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Sunday, October 21,2012

Off week gives ’Cats chance to regroup before Miami

’Cats move up to No. 23 in AP poll

By Wes Mayberry
Photo Credits: Athens NEWS file photo.
Photo Caption: How much will the substantial NCAA rule changes hurt Ohio football head coach Frank Solich’s efforts to create a high-profile national program? Time will tell.

After a hard-fought seven games that resulted in seven victories, Ohio Bobcat head football coach Frank Solich gave his players several days off knowing that the team wouldn't be playing again until this Saturday, Oct. 27.

"I think it would be a mistake if we didn't give them a good amount of time off in this bye week," Solich said during his Wednesday press conference. "In saying that, you don't want to put too many obligations on them."

Fresh off a No. 25 ranking in the Associated Press poll, Solich said that although he had not addressed his team since the end of the Akron game, he knows there are many positives that come with this national recognition. (The 'Cats moved up to No. 23 in the latest AP poll, released Sunday afternoon.)

"It's good for recruiting. I think it's good for the attitude of the players and coaches in our program right now. It's great for the Ohio Bobcat fans. So there are an awful lot of pluses with it," Solich said. "I think the only drawback is that it just paints a bigger target on you, but that's something we're glad to accept. We want that, and we've just got to learn how to respond to that."

While the players rested during the first part of their off-week schedule, Solich and nine other members of the coaching staff went back to work on recruiting. Since there was no game in the immediate future to prepare for, Solich decided he could afford to do something other than game planning.

"It seemed to be the right time to do that with us giving players time off, which was certainly well-earned time off," Solich said.

With the 'Cats being nationally ranked, this recruitment process couldn't have come at a better time for Solich and his staff.

"You're not allowed to visit with players during this time, but coaches made mention of (the ranking), and I'm sure our other coaches that were out found that to be the same, too," Solich said. "When you get that kind of national exposure and you're around football people, they know what's going on. So that's definitely been a plus for us."

With depth being such a crucial part of football, recruiting has become all the more important. The Bobcats' season thus far is a case in point. With talented leaders such as redshirt senior cornerback Travis Carrie and redshirt senior tight end Jordan Thompson suffering season-ending injuries, the team needed the players behind them in the lineup to step up and play crucial roles. The 'Cats were even without redshirt junior quarterback Tyler Tettleton for a game earlier in the season. However, redshirt freshman Derrius Vick managed to fill the void in spectacular fashion during Tettleton's absence.

With Vick's stellar play against Norfolk State, the Bobcat faithful knew they would be in good hands should Tettleton get banged up down the road. However, talent lies behind Vick on the depth chart as well with freshman quarterbacks Greg Windham and J.D. Sprague.

Windham, a graduate of King High School in Tampa, Fla., eventually selected Ohio University after also being recruited by Cincinnati, Western Kentucky, South Florida and Central Florida. Following his senior season in high school, he earned First Team All-County honors and was also named Conference Player of the Year. Windham finished his high-school career with 5,590 passing yards and 22 touchdowns, which reveals why several schools showed interest in him. In the end, however, Windham said the Bobcat coaching staff was the determining factor in his decision to make the trip north.

"Ohio showed me the most interest, and they were producing, and with the great coaching staff, I wanted to be a part of this program," Windham said in an interview Thursday.

On the other end of the spectrum is Sprague, a graduate of Mason High School in Cincinnati, who was not highly recruited. Sprague played two years of varsity football and three years of varsity basketball before finally selecting football as his sport to pursue collegiately.

"I think I just liked football better. Football was in my heart," Sprague said Thursday. "Basketball was always fun, but I just think, ultimately, if I had to choose one to miss, I would miss football more than I would miss basketball."

After making this decision, Sprague decided to come to Athens for a campus visit. He recalled loving the campus and, like Windham, was very impressed with the Bobcat coaching staff.

Even though Sprague is just beginning his stint in Athens, he's a proven leader. He was elected captain of both the football and basketball teams during his senior season in high school.

"I'm really competitive, so I think it's in my nature to try as hard as I can 100 percent of the time and try not to get too down," Sprague said of what makes him such a good leader. "A lot of negative plays can have a negative effect. If the leaders have a negative effect, that's going to have a negative effect on the whole team."

Although neither Windham nor Sprague have gotten playing time this season, they both say they have gained a wealth of knowledge from the quarterbacks above them on the depth chart.

"Tettleton is a great leader. You see the things he's producing on the field," Windham said. "Vick is a humble guy and a great quarterback, too, so I can learn a lot of things from those guys."

Sprague is also highly complimentary of his fellow quarterbacks.

"They're constantly helping me," Sprague said. "They're constantly going out of their way to answer whatever questions I have. They've really been good to me."

Even though these two young quarterbacks hail from two different states and went through completely different recruitment experiences, they agreed that their time in Athens thus far has been extremely positive.

"I think it's been awesome," Sprague said of his experience so far. "The upperclassmen are leaders, especially to me and the other underclassmen. They don't put themselves above us, and that's really nice."

Extra Points:

• Last Wednesday, the coaches and players of the Ohio Bobcats football team met for the first time since their defeat of Akron on Oct. 13. The team held two practices, one each on Thursday and Friday. They will resume their regular practice schedule this week in preparation for Miami.

• Speaking of Miami, Sprague's parents attended and played collegiate sports at OU's biggest rival. His mom, Jane, played tennis while his dad, Dave, played baseball. Sprague said that while he will not log any playing time, he will enjoy the upcoming Miami of Ohio game and that his parents will have no cheering conflicts. "It's going to be a fun experience. I have a lot of friends who are on the Miami team. It'll be a good atmosphere," he said. "My parents are always rooting for OU now, so it's no RedHawks."


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