Friday, May 28, 2010

Alvarez To Be Inducted Into College Football Hall Of Fame

Ex-Badgers Coach Now Works As Athletic Director

May 28, 2010

MADISON, Wis. -- University of Wisconsin-Madison athletic director Barry Alvarez will be inducted in the College Football Hall of Fame, according to an announcement on Thursday morning.

"I was totally surprised when they announced that I would be inducted," said Alvarez. "I actually broke down. I was sitting with our, with my coach, Bret Bielema at the time and I think he broke down. It's an honor. It's humbling, when it's your life work and it culminates like this."

Hall of Fame officials said that the former Badgers coach joins a list of legends in the college football world in the Hall of Fame.

Alvarez coached the badgers from 1990 to 2005, winning 118 games and three Rose Bowl championships.

Before Alvarez arrived in Madison in 1990, Wisconsin compiled a 9-36 record over four seasons and attendance at Camp Randall Stadium was just over half-full for most games.

The program got a boost when new Director of Athletics Pat Richter hired Alvarez from Notre Dame, where he had been an assistant coach under Lou Holtz.

Over the next 16 seasons Alvarez transformed the football program and the culture of athletics at the UW.

Alvarez's feats are numerous. He is the winningest coach in school history (118-73-4).

He is the only Big Ten coach ever to win the Rose Bowl in Consecutive seasons (1999, 2000).

"To see what coach Alvarez has done at Wisconsin, and it's a state that I love," said fellow Hall-of-Famer Desmond Howard. "I love the state of Wisconsin. Go Pack go, but to read what (Alvarez has) been able to accomplish, I'm talking about the only coach in the Big Ten history to win back-to-back Rose Bowls. That's just unbelievable to me. For him to be able to accomplish that, we're not talking about great coaches, we're talking about legendary coaches in the Big Ten."

Alvarez was named national coach of the year in 1993 and Big Ten Coach of the Year in 1993 and 1998.

Barry Alvarez is now in his fifth year as Director of Athletics at the University of Wisconsin and third without the additional title of head football coach. Alvarez served as A.D. and football coach from 2004-05.

Yanda shines for one of the best lines in NFL

May 27, 2010

From Pete Prisco's "Overrated-underrated: Extending a Branch to a Raider and Jacobs no Giant"


You guessed it. It's time again for my annual list of the NFL's overrated and underrated players.

I've picked one player in each category from each team. And there's a league-wide winner -- or loser, I guess, if you're the overrated player -- from each category.

The league's most underrated player is Oakland Raiders safety Tyvon Branch. Haven't seen him? Many haven't. But he's the real thing.

Here's the rest of the list:

Baltimore Ravens

Overrated: WR Anquan Boldin. He's a good player, but not a great one. The Ravens will find out he isn't a No. 1 receiver. He can't beat corners deep.

Underrated: G Marshal Yanda. On one of the best lines in the NFL, he had the best season in 2009. He is a mauler who keys the run game. It might be Pro Bowl time for him in 2010.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

NC Sports Clients Dawson, Zastudil among Browns' most reliable players

By Derrick G

May 27, 2010

P Dave Zastudil

The punting game me be one of the most underappreciated parts of football, but it can be very important in close games. Browns fans don't need to look any further than the 6-3 win over the Buffalo Bills this past season. With high winds and not much offense for either team Dave Zastudil was able to consistently pin the Bills deep in their own territory.

Zastudil actually played so well that game a Sports Illustrated story on punters claimed the headline should have read "Zastudil Beats Bills."

It wasn't just that one game that has him on this list though, before his arrival the Browns had problems at the position after Chris Gardocki left. With inconsistent play and shanked punts at the worst times, the punting game was a disaster. As a guy without any of those problems, Zastudil was a welcome addition to the team.

K Phil Dawson

Still the only player left from the 1999 expansion team, Dawson has proven his worth season after season. He has kicked game winners under pressure and made field goals in the most difficult weather.

Even with the infamous swirling winds of Cleveland Browns stadium Dawson has managed to be one of the 10 most accurate kickers in NFL history. He is 3rd on the Browns all-time points list behind Hall of Fame kicker Lou Groza and a little more than one hundred points behind Don Cockroft for 2nd.

Despite never making a Pro Bowl, Dawson has been one of the leagues best kickers over the last ten years, and he continues to be the most reliable player the Browns have had over that time period.

Mike Vrabel Getting Good Reviews One Year Into Chiefs Career

By Joel Thorman

May 22, 2010

The Chiefs brought Mike Vrabel over from New England in the Matt Cassel trade and quickly pointed out his leadership skills as part of the Mike Vrabel package.

Because of the high praise from Chiefs management, it was strange to see Vrabel stay away from workouts last year. He didn't even draw the ire of Todd Haley. The coach said last year he was in contact with Vrabel throughout the offseason so he wasn't worried about his absence.

Fast forward a year later and Vrabel is attending OTAs -- something he didn't do with the Chiefs last year but did do the previous seven seasons in New England.
Vrabel's decision to attend OTAs has drawn some praise from the Chiefs head coach.

"We've made a big jump from this year to last year and I think Mike -- who's been around some great teams -- that makes you feel good as the head coach that you have a guy like that here and on board like the rest of the guys," Haley said on the Jim Rome Show this week.

"We've had every guy here working hard for the last few months. We finally got to get into some football here in the last week. I really feel that we've made progress. And I'm excited about it. And when you hear someone like Mike verbalize that, as a coach, it makes you feel good."

And the new Chiefs have already taken notice of Vrabel. Eric Berry was asked who the leader of the defense was and predictably responded, "I've been looking up to the guys that have already played," Berry began, "especially Mike Vrabel.

"He knows the defense. He knows all the calls. He's one of those guys that pretty much quarterbacks everything from the defensive side of the ball. So, it's always pretty cool to have a guy like him on your side."

For Vrabel, he says showing up to things like the OTAs is part of the deal and last year's absence was a "totally different situation."

"I chose to re-sign back here," he said. "It was something I wanted to do. So, with that comes going to OTAs and coming to minicamp. It wasn't even a question of showing up. It was what I did in New England and it's what I'll do now. I workout at my home and then come here for the OTAs."

