Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Joe Pa talks Blue and White, VA Tech

Are you surprised at, or can you comment on, the support of Virginia Tech over the last week?

I am pleased, obviously (with the Penn State student response). I think that all of us who are in this business are trying to do a job for our youth. They are under an awful lot of pressure these days because of a lot of things. I think when somebody has to struggle with that whole group of students, faculty, supporters and anybody who is connected with higher education, you all look out for each other and I am glad that our student body responded the way they did. I think it is fitting.

Have you talked to Frank Beamer?

I tried to get him the day after and, obviously, everybody was trying to get some kind of contact done so I backed away from it. I figured whenever it settles down, I will try to get a hold of him. One of the families apparently was wearing a t-shirt and Frank autographed the back of it.

Did you know the family of Jeremy Herbstritt?

I did not know the family. I was talking with Jeremy’s girlfriend who was out here. She is a Virginia Tech girl and a 'Hokie' and her mom was there and her mom said, “I just want you to know that I am a diehard ‘Hokie’,” and I said, “That is fine. I was on the Blacksburg campus before you were born. I was there when Jerry Claiborne was the head coach.” I took a couple of coaches down there to watch them practice.

What have you seen from Austin Scott this spring?

I think he has to stay healthy. He has had a tendency to let nicks and bruises bother him a little bit with an ankle here and a pulled muscle there. The thing about some of the really good backs that we have had and the ones that I see doing really well are durable. He has to be able to go out there everyday and get the job done and practice a little. He has had a good spring and did a great job in the fall being the foreign team tailback. He went at it and gave the defense a great look. I think both he and (Rodney) Kinlaw, I don’t want to overlook Kinlaw, give us good tandem. I know a lot of people are concerned about, “Hey, Penn State looks pretty good, where is the tailback”? and all that kind of stuff. There is always somebody concerned. I think both of those kids are really going to have good years. They both had a great spring.

Are you satisfied with what you have accomplished this spring and how the team has progressed?

You are never satisfied. I think we had a good spring. Obviously, you always wish you could do a couple of things a little better. I think we were fortunate that we didn’t have a lot of injuries. We lost six kids who will not go today. A couple of them were hurt prior, (Tom) McEowen was hurt in the winter program, (Kevin) Cousins has been hurt and didn’t do anything all spring, (Anthony) Scirrotto got hurt about a week ago with a pinched nerve and doesn’t have a lot of strength so they didn’t want to let him go, and a freshman, Jon Ditto had to have an operation on his shoulder and we did not see much of him in the spring. There were six of them. Elijah Robinson got a neck injury.

What have you seen out of Anthony Morelli this spring and is his improvement as good as his teammates have been saying?

I think he is pretty good. I don’t know how good they said he is. He came out at the end of the year and showed what he can do. I think there has been some momentum carried over and he had a heck of a spring. I am anxious to see how they do today, obviously. I think Anthony is a really good quarterback. When he started out, a lot of people didn’t realize just how inept we were in some areas because of inexperience and because we hadn’t forecast some injuries and a couple of people left the football team that we had hoped would have been available to help us with the offensive line. Overall, Anthony did a really good job even earlier in the year if you take back a couple of passes.

Could you assess the other quarterbacks? Is Daryll Clark the solid No. 2?

Clark would be No. 2 right now. The other kids, (Pat) Devlin, (Paul) Cianciolo, and young (Kevin) Suhey, it is hard to give everyone enough reps to really give them an honest shake, but I think we are in pretty good shape at quarterback. Clark would be further along than the rest of them, but Cianciolo has ability and I think the young Devlin kid, we probably would have played a little bit last year, except he got mononucleosis right in the middle of pre-season practice, so he lost four or five weeks. Then it was a question of whether you redshirt him or try to get him caught up, so we redshirted him. I think we are in pretty good shape at quarterback.

How has Dan Connor looked in the middle?

I think he is where he should be. I think Dan is a natural inside linebacker and I think he will be fine. He has had a good spring.

Could you talk about the loss of Chris Auletta?

Sure, you would like to keep him, but he just felt that he wanted to get on with his life and that was fine with me. I don’t know what else I can say about that.

What have you seen from Jeremy Boone and how do you feel about him replacing Jeremy Kapinos?

I am pleased with Jeremy. Two or three of the last five or six practices we have put him under a lot of pressure to kick from the end zone and things like that. I think he has done well. I think he is going to be OK. You never know until you get into the season, but anything we have asked him to do this spring he has done.

Do you like to hear talk about a national championship this early?

