Thursday, March 31, 2011

Q&A with N.C. State coach Tom O'Brien

N.C. State coach Tom O'Brien has a quarterback who's performing well, a couple linebackers adjusting to position changes and two talented defensive backs returning from significant injuries in spring practice.

Here's a sampling of what O'Brien had to say to reporters after this morning's session:

Q: Can you talk about the progress Audie Cole is making in the middle and why he is a good fit at middle linebacker?
A: He’s a good fit because he’s our best player. He’s our most experienced guy. He will make strides the longer he’s in there. He’s always been on the perimeter. It’s a little different from last year, when Nate [Irving], who always had been the box player, had just moved over a gap. Everything is different for him right now but he’s smart enough to figure it out and a good enough athlete that the more reps he gets, the better he’ll be.

Q: You moved D.J. Green to linebacker as an experiment. How’s that working?
A: It’s the same thing. He played a little bit of nickel back, which is the same thing, same position. There’s not as much learning curve, other than he’s a young, inexperienced guy that’s got to get in the games and get reps and do things like that. He’s got enough ability. He’ll see things out there. He has enough time to see them and react. Hopefully, he’s working hard, just like everybody is, and is starting to get a little better. The more he understands, the faster he will play.

Q: How has [Mike] Glennon performed so far?
A: He’s been fine. I don’t see any problem with him at all. He still can make all the throws. He’s got a good command of the offense. He understands what we’re trying to do. The thing he’s got to do is, the receivers have got to get on the same page with him. That’s where things are lacking in the passing game. It isn’t the quarterback. It’s the receivers.

Q: What are your impressions of Rashard Smith since he has come back?
A: I think he and Jarvis [Byrd] both have come back thinking that they should be the starting cornerback. That’s helped. We’ve created competition. Competition is good. Guys are fighting for jobs, and they’re hungry right now. They want to be part of the football team. It’s tough to sit out a year and watch, especially when you’re having success.

Q: They’re thinking [they should] start, but are they showing signs of being able to do it?
A: Not right now. They both had some pretty severe injuries. We’re kind of watching both of them. We don’t want to overstress them and have them get set back injury wise. The most important thing is to get them through the 15 days of spring.

Ken Tysiac

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

WVU assistant takes Lambert's spot at Wake Forest

WINSTON-SALEM - Wake Forest has added one assistant football coach and shuffled the responsibilities of some others.

Coach Jim Grobe said Tuesday that Lonnie Galloway would leave West Virginia to take over as receivers coach and passing game coordinator.

Grobe also says current assistants Brian Knorr and Tim Billings would be co-defensive coordinators. Knorr, who had coached wide receivers, now will coach linebackers.

Additionally, Keith Henry is shifting from coaching cornerbacks to special teams coordinator while Steve Russ would shift from coaching liebackers to the secondary.

Galloway coached West Virginia's receivers for three seasons. He fills the vacancy created when Brad Lambert was named the head coach of Charlotte's new program.

-- Observer news services

Monday, March 14, 2011

Departed lineman Willis returns to UNC football team

The unique path of Brandon Willis' college football career has brought him back to Chapel Hill.

The University of North Carolina confirmed today that Willis, a defensive lineman, has transferred back to UNC after spending the 2010 season at UCLA.

UNC will apply to the NCAA for a waiver to get him on the field this season. Willis' brief college career has already been eventful without him playing a game.

A prep All-American from Duncan, S.C., Willis, originally committed to Tennessee but changed his mind after coach Lane Kiffin left for USC. Willis enrolled at UNC last January and participated in spring practice. In August, he decided to transfer to UCLA, citing the relocation of his father's job and the need to be closer to his family.

Willis sat out the 2010 season with the Bruins under NCAA eligibility rules. Earlier this month, UCLA granted him his release from his commitment because Willis, and his father, wanted to move closer to Willis' grandmother in Burlington.

Gary Willis said last Wednesday that the plan was for his son to return to UNC. The school sent out a release today confirming the decision.