It's nice to hear that he considers that part of the whole package, even though the workouts are voluntary. It's especially nice to hear in light of recent "hold-outs" that seem silly.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Something to Prove: Tom Santi

In the 2008 NFL Draft the Colts selected two tight ends, the first was Jacob Tamme in the fourth round and the second was Tom Santi in the sixth. One of Tamme or Santi was to eventually replace the departing Ben Utecht, with Santi being compared as a Utecht-clone at the time he was drafted.

Unfortunately, since Santi joined the team he has suffered numerous injuries, missing time for shoulder, hand, and back injuries in his first two seasons. Despite these injuries, Santi has shown remarkable potential, mainly as a receiver, breaking out in 2009 against Baltimore when he caught six passes for 80 yards, and showed the kind of hands and straight-line speed that should give fans something to be excited about.

He also showed glimpses of his abilities in one of the biggest comebacks in Peyton Manning’s storied history of comebacks.
In week five of the 2008 season the Colts traveled to Houston and needed to score three touchdowns, the first of which came after Manning completed a seven-yard pass to Santi with four-minutes and fourteen-seconds remaining in the game.

The difficulty for Santi is that he will need to not only stay healthy this year, particularly during the off-season, to keep his roster spot in 2010, he will also have to compete for time with an even busier roster at tight end. For the last two seasons, former undrafted free agent Gijon Robinson has received the bulk of the starts opposite Dallas Clark, when Indianapolis has chosen to start with a two tight end set.

When Polian and company decided to draft Brody Eldridge in the fifth round in this year’s draft the team took on a new dynamic. First, it would seem Eldridge is more direct competition for Robinson than he is for Santi but when Santi was brought onto the team to compete with Robinson to take over for Utecht, he belongs in the discussion. Additionally, although Eldridge was not known in any way as a receiving tight end, as he caught only 13 passes for 98 yards in four years at Oklahoma, Manning has not displayed fear throwing to his weaker receiving targets and could develop Eldridge in the passing game.

Obviously it would save the Colts a roster spot to keep only three tight ends, if Eldrige can fit the bill as a receiver, which leaves it up to Santi to separate himself from his competition and prove the most capable to line up across from Clark as a receiving option with above-average blocking capabilities. Tamme has potential to take-over for Clark, though that is well down the road, but is really limited to special teams abilities, and as a back-up receiver.

It is up to Santi to stay healthy, display his receiving abilities, improve as a blocker, and potentially earn a permanent spot on this team. Otherwise, Santi will likely be the odd man out in the tight end competition for the 2010 roster. Hopefully Santi is aware of this and gives fans something to be excited about during summer training activities and the pre-season.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Katie Smith leads Washington Mystics into WNBA season opener

By Katie Carrera

May 14, 2010

On the Verizon Center practice court, after a play resulted in a basket against her group, the Washington Mystics' newest veteran turned to talk to the young players next to her. Between possessions of a scrimmage against the Polish National Team, she diagrammed a play on the bench. During preseason games she occasionally tapped a teammate's shoulder after regaining possession to make sure nothing was left to chance when the clock started again.

Katie Smith jokes that she talks too much sometimes, but her new teammates on the Washington Mystics are perfectly content to soak up everything the all-star guard observes and notes, because if there's one person who knows the road to the top it's Smith.

"I like to understand, I like to know that we're all together on the same page. We all have to be accountable," Smith said after practice last week. "I just hope they have a confidence in me and a belief in me that they know Katie's got hers just like everyone else has theirs. We have to have that trust, so that while we'll all occasionally make mistakes we know we're in this together."

So far Smith's transition appears seamless. She's jelled with the new group, serving whatever role Coach Julie Plank's lineup combinations require. But the real test for Smith and the Mystics begins when they open the 2010 season at 7 p.m. Saturday on the road against the reigning WNBA champion Indiana Fever, the team that knocked Washington out of the postseason last September.

In the weeks since Washington announced Smith's signing, the team was struck with what many outsiders considered a devastating blow when it lost franchise player Alana Beard for the season after she underwent surgery on her left ankle. While it may put more pressure on others to perform consistently, Smith doesn't believe it wreaks havoc with the Mystics potential.

"The margin for error for us might be smaller and everyone will have to be locked in but I really have a lot of faith in these players," Smith said. "In Detroit we always had a chip on our shoulders because we felt like no one wanted us to win. For [Washington] maybe not being picked and people writing us off could keep feeding that hunger and that little chip on our shoulders that says: 'We're coming to get you.' "

That hunger, Smith said, was one of the first things she noticed upon her introduction to the Mystics. During her run with the Detroit Shock, which included two titles, she saw sporadic lulls in motivation -- a problem she doesn't think will arise with this Washington team.

"Now that there's a framework in place everyone wants to win so badly," Smith said. "It's all about finding ways to be consistent every day. The younger players still teach me things, so hopefully I can do the same for them."

Smith chose Washington because she believed the Mystics were eager to win. With the first opportunity to pick her team after 11 seasons and 5,446 points, two WNBA titles and three Olympic gold medals, Smith wanted a coaching staff she felt comfortable discussing the game with.

She already shared a mutual respect with Plank, and it hasn't taken long for her veteran savvy and high expectations to set an example for teammates, who after some admitted initial disbelief, are enjoying playing alongside someone who often tormented the Mystics as an opponent.

"I'm glad she's on my team because it was hell trying to set screens on her the past couple years," Nakia Sanford said with a laugh. "There was some initial, 'Wow she's really here,' at first. Then, you see her work ethic, you understand how she's been able to sustain her impact for so long. Her defense alone is already really rubbing off on all of us."

Entering her 12th WNBA season at age 35, Smith's durability could be a question mark. She missed seven games in 2009 with a herniated disc that numbed and weakened her left leg, but Smith insists she's healthy. The wear and tear over the course of a career could shrink Smith's overall offensive point production but it will likely have little effect on a calm on-court demeanor that should help the Mystics in close games.

She can play point guard or small forward, and even power forward depending on the specific matchups. She can aid in half-court scenarios and also lessen the pressure on members of the backcourt, but her poise in key situations is crucial.

"Her leadership definitely shows, from Day One it has, even though she was new here," Monique Currie said. "She's been around the league for a long time; she knows what it takes to win. For her to be on our side, to help make us all better is something I welcome."