There is nothing I can do about it. I sure as heck don’t want to tell them, “don’t think about being good.” As long as they understand what it is going to take to be a contender, not necessarily in the national championship, but to be able to do some things that will give you a chance to do the things they are talking about. We have a long way to go. You guys may not like to hear me preach, but I will tell you exactly what I tell them, “Before you start a game you have four seasons prior to that…the winter program, spring practice, summer workouts, preseason and then you go to play after you do all the hard work.” We have had two good segments. I think the winter program was one of the better ones we have had. We have had a good spring practice. We are allowed eight weeks to wear equipment in the summer and most of them will be here this summer. I would like to see how they return the request to that and then, obviously, preseason is crucial. I am glad they are thinking big as long as they understand that it takes more than talk.

How has the leadership evolved so far?

I think that (Anthony) Morelli is the guy that has stepped to the front the most, which is really something you would hope would happen. We will have to see. If I told you I thought we had enough, I don’t know, we will have to see. I would like to see a couple of other kids that I think are going to be really good athletes understand that there is a little bit more than just what they think and they have to have some kind of commitment to help everybody get a little better. I think we are OK, but I am not enthusiastic about that area yet.

Did you accomplish what you wanted at the defensive tackle position?

They haven’t stepped up because none of them have a lot of experience. None of those kids are seniors. I think we are going to be alright there, but I don’t know. There is certainly enough ability there. There are some strong kids. I don’t think it would be fair for me to mention them by name, but there are a couple of them that could be really, really good that are kind of pacing themselves. They have to learn how to go all out every play, but there is potential there. I think that we have three, maybe four kids that can play inside and are strong enough and quick enough to be really good. There again, you have to see them when they have to carry the load in the ball game. They are young. It is going to be a very young defensive football team. Outside of Connor, I don’t think there is a senior that you could project on the first two teams.

The State College police said they are going to interview members of the team regarding an off-campus incident that happened earlier this month? Has this been a distraction?

You know more about it than I do. It hasn’t been a distraction yet. I don’t know what is going to happen because I don’t know anything that is going on. I am trying to concentrate on the football squad. I never try to worry about things until I have to worry about them. I am not sure I have anything to worry about here. I am not sure. I don’t know one way or the other.

How closely do you follow your former players in the NFL?

I don’t follow them…I will know who got drafted. When is the draft, next week or this weekend? The guys on the staff will talk about it and some of the kids will come around. To me, the draft is something that is like recruiting. I get tired of hearing people talking about who the guys are that you are supposed to recruit. Every once in awhile I turn the television on trying to find something to put me to sleep and you get ESPN this or ESPN that or FOX this or FOX that and there is always some guy saying, “Well, this guy is going to be OK because this club needs that.” I don’t pay any attention to it. The draft to me is when they get drafted, they go and I wish them luck and hope they make it and it is going to be a tough job. Hopefully, it will work out for them. Hopefully, they will leave with a degree and if it doesn’t work out with football, they can make another life.

How much are you looking forward to being back on the sidelines next year and how much did you miss that at the end of last season?

Last year, I was just glad that I could sit upstairs. I tried to get on the field for the Outback Bowl and started walking around a little bit with that cane, I got a little nervous and didn’t think I could get out of the way if I had to because the ground was soft and a couple of other things. It will be good to be down there. In fact, I debated on whether I wanted to do this radio thing today and try to get down on the field and then I didn’t want to make a big deal about it. This is the players’ game. This is a bunch of kids out there that some of the kids have never played in any kind of a crowd like that. There are a lot of redshirt freshmen kids that have never been on the field with a crowd like that. They have been on the sidelines, but have never been involved in a game. I have debated on whether I would enjoy being on the sidelines, but then I said, “Hey, the first thing, all of you guys with cameras, and I would be a story because I would be on the sidelines.” So, I am going upstairs and second-guess everybody on radio.

How have your receivers looked and has anyone else stepped up there?

I think all of them have had some experience. We have a good group of receivers. It will be interesting watching today because they will probably throw the ball a lot today. I think we have good wideouts. I think we have good wideouts and good tight ends. A couple of the younger kids at tight end are starting to learn how to block a little bit, which is some of the things that I worried about that we didn’t do necessarily a great job last year with one or two of the younger tight ends. I think that as far as offensively catching the football, I think we are in pretty good shape. I don’t know any young guys. Did we play (Chris) Bell last year at all? He would be the only young guy. There are a couple of kids there who are walk-ons who have done a really nice job such as (Jesse) Alfreno and (Graham) Zug who are good, solid kids, but they will have a tough time beating out some of the older guys.

How has A.J. Wallace looked in practice?