"There were no hard feelings when Brandon originally left and when he inquired about the possibility of returning, we welcomed him back," Tar Heels coach Butch Davis said in a statement released by the school.

Willis, 6-3 and 255 pounds, was one of the best defensive line prospects in the country in his recruiting class.

Willis' return gives the Tar Heels' already stout defensive front a boost. UNC lost five-star recruit Delvon Simmons last week when he asked for his release from his Letter of Intent.

Willis joins a promising group that includes Kareem Martin and Tim Jackson, who were pressed into duty as freshman when UNC lost starters Robert Quinn, Marvin Austin and Michael McAdoo to the NCAA investigation.

Starters Quinton Coples, Tydreke Powell and Donte Paige-Moss also return for the Tar Heels, who went 8-5 last season.

Spring practice begins on Wednesday.

-- J.P. Giglio

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Georgia's Mark Richt is Nagurski keynote speaker

Georgia football coach Mark Richt (above) will be the keynote speaker at the 2011 Bronko Nagurski Award banquet, the Charlotte Touchdown Club and Football Writers Association of America announced.

The banquet, honoring the top college football defensive player in the nation, is Dec. 12 at the Westin Hotel in Charlotte. The Touchdown Club also honors local college and high school football players and over the past decade has raised $1.25 million for student athletic scholarships throughout the Charlotte metro area.

The Nagurski finalists will be announced in mid-November. For banquet reservations or information, call (704) 347-2918.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Simmons asks UNC for release; Willis may return

North Carolina's defensive line took the biggest hit during the NCAA investigation in the 2010 football season and it remains in a state of flux in the offseason.

Freshman defensive tackle Delvon Simmons has asked to leave the program while former defensive tackle Brandon Willis could possibly return.

Simmons, a five-star recruit from McKeesport, Pa. and the coup of this year's nationally-ranked signing class, has asked to be released from his Letter of Intent, his high school coach said Wednesday.

It's the latest roster turnover for a unit that lost Robert Quinn, Marvin Austin and Michael McAdoo for entire '10 season because of the NCAA investigation for improper agent benefits and academic misconduct.

McKeesport coach Jim Ward said Simmons, ranked as the 15th-best prospect in the country by, said the 6-5, 265-pound defensive tackle asked for a release from his Letter of Intent almost a month ago.

A UNC spokesman said Wednesday the school has not received Simmons' official request.

"That's not accurate," Ward said. "Technically he asked for his release three and a half weeks ago."

Ward declined to comment if Simmons' decision is based on the changes of UNC's coaching staff. Defensive line coach Brian Baker worked at UNC for four weeks from the end of the NFL season in early January to Feb. 8 before leaving the program to take an assistant's job with the Dallas Cowboys.

UNC hired Joe Robinson, the fourth defensive line since September, on Feb. 25 to replace Baker.

The defensive front, which returns All-ACC tackle Quinton Coples and standout tackle Tydreke Powell, could get a boost from Willis.

Willis, a prep All-American in 2009 from Duncan, S.C., enrolled at UNC last January and then decided to transfer to UCLA in August, before the '10 season started.

Willis sat out the season as a redshirt at UCLA but decided to transfer and has been given a release by the Bruins.

Willis' dad, Carl, said his mother is sick and he would like to have his family near her in Burlington.

"That's what we're working on," Carl Willis said Wednesday. "I hope it goes according to plan."

Under NCAA rules, Willis would have to receive a waiver to be eligible this season. If he doesn't get the waiver, he would have to sit out this season and would have three years of eligibility.

UNC's spring practice opens March 16. The school is still waiting for a ruling from the NCAA on the twin investigations which costs them 14 players for at least one game in '10 and seven players for the entire season.

J.P. Giglio and Ken Tysiac


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Brandon Willis returning to UNC from UCLA

Defensive tackle Brandon Willis, who -- stick with us here -- committed to Tennessee, then decommitted from Tennessee and enrolled at North Carolina in January 2010, then left UNC for UCLA in August 2010, is planning to transfer back to North Carolina, to be near his ailing grandmother.