Ferentz frenzy: Iowa coach gets WBMS kids pumped

By Gregory R. Norfleet

May 13, 2010

Despite his calm, even tone, Iowa Head Football Coach Kirk Ferentz had the West Branch Middle School pupils worked up into a frenzy last week with a motivational speech on setting goals to achieve success.

The sixth-through-eighth-grade pupils swarmed the Big Ten coach after his May 6 appearance at the Hoover Library-Museum, asking him to pose for pictures and sign papers, magazines, T-shirts, jerseys, forearms, foreheads and even cell phones.

Ferentz patiently obliged each one except the foreheads, offering to sign arms instead. His talk and the following Q-and-A lasted 30 minutes. The autograph-and-photo session added 20 more minutes to his stop.

“I’m not sure if ‘uncommon’ belongs to too many people,” he said in his talk, referring to Hoover’s famous Uncommon Man speech, which was referenced at the beginning of the program in the auditorium. “There are a limited percentage of people in a different class.”

Ferentz used examples of former star players and even a walk-on practice opponent whose devotion to the game of football caught his attention.

The coach said he asks three things of all his players:

• Be good citizens

• Be serious about getting degrees. He said this is a “permanent, lasting accomplishment” that will sustain a person even if an injury ends his football career.

• Be good players.

“It’s about as simple as that,” he said.

Ferentz said each pupil, like his players, needs to set goals, and that reaching those goals has three phases:

• Where do you want to go?

• How do you want to get there? Ferentz said his staff and players are “constantly re-evaluating” goals to see if they need to be changed or updated.

• How will you choose to go about it? This part, he said, separates the successful from the “uncommon,” especially for those who do it well.

“Good things typically don’t happen without (goals),” he said. “You have to stick with it.”

Of all the players who have passed through the University of Iowa football program, the ones who stood out among the best had a single “common denominator — their attitude,” he said.

“You have to persevere and stay with the plan,” he said. “And keep a good, positive attitude.”

For those who want to be leaders in what they do, he said they have to make a choice to have a positive attitude, a strong work ethic and a “team-first attitude.”

“This is critical,” he said, and it applies to sports, school, work and family. “Be sensitive to other people’s feelings. If you really, truly care about your group (it will show).”

He encouraged each pupil to “commit to being team players.”

“Good turns come around,” Ferentz said. “You will be paid back tenfold. Be very aware of what you are doing.”

In the question-and-answer session, the coach was at times serious, and other times joked around.

“You seem so even keel ...” one person asked.

“That’s only because I have no idea what’s going on,” Ferentz quipped.

He went on to say that he is usually most “emotional” or “demonstrative” during practice.

“If you’ve done all the hard work of preparation, it makes the test so much easier,” he said.

Asked what the best part of coaching has been, Ferentz said “the people,” especially when everyone is working toward the same thing.

A later question asked if he had a motto or slogan that motivated the players. Ferentz called it a mantra: On the wall at the practice field are the words
“Preparing to be the best.”

“What kind of gum do you chew?” asked one boy.

“Bubble Yum, sugarless,” Ferentz answered. “It holds its taste better.”

“Coke or Pepsi?” another boy asked.

“None of the above,” he said. “It’s bad for me. I stopped drinking it years ago.”

“Do you dislike the Cyclones?” another boy asked.

“No,” Ferentz said. “I focus on liking our team.”

“How old are you?” came another question.

“Fifty-four,” he said.

“What is your favorite play?”

“The ones that work,” the coach said, smiling.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Arizona Has Overtaken Arizona State for State Bragging Rights

By Tom Phillips

May 14, 2010

On New Year's Eve 2007, Arizona State had just played in the Holiday Bowl, while Arizona was in the midst of a 10-year bowl drought.

Just two years later the tables have turned.

Arizona is coming off a Holiday Bowl appearance and second place finish in the Pac-10 while ASU sat at home for a second straight year.

Where we stand today though, that's where we stand with the state of football in Arizona.

The Wildcats are optimistic about the upcoming season despite having to replace seven starters on defense thanks to an potent offense led by Nick Foles. Arizona State, on the other hand, is looking forward to having a tenacious defense that flies over the field but is worried about an offense that was inept for most of last season.

Arizona has been able to do this thanks to Mike Stoops. Less than two seasons ago Stoops was in the same spot Erickson now stands.

On the hot seat.

He has taken a program that had bare cupboards in terms of what they had; no stars, no NFL-ready players, no depth, and he has turned it into a program that was six seconds away from their first-ever Pac-10 title and Rose Bowl berth.

How has Stoops done it?

His coaching.

The once fiery coach has been able to develop lesser-known and recruited players to Tucson and develop them into NFL caliber players.

Take the 2008 recruiting classes. ASU was able to convince Gerell Robinson, Ryan Bass and Jarrell Barbour (all four star recruits at the time) to go back on their commitments to Arizona and go to play in Tempe. Arizona recruited Juron Criner, Keola Antolin (three star recruits) and David Douglas (a two star) instead.

Turn the clock ahead to 2010 and Criner is making the case to be the top receiver in the Pac-10, while Douglas has been a solid slot receiver for Arizona. Antolin has been solid as the part-time starter at running back for the Cats. Bass and Barbour are no longer at ASU, while Robinson has disappointed at receiver.

He has been able to find those diamond in the rough players, going out of state to California and Texas where the talent is much better than Arizona. The last time an elite recruit from Arizona signed with an in-state team was 2004, when Zach Miller signed with ASU.

That was until Marquis Flowers signed with the Wildcats this past recruiting cycle and with Arizona's possibly best recruiting class coming in 2011, there may be no better time to be the top dog in Arizona.

The tide in Arizona has shifted quickly. After dominating football in Arizona for two decades, ASU is at a point where it must win for their coach to keep his job and Arizona is in the driver's seat for the state's affection for college football.

While momentum has shifted to the Wildcats, this shows just how important it is for a team to keep it and improve upon it.

