Courtesy GoBearkats.com / NCAA
Sam Houston head football coach Willie Fritz joined members of the national media for a news conference prior to the Bearkats returning to workouts in preparation for the NCAA Division I National Championship Game in Frisco Jan. 7. The following is a transcript of that news conference:
How does it feel to be in the NCAA Division I National Championship Game?
We’re very excited to be in the NCAA Division I Football Championship. We’ve had an outstanding year. Our kids have worked extremely hard along with our coaches and staff. We are looking forward to playing a quality football team in North Dakota State University.
How many times have you played on natural grass this year, and just your thoughts on the playing surface at Pizza Hut Park?
I had an opportunity to walk around the field. As a matter of fact, I was with Coach Bohl when we did that last week when we were up there with the NCAA kind of scouting the stadium, locker room, those different kind of things.
It really seems like a fantastic surface. They’ve done a great job of taking care of it. We played two ball games on natural grass this season. We played down at Reliant Stadium against Stephen F. Austin and also at the University of New Mexico. Those games were a little bit earlier in the season.
Do you feel your defense is playing as well now as it did throughout the season?
We’re still doing a nice job of not allowing people to run the ball on us. We’re always going to do a good job of emphasizing that in our preparation. We’ve made some big takeaways as well to help our offense and kicking game out.
How did Tim Flanders end up at Sam Houston State?
He’s from Midwest City, Oklahoma where he was an excellent football player. He signed with Kansas State and was there for a year but kind of got in a log jam with a lot of kids at his position. He didn’t expect to see a lot of playing time.
I have a coach on staff whose father is a high school coach up in Oklahoma. He had a good friend who was Tim’s high school coach. They talked a little bit and kind of determined that Sam Houston would be a good place for him.
We didn’t know anything about him other than the fact he was a good high school player. From talking to his high school coach, he was a good young man. I think we got him in here four, five, six games before our first ballgame against Baylor in the fourth quarter. Probably only knew four or five plays. Did a good job. Figured out at that time we had a good player and better start playing him more.
You had a strong Division II background. Do you have any thoughts on North Dakota State moving divisions?
I know it’s more restrictive now than when North Dakota State did it a few years back. We played in a tough league in the NIAA. I know the league that North Dakota State played in was a very tough Division II league, as well. When you get schools the size of North Dakota State, I think they’re pushing 14,000, 15,000 students, obviously you have a great fan base, it only makes sense for them to move up.
The game is already sold out. Talk about what these attendance numbers mean for the popularity of this level and how it’s getting that type of attention.
Well, I think it’s going to be exciting. We played down at Reliant Stadium against our arch rivals, Stephen F. Austin, every year. We play in front of 25,000, 26,000. But there’s also 50,000 empty seats. This is going to be great where we have the stadium packed. It’s a tough ticket to get. I think both teams deserve this. North Dakota has had a sensational year; so have we.
I guess by looking at their record against FBS programs, our win against New Mexico this year, there isn’t as big a difference as some people might think. I really think it’s going to be able to promote this FCS level, this ballgame. It will be fun playing in front of a packed house. It’s a really neat stadium and a great idea by the NCAA and the people from Frisco to have the game there.
Looking at a map, you are thesecond closest FCS school to Frisco. Has to be exciting to play a championship in Texas?
Last year I went to the ballgame between Eastern Washington and Delaware, they were about the two farthest teams you could get in the ballgame. I think we could easily sell another 10,000 tickets if it was possible. Talking to Coach Bohl last week, I know they’ve got a heck of a drive, a great fan base also, and they could probably sell another 10,000 tickets. It’s going to be a neat deal. The thing I’ve talked to our guys about, it’s not a bowl game, it’s a national championship game, and it’s going to be that much more special with it being a sellout.
The natural grass, is that more something we look at as the media or is does that have an impact as a coach?
I think really the only time it comes into play is if there was going to be a lot of rain or if the field had gotten heavy usage prior to our ballgame. I know they’re going to keep everybody off that. It was really in pristine condition when I was there last week.
Turf, they’re trying as hard as they can to get it to play like natural grass. I think all coaches and players would like to play on a natural grass surface that’s very well taken care of. That’s the only issue, though. When you play a whole lot of games on that field, it’s hard to keep it in fantastic shape.
