
approach that personally, I think it's important. To
get guys to learn lessons -- sometimes they learn
lessons the hard way, but I think that's part of our
job. That's a huge part of our job not just on
Saturday, but every day in trying to get guys to do
what's right. Have we been perfect at it? Probably
not. But I think our guys can tell you that we have
We have some things that we believe in
and basically what's right and what's wrong, and
there are consequences to everybody's actions,
good and bad. Those decisions are made and
they're difficult. They're difficult for our football
team, but they're difficult for those individuals and
those families. We communicate that. That's part
I've seen it all different ways. In 26 years
of coaching, guys grow out of bad situations and
become real contributors to society later on in life.
My biggest deal is not -- Saturday is a big deal,
wins and losses, obviously, because if you don't
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Texas A&M - 12.28.13.doc 7
win, you don't have a job in this business. But
when I see guys come back from tough
backgrounds and then come out to practice with
their wife and little boys and they're husbands and
fathers and knowing where they came from and
having the opportunity to go to Texas A&M or go to
different schools, get a degree and be productive
from a background that maybe that wasn't
possible. We've got a lot of first time-first
generation college graduates. We have an
opportunity in this profession to really change
families lives. To your point, you know, to me, that
is the bigger picture.
Q. Now you played in this game in '78,
COACH SUMLIN: No, '78? I'm not that
THE MODERATOR: '84.
COACH SUMLIN: Six years is a big deal
now. I'm getting up there, but '78, come on. I was
14. No, actually, I was 3. I'm going to say that.
Q. Can you talk about that experience
as a player versus the experience coming back
as a coach?
COACH SUMLIN: Yeah, we played the
Virginia Cavaliers. Coach George Welsh was the
coach. We didn't know much. I didn't know much
about it at Purdue. We started watching tape, and
it was like, man, this quarterback is pretty good.
Who is that guy? And it was a guy named Don
Majkowski, the magic man who we contained for
about a half. They started running option. I said,
man, this guy is fast. Barry Ward, and Jim
Dombrowski, that is all I remember. Those three
guys were really good players.
So we hung on for a while, and in the
fourth quarter we got sideways, but we had a great
experience at Fulton County Stadium back in the
day. We actually stayed at the Marriott and had a
great, great bowl experience, great time.
I told these guys, I said you know you're
getting old when you're coaching in a bowl game
that you played in. Not in '78, all right. And the
bowl game was a different name at that time, so
I'm getting up there. But we had a great
And for these guys I am asking --
somebody asked the other day how many guys
have been to Atlanta before? And I looked around
and we probably had five or six hands shoot up.
So it's been a great experience for these guys
coming here to Atlanta and experiencing
something that that's the great thing about college
athletics too. These guys have come through,
been in some venues they haven't been in before
in the SEC, and coming to Atlanta I think you can
hear it out of their voices, they're loving this place
and excited to be here.
Q. Ben, you kind of mentioned looking
back, but can you kind of reflect on being a
senior and the fact that you've had these
struggles and now where you guys are and that
you're leaving this A&M team and I guess a
little better than when you got here?
BEN MALENA: Yeah, I'm glad the tables
have turned. One issue that doesn't get talked
about a lot is the huge success A&M has had over
these past two years is Kevin Sumlin. He
immediately the first day that he walked in and in
that team meeting in the Auditorium, I'll never
forget it, he said, look, if it wasn't me, it will be
another guy. So you better get ready quick. From
that moment on we realized that it's a new time
here at A&M.
Also with the SEC move, you know, we
went in and took it as an approach. Everybody
knew we were going to have a really bad, tough
year our first year in the SEC, and Coach Sumlin
let us know we have enough talent on the
schedule to beat everybody on the schedule.
What he has done for this program and
where he has taken it, especially when I first got
here to where we are now, I mean, you really can't
explain it. You really can't describe it. Just from a
team aspect, and the competition we had last
night, I was talking to Nate. We came in together,
and we were like, man, look how much fun we're
having now. Rather than I don't want to say not
having fun. But getting to enjoy the experience
that's we're having now.
We're blessed to be in such a great bowl
game. It's like he said, those five or six hands that
went up when he said how many people have
been to Atlanta, this is my first time being to
Atlanta. I'm enjoying every minute of it.
I just think where we have come now,
especially as a senior class, the spotlight of this
university that it's on right now, I just think it's
great. I'm honored to be a key component of it
being the way that it is now.
COACH SUMLIN: You will not have to run
after practice today.
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Texas A&M - 12.28.13.doc 8
BEN MALENA: I appreciate that.
COACH SUMLIN: You've got your sprints
cut off. That's a good deal.
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