Hurricanes coach Randy Shannon: ‘This is a joyous time’

By Jorge Milian

May 13, 2010

Randy Shannon just concluded a telephone news conference with reporters regarding his new four-year contract. Here is what Shannon had to say:

Opening statement:

”I’m really excited about the signing of my new contract. I can’t wait to get started and finish out this recruiting month of May. The coaching staff and myself are very excited about the [direction] we’re going in. We’re very excited about that we have the opportunity to continue the progress that we’ve done over the last three years of building this program and we feel like we’ve established some very strong pillars with the upperclassmen we’ve developed through this process. I’m just so excited about today and can’t wait to get started. I wish August was here today, but it’s not. We still have a couple of months to get back on the football field and coach.”

Can you discuss the financial terms of the contract?

“I respect the question but it’s something personal to me. It’s a confidential matter. I’m just excited that the deal is done. I’m excited about to get back recruiting. I’m excited about coaching this season. I’ve been getting calls all morning from the coaches on the team. They’re getting a lot of feedback. Recruits have been calling since last night and also this morning. A lot of coaches throughout south Florida and the state of Florida have been calling myself and the coaches because they’re excited for me.”

How nice is it not to have to deal with this subject any longer?

“It’s a great thing. Now I get to build. My first three years here were a building process, 5-7, 7-6 and 9-4. Now I get the opportunity to see another class through. I’m probably one of the few coaches [at Miami] to see another class through. If you look at over the years, the most that somebody has been here has been 5 or 6 years over the last five coaches. So this gives me an opportunity to build on and coach guys that I’ve recruited. And I’m excited about it.”

Did the process ever become frustrating?

“I got to give a lot of credit to my attorney, Neil Cornrich. He said the one thing when we started this process, ‘This is a business, Randy. This is nothing personal. This is a business.’ Me and Kirby (Hocutt) have had a great relationship throughout this process. That’s the one thing that really, really shows you what kind of character Kirby had and what character I had. We would talk, not even about contracts. We would talk just about things in the department, things we need to improve on, things he could help me with. It was always, what can we do at the University of Miami to get better. It was a business, nothing personal. It was a great situation for all of us.”

Did any recruits or parts tell you they couldn’t commit because of the contract situation?

“It was part of it. Nothing I’ve never gone through before. What can anybody say about the University of Miami now? They have stability, they have a coaching on a second tenure. You know and I know that there hasn’t been a coach that’s stayed more than five or six years. That’s one of the things the university showed – that they’re dedicated to me and dedicated to what I’m doing at the University of Miami. It showed that everybody has confidence in what we’re doing. That’s the one thing that’s great about being at the University of Miami.”

How does this compare to when you were hired as UM coach in 2006?

“This is a joyous time, a happy time. This is one of the greatest times to be around at the University of Miami. I’m excited because it shows what dedication the university has in myself and the coaching staff. It goes a long ways when you get [high school] coaches from all the way from Jacksonville over to Tampa to Orlando all the way down to south Florida and Fort Myers. I’m thrilled. This is a great time.”

How difficult would it have been to enter the season without a new contract?

“There’s always distractions. I’m glad it’s behind us. I’m excited about where we are right now. I’m excited about the contract, thrilled. It could have been a distraction, but I knew it would get done. Now we look forward to doing some great things at the University of Miami and continue to build on the things we’ve accomplished over the last three years.”

How bad did it get on the recruiting trail?

“It’s part of it. Anytime somebody can use things against you, that’s part of it. I always say this and I think this is the one greatest thing about me is that I would never bad mouth a school or use anything toward another coach. I know some coaches do that toward the University of Miami. We just sell our program. That’s what has helped us turn the corner because we sell what we have at the University of Miami. Not to be cocky or anything, but we don’t worry what other people say.”

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Neal wrestling with a few things

By Albert Breer

May 6, 2010

Stephen Neal got back to Foxborough for the offseason program on Tuesday morning, took a physical and is back working out with his teammates today.

It's been four months since he's been here full-time, and a lot of interesting stuff has happened in between for the club's starting right guard.

He talked about retiring the day of the Baltimore loss, re-committed to playing, hit the free agent market (briefly), and decided to return to New England ... And that's the tip of the iceberg. Outside of getting ready for another season in the trenches, Neal has thrown himself headlong into helping save the Cal State-Bakersfield wrestling program. We covered this back in March, and it's clear Neal's passion for the subject hasn't waned in the least.

"This thing’s been growing so fast, everyone’s really rallied behind us," Neal said today at Gillette. "The big thing is, I’m not trying to save this for me, I’m not trying to save this for my coach. I’m trying to save it for the kids who are wrestling, and my kids, your kids, whomever’s kids want that opportunity."

Neal's got a small army from the professional athlete community behind him. In fact, his Patriot buddies Tom Brady, Mike Vrabel and Tedy Bruschi have given memorabilia to be auctioned off at a May 15 dinner. And other NFLers like Matt Hasselbeck, David Carr (a Bakersfield native) and Gene Mruczkowski (who's tapping brother Scott to get Chargers stuff) have involved themselves, as have big-names from other sports like Kevin Harvick and Brock Lesnar.

Here's the deal: the effort is actually to save four sports (men's and women's golf, women's tennis, wrestling) at the school, and the fundraisers need to come up with $1.4 million by May 21, which will give those teams a two-year reprieve. Neal reports the wrestling program has already raised $500,000.

The budget crisis in California precipitated all this and the hope is that, after the two aforementioned years, the state will be in better shape to support the sports with fee referendums. In case that doesn't happen, Neal and Co. plan to continue to raise money, if they do get the reprieve, to fund the programs.
Again, Neal says his motivation is to give more kids the opportunity he had to become a star heavyweight at the school.

"I gotta do everything I can to make sure that opportunity’s still available to them," he said. "We have raised a ton of money, the whole community of Bakersfield is pretty fired up about it."

Just 11 days ago, Neal got another advocate as a teammate -- Illinois heavyweight John Wise.

Wise will try to make the same transition that Neal did, going from college wrestling to pro football. The truth is, Neal's the outlier, and the experiments usually don't work. But the Patriot veteran is optimistic with this one.

"I’ve talked to John on the phone. He’s a great kid and if he’s a wrestler, he’s a hard worker," Neal said. "You love having that around, that gets contagious and people work harder and harder. That’s a great thing.

"I said, ‘Hey, just try to come out here and learn as much you can and do what they tell you.’ Because, for me, everybody knew a lot more about football than I did when I got here. I just kept my mouth shut, did exactly what they told me to do, and worked hard. That hard work, even if you have bad technique, they can see you work hard."