When you look at the two quarterbacks, both sophomores, both guys that aren’t asked to throw a ball a ton each game, but they can make the play when necessary. Talk about the similarities you’ve seen between both Brock Jensen and your quarterback.
Well, they both are multi‑dimensional. They can throw it and they can run it. I think they are both faster and better athletes than maybe people give them credit for. I certainly know our kid can run well. Watching their quarterback and his 50-yard touchdown run against Georgia Southern, I know the guys chasing him were very fast. Obviously, he has great speed.
The other component is they both really make good decisions. I think with their touchdown/interception ratio, that really shows the great decisions they make.
This will be the first time for both programs to play for the national championship. Do you think that makes it kind of a wash in terms of being able to handle new expectations, you’ll both be on the same page?
Yeah, might be. Every year is a new year. When I was head coach at Blinn Junior College, we were lucky enough to win back‑to‑back national championships, but the team I had was different in 1996 than the team in 1995.
Something else I think that’s unique about both teams, we’re both relatively young teams. I look at their roster, a lot of underclassmen, juniors, sophomores, freshmen. We only have 12 seniors on our squad. Four of those guys are full‑time starters for us, started all year long.
Obviously it’s going to be a high‑stakes game playing for the national championship. But I don’t think it’s going to be any different because it’s the first time for both squads.
What can you tell us about the versatility of Richard Sincere and what he brings to your offense?
Richard is a former high school quarterback. When he got here, he was just playing wide receiver. We toyed with moving him over to play cornerback. He’s that kind of athlete. Great speed. If not the fastest guy on our team, one of the fastest guys. More importantly, he has great football speed. He gets in pads, he doesn’t slow down at all.
We were trying to find some ways to get the ball in his hands. Weren’t throwing the ball much last year. Everybody tinkers with the wildcat offense that the Miami Dolphins did a few years back with Ronnie Brown. We obviously talk the bearcat offense here. Allows us to get the ball in Richard’s hands.
You got a fast guy at quarterback, you got a fast guy at the dive, you have a guy you have the possibility of pitching it to run option plays. Richard has a good arm, we can throw it well if people try to pack the box on us, too. That’s kind of how we got into this offense. Richard has had some very good games for us and an outstanding season.
When you look at it, what are the advantages and disadvantages of having a long break between the semifinal and the final?
I think, number one, it’s going to heal both teams up. Both teams ought to be 100% when we go in there and play. I guess the disadvantage would be that you’re not in your normal routine. We took a pretty healthy break.
One of the great things about coming back at this time is there’s not really any distractions on campus. It’s kind of like a ghost town here right now, not a whole lot of things for the guys to do other than concentrate on football. There are advantages and disadvantages, but it’s the same for both squads.
When people look at your offense, it’s unique. People have to prepare for Richard. Earlier in the year when you had teams like Montana and Montana State, is this something where you feel you have to tweak the offense to out‑smart North Dakota State because they’ll have had time to see tape?
Every week you’re going to take advantage of your strengths and try to present it in a little bit different manner. We’ll have some wrinkles that we’re going to show when we play that we haven’t shown this season. They’re going to do the same thing to us. They may try to play things a little bit differently than maybe they’ve shown in the past, whatever the case may be. It comes down to adjustments.
There’s only so many ways you can play it, the option. We have todetermine early how they’re playing it. They got to make adjustments to the changes that we’ve made, as well. We’ll find out on game day.
Coach, did you see this coming in such a short time? Obviously you worked with championship‑level programs in the past. But just in a couple years since you’ve been there, turning it so quickly being undefeated?
I’m always very optimistic. We had a lot of things that fell into place. Continuity of our coaching staff for two years straight, almost all our kids coming back. We only had five seniors on the team last year and only two of those guys started for us. We had a lot of continuity. We were fortunate enough to bring in some good high school kids and also some good transfers. We hit on those guys. We have got pretty good depth across the board, offense, defense, the kicking game. We’ve also been very fortunate to have stayed away from injuries for the most part this year. We had a guy hurt here or there. We lost a real good player pre‑season before the year began.
Those are some of the reasons why we’ve had the success so quickly.