He has been nursing a hamstring for a little bit so he hasn’t had a lot of spring practice. When he is healthy, he is a very, very gifted athlete. If I were to be critical of A.J. at all, every once in awhile he is a little loosy goosy out there. When you are playing corner, loosy goosy might be six points, but he certainly has ability.

How much time are you spending at the Lasch Building since your injury? Are you satisfied with how much you can give the program?

I suppose that will be up to somebody else to make that kind of a critique on what I have done. I don’t think I have done anything differently. I have never been much to stay in Lasch Building because I don’t like the office. It is a great big, fancy office. It is a great facility with the academic support, the weight room, locker room and our coaches so, it is all in there close together and it is easy for the kids to come up and visit. We have a lounge downstairs where they can go and a room with computers so it is really a very, very practical thing. I don’t stay there because if I am in that office and everybody who comes into town and has any association with me, and when you are in one place as long as I have been, obviously, there are a lot of people you have gotten to know. So I work mostly out of my house, which is only three blocks away from campus. If I have to get into the office, they call me up and I am in the office within five minutes. I have a fax machine, all of my tapes, private business telephone and university phone there so they can get to me. If I need to get the staff together and I don’t feel like running up there because of one thing or another and I just need one or two things, I can get them on a conference call. I think I am getting about as much done as I have gotten done before. That was the way it was before I got hurt. Five or six years ago I had to make up my mind because every time if I stayed in the office, the people who handled the office would have to lie and say, “He’s not in” or if I am in, people’s noses get out of joint if they can’t get in to say “Hello” to their son or sign a book or do something. So I have tried to be able to sit down and look at a tape for three or four hours and not get interrupted and I can do that at home. I make my own coffee and have a cup of coffee and I can work three, four, five or six hours in a row without any interruptions. I think maybe in the sense that I am not there, I am a little bit more productive. At least I feel like that. Again, I go back to what I have said many times. With the staff that I have and the fact that we have been able to keep these guys here, there is just so much that we have come together when we have to make decisions and we may sit around for four or five hours trying to argue out different points and those kinds of things. I think I spend enough time with them and just let them go and coach.

Can you talk about your new junior college players?

I don’t like junior college (recruiting). I don’t like to recruit a junior college player only because I have always felt that if you bring a kid in who works a couple of years and then all of a sudden you go out and get somebody, it is almost like you are making a trade to bring somebody in. We went and got two junior college kids this year, one who came in January and one who is coming this summer because we really felt that we needed some depth on the offensive line. They would be a little further along physically and maturely than, maybe, some of the kids we are bringing in as true freshmen, but we needed some depth. I debated it. The two kids that are coming in are both kids that are solid kids. The one (Ako Poti) has been here since January and has done a good job and a good job academically. It is not easy to learn a system when you are an offensive lineman. I think it was good that we did that, but that doesn’t mean that I am not a junior college fan. That is not to say that I am against junior colleges. I am not saying that it is not for somebody else to recruit them. That is their business. I have just felt that if you bring kids in as freshmen and sophomores and then all of a sudden you bring somebody in and put them ahead of them. That has never lit me up.

Besides Brendan Perretta, who else has changed positions?

Perretta has looked fine as a corner just to get a better feel for him because he is a good football player and let’s see if he is better than some of the others some place else. I doubt very much if he will stay on defense. In fact, he will play a little of both today. The only other guy probably will be (Larry) Federoff, who we had at fullback who is a transfer from Edinboro, a good, tough kid and I want to take a look at him as a linebacker. He played fullback and now we are taking a quick look at him at linebacker. There is a young freshman, Brent Carter, we are going to take a look at him at safety, but he will play both ways today, too. He will be the same as Perretta. It gives you a chance when you come back in the fall to maybe line them up a little bit.

Could you talk about why you moved John Shaw to guard?

We thought we had three tackles and a young freshman kid we liked who we recruited last year but because he had a knee operation, he didn’t start (school), a kid by the name of (Johnnie) Troutman. We felt we needed a little bit more bulk at guard and we had (Dennis) Landolt and (John) Shaw to go in playing tackle and we thought Landolt at guard, and the consensus was that Shaw might be easier to make the adjustment to guard because he is a fifth-year guy. That is the reason he is playing guard. Whether he stays there or not, I honestly am going to say that I don’t know. We will look at all the tapes over the summer and evaluate them through the summer program and see how far Troutman has come. With Landolt, Troutman and (Gerald) Cadogan, we have three good-sized tackles and with Shaw at guard that gives us a chance to have three or four guards. We are still a little worried about the center spot, but we will go from there.

What are your thoughts on the secondary as a whole as they seem to be very athletic?