Neal said one advantage he had as a wrestler was being able to fight his way out of awkward angles and bad spots.

But in every other way, it was an uphill climb.

"The toughest thing is the language," Neal said. "You’re making all these different calls – now I know what the calls me, but back then? It’s, ‘OK, he said this, does that mean that?’ You think for that split-second, and the play’s over and you didn’t do what you were supposed to do. Learning the language, and then learning your assignment, and then learning what all the other people around are doing, that’s huge too.

"That took me probably 2-3 years to figure all that stuff out."

Anyway, so Neal's working on a few different things now. Playing. Mentoring. And trying to save his college wrestling program.

If you want to help out with that last one -- something I'd encourage anyone who's ever been involved in and benefited from athletics to do -- then go right here to

WNBA spotlight: Mystics guard Katie Smith brings her 'A' game

Guard Katie Smith, one of the most prolific scorers in WNBA history, brings her all-around game to Washington this season. "I don't feel like I have to put it all on my shoulders and score 20 a night," Smith said. "I feel like I have to do my part and be ready every night and do what is asked."

By Ellen J. Horrow, USA TODAY

May 12, 2010

Three-time Olympic gold medalist and seven-time All-Star Katie Smith is set to tip off her 12th WNBA season Saturday when her Washington Mystics face the defending Eastern Conference champion Indiana Fever.

Smith, who won two WNBA championships with the Detroit Shock and is the all-time leading scorer in American women's professional basketball history with 6,879 career points, talked to USA TODAY's Ellen J. Horrow about the Mystics, her future and reality TV.

USA TODAY: You were hampered by back pain that forced you to miss the 2009 playoffs. Is that all cleared up and are you good to go?

Katie Smith: I had a herniated disc and I had some numbness and weakness in my leg. Obviously I couldn't quite get out there with everybody. It took a long time. It was a slow process, but I did get to go overseas. I've been feeling really good, and I've worked hard at strengthening and whatnot. On top of that, the body just had to kind of heal itself when it came to the nerve damage. But I feel good and I'm ready to roll.

GALLERY: Images from all 13 WNBA championship teams

USA TODAY: For the first time in your illustrious career, you were an unrestricted free agent and had the opportunity to sign with any team in the league. Why the Washington Mystics?

Katie Smith: When our team [the Detroit Shock] got sold, Tulsa wasn't exactly where I wanted to finish my career. I wanted to go somewhere where the fans, the team, and the organization had been around and established. I think the Washington coaching staff was a big draw; she was [Julie Plank] somebody who I was familiar with, who I could trust. On top of that, the success of the players; they play hard. Being close to home is also key. It's not a bad drive from Columbus (Ohio) to here. So it's kind of a combination of all those things. I'm just excited to be here.

USA TODAY: At any time, did you consider possibly re-signing with the Shock, even though the team moved from Detroit to Tulsa?

Katie Smith: If it was in Detroit, it would be a little different story. Deanna Nolan was probably not going to play. We knew that kind of early, right after we got sold. Some things changed and the coaching staff was different. All of those things kind of played into maybe moving on and venturing out to somewhere else. This is my first time being able to choose where I wanted to play. I've always gotten either allocated or traded. Obviously I love Detroit, but this is the first time I got to choose and I'm excited about it. I think after the coaching staff and some of the players left, it was time to move on for me. I wish could steal a couple [of players] and bring them with me here to D.C.

USA TODAY: You spent four-plus seasons in Detroit and won two championships there. What was your reaction when you found out the Shock, after all its success, would be leaving Detroit?

Katie Smith: We were shocked. We knew that we weren't doing great. We knew that it was a possibility, if not this year, then maybe next year. After Mr. D. [owner Bill Davidson] died, there were changes and things were different on both the women's side and with the Pistons. We knew that we weren't doing great, but we did not see that one coming as soon as it did. We were really surprised about that and it was hard. You have such a history. It's kind of like the Houston Comets being basically dispersed. It's two storied franchises and you have such a history and then it's gone. It wasn't a happy time and I will just always remember my good times there.

USA TODAY: In Washington, circumstances are a bit different now from when you first signed with the Mystics a month and a half ago. You lost All-Star teammate Alana Beard to an ankle injury, and she's presumably out for the season. Obviously, it's a huge loss for the Mystics. How much do you think that will change the dynamics of the team?

Katie Smith: Of course the dynamic is a little different. Alana is a huge part of everything on both ends of the floor. So having her gone, honestly, I feel our margin of error is a lot smaller. I think that all of us have to be tuned in; everybody has to be focused every night. You can't take a night off. You can't have six show up and four still at the hotel hanging out. All 10 are going to have to be locked into the game plan and understand how important it will be. I was looking forward to playing with Alana and I'm happy she's taking care of herself, but I think we have enough talent as a group. I think certain nights, certain people will step up. We're just excited and learning each other and trying to find our way. One thing's for sure, we're going to compete every night and that's half the battle right there.

USA TODAY: How does the loss of Beard affect you in particular and your responsibilities, both on and off the court? Will you end up playing more minutes than maybe you anticipated?

Katie Smith: There's probably a tad bit more pressure from the outside. I just think it's knowing that you have to show up every night. For me, it's all the little things like knocking down shots when you get them, playing good defense, and setting good picks. It's kind of the same. I don't feel like I have to put it all on my shoulders and score 20 a night. I feel like I have to do my part and be ready every night and do what is asked. I think my role is pretty much the same. I think all of us just have to be ready every night for whatever is needed. And I think that everybody is willing to do that.

USA TODAY: One player who stepped up big time for the Mystics last year was point guard Lindsey Harding. With Beard out, do you foresee Harding taking on an even bigger role, especially on the offensive end?

Katie Smith: I think her role was huge last year. I think she sets the tone for this team, both defensively and offensively. She's key offensively, being able to create for herself but also create for everyone else and get us in our sets. She's such a threat against other people and defensively she's so hard to play against. She's our engine and we have to keep up and hope to make her life easier. She's a huge, huge part of this team and I hope I can help her out.

USA TODAY: Whenever your WNBA career comes to a close, would you like to stay in basketball, as say a coach or a commentator, or do you still plan to pursue dentistry?