The Los Angeles Daily News says UCLA has given him his release. North Carolina's site is reporting Willis will be back with the Tar Heels.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Agent paid for Austin's travel, search warrant alleges

A search warrant filed by the North Carolina Secretary of State’s office alleges that sports agent Gary Wichard paid for former North Carolina football player Marvin Austin to travel to California, in apparent violation of North Carolina’s Uniform Athlete Agents Act.

The warrant, filed by Sam Cabrera, a special agent with the Department of the Secretary of State of North Carolina, seeks Bank of America records for an account belonging to Wichard. It alleges that Todd Amis, Austin’s former high school assistant coach, paid for Austin to travel to California in March 2009 and July 2009.

According to the warrant, Amis said Wichard then reimbursed him $1,000 for Austin’s March 2009 flight to California, where he trained at a facility called Pro Active Sports with former teammate Kentwan Balmer.

Amis provided N.C. Secretary of State investigators a canceled check from Pro Tect Management – Wichard’s company – dated March 3, 2009 in the amount of $1,000, according to the warrant. The check was signed by Wichard.

North Carolina’s Uniform Athlete Agents Act prohibits agents from furnishing anything of value to a student-athlete before the student-athlete enters into an agency contract.

In December, the NFL Players Association suspended Wichard’s contract adviser status for nine months for having impermissible communications with Austin.

North Carolina dismissed Austin from the team for the 2010 season for accepting impermissible benefits.

Ken Tysiac Criminal records common at top programs

 Pittsburgh coach Dave Wannstedt's 2010 team
had 22 players with criminal records, three times
the rate of the other 24 in Sports Illustrated's
preseason top 25, according to an SI investigation.
Wannstedt was fired after the 2010 season.

A Sports Illustrated investigation that looks at the criminal records of players at schools in their 2010 preseason top 25 reveals that 7 percent of players at those schools have criminal records and nearly 40 percent of all crimes were serious.

Among the schools in the SI preseason top 25, the number of players found to have criminal records: Pittsburgh 22; Iowa/Arkansas 18; Boise State/Penn State 16; Virginia Tech  13;  Oklahoma/ Wisconsin/Florida State  9; Miami  8; Florida/Ohio State/Oregon/USC  7; Alabama/Cincinnati/North Carolina /Utah 5;  Georgia Tech/Nebraska/Oregon State 4;. LSU/ Texas  2; Stanford  1;  TCU  0. 

Some of the investigation’s findings:

*    Players had been charged with 56 violent crimes, including assault and battery (25 cases), domestic violence (6), sex offenses (3), aggravated assault (4) and robbery (4). There were 41 charges for property crimes, such as burglary, theft and larceny; and 105 for drug and alcohol offenses, including DUI and intent to distribute cocaine.

*    Players were guilty or paid a penalty in about 60% of the 277 total cases that have a known outcome.  

*    If the study had looked at only scholarship players, the percentage of players with a criminal record would have risen to 8.1% (172 of 2,125).

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

UNC names Myslinski strength coach

Tom Myslinski, who has worked as a strength coach at Memphis, Pittsburgh, Robert Morris and for five years with the Cleveland Browns, has been named head strength and conditioning coach at North Carolina, the school announced.

Myslinski was an All-SEC offensive lineman at Tennessee and played nine seasons in the NFL. At Memphis, he was responsible for planning and designing the interior of the new $3 million, 13,000 square foot weight room.

“Tom has a phenomenal background with his experience as a player and strength coach at the college and professional level,” said Davis.  “In addition to his background in football strength and conditioning, he was also an outstanding track athlete, which will benefit our team.”

Myslinski participated in the shot put and hammer throw at Tennessee.

He replaces Jeff Connors, who left to take a similar position at East Carolina.

Ken Tysiac