Katie Smith: I've really been back and forth about this for a lot of years. I'm really kind of looking forward to maybe going to school and pursuing dentistry, but I do want to stay involved with basketball. I feel like it's given me so much and I love it. I really don't want to get away from it, but as my full time occupation, maybe not. But I definitely want to stay in it in some sense. I want to give back to something that's been so good to me.

USA TODAY: Now for a few less serious questions before we wrap up. You've won three Olympic gold medals. Basketball aside, what was your favorite Olympic city: Sydney, Athens or Beijing?

Katie Smith: I have to go with Sydney. Australia is a great place.

USA TODAY: You are an Ohio State graduate. Which Buckeyes team wins a national championship next: football, men's basketball or women's basketball?

Katie Smith: Evan Turner just left but they're getting some good ones, so I'd have to go with men's basketball. I'd like to say women's but I'm not too sure, so I'm going to go with the men's.

USA TODAY: You're asked to participate on a reality TV show and saying no is not an option. Which do you choose: American Idol, Dancing with the Stars or Survivor?

Katie Smith: Dancing with the Stars so I can show off my skills.

USA TODAY: You can only drink one beverage other than water for the rest of your life. What's your drink of choice?

Katie Smith: Coffee, but every once in a while I like carbonation.

USA TODAY: You're offered front row or box seats to one of the following events: the Super Bowl, Wimbledon, the Academy Awards, the Grammy Awards or a presidential inauguration. Which do you choose?

Katie Smith: The Grammy Awards.

Miami Hurricanes coach Randy Shannon signs four-year deal

After years of uncertainty, the University of Miami and Randy Shannon agreed to a four-year contract.


May 13, 2010

It took a while - a really, really long while - but University of Miami football fans finally know who their coach will be in 2011 and beyond.

The same one as the past three seasons.

After months -- even years -- of waiting and wondering when and if he would get a contract extension, Randy Shannon has been rewarded with a new four-year contract, the university announced Wednesday night. Shannon was about to enter his final season of the original four-year deal.

``There's no other place I'd rather be than coaching Hurricanes football,'' Shannon said in a statement. ``I'm excited about the momentum we continue to build and our strong recruiting classes. We have dedicated student-athletes and an experienced and committed coaching staff, a strong athletic program and the university leadership's support -- all important components consistent with long-term success.''

The financial terms of the contract were not announced. It is believed Shannon started his first season as the coach in 2007 with a salary approaching $800,000 and made about $1 million in 2009. The Associated Press reported that Shannon's new salary will be ``around the midpoint'' of coaches in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

``I think it's tremendous that we have agreed to a new contract,'' UM athletic director Kirby Hocutt said by phone. ``I couldn't be more excited and pleased with the direction our football program has made and will continue to make under Randy Shannon. There was never any doubt in Randy's mind or my mind that we were not going to be able to get this done. It's a testament to Randy's continued leadership that this was announced on the same day that the NCAA announced that the UM football team's Academic Progress Rate scores in the top-10 percentile in the country.

``Randy, as I've said all along, is going to continue as our football coach. We can now turn all our focus and attention to the summer and upcoming fall.''

Shannon, 44, is 21-17 since taking over the program after Larry Coker was dismissed. He finished 9-4 last season, with the Canes losing to Wisconsin in the Champs Sports Bowl.

The 2010 season will be Shannon's 17th on the football staff at Miami. He was the defensive coordinator for six seasons, linebackers coach for five and defensive line coach and graduate assistant for one year apiece.

In an e-mail to The Miami Herald, UM president Donna Shalala said having Shannon for four more years ``means stability and reassures recruits and their families that Coach Shannon has a long-term commitment.''

As delighted as anyone to hear the news: UM quarterback Jacory Harris, who will enter his junior season with UM expected to be ranked in the Top 25.

``I'm happy,'' said Harris, who celebrated his 20th birthday Wednesday. ``That's cool. He deserves it because he's a great coach. He does so much for the program, and he has since he's been here.Recruiting-wise, guys who are looking at Miami will know they'll have a head coach for the years they'll be here.''

Chavez Grant, a former cornerback who just finished his final season, said the extension will only make the program stronger. ``It will give us stability and give Coach more confidence knowing the university believes in him. He has shown progress over the years and instilled a lot of discipline into the team.''

Former UM defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy, 41, whose name is enshrined in the UM Ring of Honor and played with Shannon for one season in 1988, was ecstatic when he learned the news.

``If it weren't for Coach Shannon, I wouldn't be where I am,'' Kennedy said. ``He got me in shape going into my senior year and stayed in my apartment, sleeping on the living room floor at night to make sure I didn't go into my refrigerator.

``That's my boy. I just left a message and said, `Congratulations!' and hung up. He'll call me back. I'm sure he's tickled to death.''

Miami gives football coach Randy Shannon new four-year deal

May 13, 2010

By Thomas O'Toole

Miami (Fla.) football coach Randy Shannon has signed a new four-year contract that goes into effect this coming season.

"This is an important contract for us," President Donna Shalala told USA TODAY Wednesday night. "We believe that Randy Shannon will get us back to where we belong, competing for a national championship year after year."

The Hurricanes, who went 9-4 in 2009, last won the national title in 2001.

Shannon, 44, took over in 2007 and has led Miami to two bowls. Last fall, the Hurricanes defeated three top-25 teams and played in the Champs Sports Bowl.

"We are very proud of the positive steps our football program has taken under the leadership of Coach Shannon," Miami athletics director Kirby Hocutt said in a news release. "With a commitment to excellence in the classroom, in the community, and in competition, we are well on our way, once again, to the top of the college football world."

Salary numbers were not released.

"There's no other place I'd rather be than coaching Hurricanes football," Shannon said in the release. "I'm excited about the momentum we continue to build."

Miami's team also has been recognized for a strong performance in the NCAA Academic Progress Rate (APR), which combines graduation and retention numbers. Under Shannon, the team has been in the top 10% of major college programs.

"Randy has done it all," said Shalala.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Packer Tauscher teams up with Wis. First Lady for kids

May 11, 2010

GREEN BAY (WFRV)- Packers Player Mark Tauscher teamed up with Wisconsin’s first lady, Jessica Doyle to encourage kids to read.

They stopped in Green Bay at Washington Middle school to issue a twenty by twenty reading challenge to the seventh graders there.

The pair asked the kids to read for 20 minutes a day for 20 days in a row in order to keep their minds fresh over the summer.

"Jessica and Mark lend some credibility and some excitement to reading, and the more that the students hear that from important people in their lives, which hopefully the governor and his wife are and Mark Tauscher is from representing the Packers, the more that they hear that from influential people, the easier it is for them to internalize,” Amy Bindas the Principal of Washington Middle School says.

Dolphins' Brian Hartline a sophomore to watch

From KC Joyner's "Second-Year Itch"

May 17, 2010

Monday, May 10, 2010

Stephen Neal Appreciates Greatness of Tom Brady, Bill Belichick

by Jeff Howe

May 6, 2010

FOXBORO, Mass. — Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick have predictably done well for themselves in's poll to determine Boston's Biggest Sports Legend.

New England right guard Stephen Neal has witnessed their rise to stardom as closely as anybody. When Brady arrived in Foxboro in 2000, he was a fourth-stringer buried behind Drew Bledsoe, John Friesz and Michael Bishop, and Belichick was a head coach with just one playoff trip.

Neal is proud to see Brady and Belichick doing so well, considering where they started.

"I didn't know anything about football [in 2001]," Neal, a collegiate wrestler, said. "The only guys I could block for were Tom Brady and Michael Bishop. I wasn't allowed on the field when the other two guys were out there, so it's funny how things have changed. But Tom has treated me the same ever since that day. He deserves everything he's gotten.

"Coach Belichick deserves everything he's gotten, too. He's one of the hardest working coaches I've ever been around. I'll walk through a wall if he asks me too."

Former college wrestlers bond

Patriots rookie offensive linesman John Wise, far left, and veteran guard Stephen Neal both transitioned from college wrestling to professional football. Neal said he told Wise the best way to acclimate is listening to everything he’s told about the game and having an open mind.


May 7, 2010

FOXBORO, Mass. —

It’s been nearly a decade since this college wrestler began to come to grips with pro football.

“Mike Vrabel kind of took me under his wing,” veteran New England Patriots guard Stephen Neal recalled. “I was out there in Columbus (Ohio) with him, we were working out, and he’s trying to tell me stuff and I’m (thinking), ‘OK. That doesn’t make any sense, but OK.’

“There were a lot of guys that helped me out. Joe Andruzzi was huge in helping me out. It was great to have all those people helping me out and if I can return the favor to John (Wise) or last year to Jermail (Porter), whatever I can do to help them, ask me any question. I’m not going to try to tell you what to do, but if you have a question I’ll try to answer it.”

Wise and Porter are Neal wannabes. Porter, the former Kent State wrestler, didn’t last long in New England, but he moved on to Kansas City where he is listed as an offensive tackle with the Chiefs.

Wise, who played a year of college ball as a defensive lineman at Western Illinois before transferring to Illinois where he developed into a wrestling All-American, signed with the Patriots late last month and took his first steps as an offensive lineman with the team at last weekend’s rookie minicamp.

Advice for rookie

“I’ve talked to John on the phone and he’s a great kid,” Neal said following a day at the team’s voluntary offseason conditioning program at Gillette Stadium. “If he’s a wrestler, he’s a hard worker. You love having that around. That gets contagious and people work harder and harder, and that’s a great thing.”

Neal’s advice to Wise?

Keep your mind open, mouth shut and most of all, make sure the spirit remains willing.

“I said, ‘Hey, man, just come out here and try to learn as much as you can. Just do what they tell you,’ ” said Neal, who originally signed with the Patriots as an undrafted free agent in July 2001. “Because everybody knew a lot more about football than I did when I first got here.

“So I just kept my mouth shut and tried to do what they told me to do and work(ed) hard. They can see hard work. Even if you have bad technique, they can see you’re working hard.”

Programs in trouble

Neal is going to the mat for the program from whence he came, Cal State-Bakersfield, where he compiled a career record of 151-10 with a pair of NCAA Division I titles.

In February, the college was informed that, due to the California budget crisis, $1.4 million would be needed by May 21 to save the wrestling, women’s tennis, and men’s and women’s golf programs for a period of two years.

Neal, who has been actively involved in fundraising efforts, reports that the Roadrunners’ wrestling team has raised $500,000. A dinner auction to raise money for the cause is set for May 15 at the Jam Events Center in Bakersfield.

“I’m not trying to save this for me, I’m not trying to save it for my coach (T.J. Kerr), I’m trying to save it for the kids — the kids that are wrestling, my kids, your kids, whoever wants that opportunity,” said Neal. “It’s not only wrestling, it’s men’s and women’s golf and women’s tennis. At some point, the kids in the community are going to want to be able to have that opportunity.”

To this day, Neal says that opportunity paid off for him, providing him with experience he relies upon from time to time in a sport where he has collected three Super Bowl rings.

“The biggest thing for me is when things don’t go the way they’re supposed to go, I can recover because I’m used to hand fighting and wrestling and getting off balance,” said Neal, who has appeared in 78 games in an injury-plagued career.

“So that’s the kind of stuff that you don’t teach: Don’t do the right thing so you can get in this (predicament). Just in case something bad happens, that’s when you have to use that experience.”

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

How Donald Washington Predicted Scott Pioli's 2010 Draft Behavior

By Matt Conner

May 3, 2010

If you step back from looking solely at this year's draft class and instead take in the two combined draft hauls under the new(er) Scott Pioli-helmed regime, you may find some consistencies that could have led us to predict a few of this year's draft picks. And certainly, none of us saw the second round choices coming this year (or even anything after that).

On the outside, the two draft classes look completely unique. Tyson Jackson was considered a reach by nearly everyone and it filled a draft need more than the traditional "best player available" approach. It was also a choice where finances of a top-three pick came into play. This year, it was the total oppposite for Eric Berry. Sure, safety was a need, but four (or more) other positions could make that same claim. Yet it was the ability to grab a potentially elite playmaker that earned Berry's name on the draft card, finances be damned.

Yet below the first-round picks, it was clear even last year that Pioli apparently loved a certain quality in his defensive backs: sheer athleticism. Eric Berry and Javier Arenas share the same trait that they excel with their athleticism. And that's exactly what was written about last year's cornerback, Donald Washington. The knock against Washington was his lack of experience and the questionable choice to leave school when his last year was one where he could excel out from under the shadow of fellow Ohio State corner Malcolm Jenkins.

But he still became a fourth round pick, albeit a raw one, for his incredible athleticism, including his 45-inch vertical leap at the Combine as well as his 11'3" broad jump -- the best of any draftees from the class of 2009. Combined with his quickness, Washington still holds a lot of promise as a cornerback in the NFL and should mix well with the new company from the class of 2010. And, after a couple draft classes, perhaps we're making some sense of how Pioli likes his defensive backs to measure up.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Wrestler makes Wise move in trying to hook on with Pats

By Glen Farley

May 2, 2010


His college wrestling career behind him, John Wise was left with one of those life decisions: Should he pursue employment bouncing off turnbuckles or banging helmets in football's trenches?

"Once I finished up wrestling, there's not much of an opportunity," Wise said. "There's not, like, professional wresting. I guess there is, but it's the (WWE).
"I always enjoyed playing football in high school. I enjoyed playing my freshman year in college. I was like, hey, give it a shot."

The New England Patriots - who dug up guard Stephen Neal - are giving the 2009 wrestling All-America that shot.

Yesterday, the 6-5, 298-pound wrestling heavyweight-turned-offensive lineman went through his second straight day of double sessions as an undrafted free agent at the Patriots rookie minicamp.

"Right now, I'm just coming out on the field trying to put my best foot forward every day," Wise said. "Just trying to give my best every time I come out here."

He began his college athletic career as a defensive lineman at Western Illinois, registering 16 tackles and one forced fumble in nine games in 2004 before transferring to Illinois to wrestle.

At Western Illinois, Wise qualified for wrestling's NCAA Championships three times, finishing seventh at the national tournament last year.

Now, though, Wise strives to follow the path of Neal, a nine-year veteran originally signed as an undrafted free agent following a championship wrestling career at Cal State-Bakersfield. Last year, the Patriots took a look at Jermail Porter, the former Kent State wrestler who is now an offensive tackle with the Kansas City Chiefs.

"I think that's actually what helped me get in this program," Wise said of the Pats' past practice. "I'm giving it my shot. Neal's walked a mile in my shoes and hopefully I can do as well as he did."

Just as he did with Neal, it was agent Neil Cornrich who put out feelers to NFL teams for Wise.

"A lot of coaches know that wrestlers have good work ethic, but a lot of times that doesn't matter because everyone here has a great work ethic," said Wise. "It's just making those calls and getting the coaches willing enough to come down and look at you and see what you've got, and if they think you've got it they'll give you a shot."

While there is a carryover effect from wrestling ("a lot of skills translate - foot work, hand work"), Wise admits he wished he'd never strayed from football.

"I do (regret it) because obviously the transition would be a little bit easier if I didn't," said Wise, "but I chose the path I chose and I'm doing what I'm doing now."

Brian Hartline is Pretty Freakin’ Good

What do Brandon Marshall, Calvin Johnson, Carolina’s Steve Smith, Ocho Cinco, and Andre Johnson have in common? They all averaged fewer yards per catch than Miami’s Brian Hartline.

The Dolphins held onto the tragic hope that Ted Ginn would emerge as a playmaking wideout for much of 2009. What did they have to show for it? 454 yards (11.9 per reception) and a single touchdown. In fact, in his entire tenure with Miami poor Teddy caught just five touchdowns. Count ‘em. Five. Thank heavens the Trifecta pulled the plug on #19. It will be a much needed fresh start for both the Dolphins and Ginn.

Davone Bess was his sturdy, slot receiver self last season, hauling in a team high 76 passes for 758 yards and a couple of touchdowns. Greg Camarillo added 50 catches for 552 yards. However, neither of them averaged more than 11 yards per grab. It was Brian “Crazylegs” Hartline who emerged as the receiving corps biggest playmaker with four total touchdowns and 16.3 yards per reception.

With all the receivers fighting for receptions last season, Hartline never caught more than four balls in a game. It’s what he did with those catches that was impressive. Brian proved that he was more than just a good hands guy. He showed good speed, and a knack for the big play. He recorded the two longest receptions of all Miami’s receivers, with catches of 67 and 57 yards. Hartline also scored four times (one TD on the ground). And though 506 yards may not sound like much, when you look at the limited targets he received it hints that bigger things are in store for #82.

Obviously Brandon Marshall is coming in as our undisputed #1 wideout. So let's take a look at a pair of the NFL’s rising #2 WRs, and how Brian stacks up. I’ve chosen Pierre Garcon (wingman to Wayne), and Jeremy Maclin (wingman to Desean).

Maclin 55rec, 762 yds, 4 TD in 90 targets
Garcon 47 rec, 765 yds 4 TD in 92 targets
Hartline 31 rec, 506 yds, 3 TD in 56 targets

The key stat here is targets. With so many receivers looking for the ball in Hartline’s rookie season, he had only 56 chances to make a play. Both Maclin and Garcon were cemented into their roles in the #2 slot on their respective teams. Both had over 90 balls thrown their way, and both averaged about 8.4 yards per target.

Let’s assume that Hartline becomes the “Bake” to Marshall’s “Shake”. If Hartline reaches 90 targets he would have 813 yards and 6 receiving touchdowns, outperforming both Maclin and Garcon. Not bad, right?

But looking at the target numbers around the league is even more eye opening. If Hartline was targeted as much as Donald Driver (1b to Jennings) he would also be a 1,000 yard receiver. If he received the same targets as Anquan Boldin (1b to Fitzgerald) Brian would have 1155 yards and seven TDs. Boldin only managed 1,029yds and five scores.

Of course none of this is an exact science, but the numbers indicate that if Hartline was given a more prominent role, he’d be more than up to the task. Hell, if we really committed to him opposite Marshall he might put up Pro Bowl numbers. Math is fun, isn’t it boys and girls?

This offseason the Trifecta needs to decide if Hartline is a wingman or a 1b. Either way, it looks like the front office “done good” finding him in 2009′s fourth round.

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