That is about right. That is a very athletic group. It is not a question of this guy runs :4.5 or this guy runs :4.4 or this guy runs :4.6. The way the game is played today, when you talk about past defenses, it is not a question of how quick you are, it is how fast you play. You have to have a little sense. (Anthony) Scirrotto has turned out to be a really outstanding safety. He is one of our better players, but he isn’t a great guy with the clock. He is tough, smart, anticipates things, studies quarterbacks, splits and receivers, certain things they can do when they split a certain way and the whole bit. He is in the game. He plays a step or two faster than he actually is. We have a lot of guys that are faster than he is, but they are not better. Until they can get to that state of mind, they will be good, but they may not be as good as they can be. I think what you said is right, and if they are very athletic, whether they are great defensive players right now outside of maybe (Justin) King and (Tony) Davis. The other kids are all young. They are tough and can run. I think eventually they are going to be pretty darn good. Right now, they are OK.

Can you talk about your freshman running backs – Brent Carter and Evan Royster?

I like Royster, too. I think both Carter and Royster have a chance to be pretty good backs. You have to see them in some situations where they have to improvise a little bit and make somebody miss and do some things. Right now, we have not done enough tough work with those two kids. I like both of them. They both are good athletes who work hard. They are both good students and good kids. I think, eventually, both of them will be good running backs.

What are your expectations of Kevin Kelly next season and what are some things he needs to do to be more consistent?

He has to be more consistent. That is a mental process. He can go out there and kick that ball and look like he is as good as anybody. He can kick a 55-yard field goal and put the ball in the end zone and the whole bit. Right now he still is not as consistent as he could be. We may be expecting too much of him, but I think that he just has to be a little bit more consistent.

Talk about how this game has become such a big event.

As I said, to me it’s a scrimmage. It’s a scrimmage with a lot of people. Some of us get, I get, maybe more than you people do and I gotta be careful, you get wrapped up so much in the little things and the details. I have an old saying, ‘We’re only as good as the poorest guy we’ve got.’ I worry. I come in there with drills for the poor guys. I don’t come in with drills for guys who are good. We gotta figure out a way to get this guy better so that we can better as a team. Then all of a sudden you come to a day like today and you see all those Penn State kids running around with Virginia Tech colors on. Wait till you see how many have on Virginia Tech t-shirts. My wife (Sue) walked in the room and she’s wearing maroon and orange. Between you and me, she looked like hell (laughter). She had to go down and dig around to find something maroon and orange. I’ve never seen her in maroon and orange. She said, “How do I look?” I said, ‘Oh you look great honey, you look wonderful.’ (laughter). But to see all those kids come across campus and to see all these people, you realize there’s something about intercollegiate athletics that is special. It’s special, it really is. It’s special at Virginia Tech, it’s special here. The Oklahoma spring game was on, I watched a little of that on television. You’re almost fascinated by it and proud to be part of it. I’m proud of this campus and the way they have responded to the Virginia Tech situation. The students and everybody else. I’m a little closer to the Virginia Tech family than you might realize. The guy who wrote the biography that’s important on Stonewall Jackson; I think all of you know who Stonewall Jackson was, the great confederate general. When Stonewall got killed….that was probably the end of the Civil War when Jackson was down. Jackson was a very religious man. Before he went to the war, he was a deeply religious man. A man by the name of (James) Robertson wrote the biography and he’s a Virginia Tech professor. He and I were on a CFA committee together and we spent a lot of time together and I got to like him very much. He liked me and I got to know Frank Beamer very well. I like Frank very much, he and his wife (Cheryl). His wife sent me a copy of Robertson’s book on the life of Stonewall Jackson. And in it, professor Robertson put in a statement about me. I always appreciated that. It’s really a great book about a great man. When all was said and done, he may have been one of the greatest generals we ever had. And when this thing happened, I went to the book because there was a poem in it that hit me. I had forgotten about it. When Jackson died, as I said he was a very religious man, there was a poem in there that eulogized him. It goes this way:
A hero came among us as we slept.
And first he lowly knelt and rose and wept.
And gathering up a thousand spears,
He swept across the field of Mars,
And fought forever and walked among the stars.
In the land where we were dreaming.

That struck me a long time ago and it struck me here. You know, we have a bunch of guys carrying spears out there going across Mars. I think about the kids going to college, going with their spears to conquer the world. All of a sudden they’re shot down. That’s kind of tragic. Not kind of, it is tragic. But anyway, I think it is a great thing (Penn State student response). It is a great day for college athletics, a great day for college institutions. When you guys go out there and see all those kids wearing Virginia Tech colors, and a bunch of kids going after each other trying to knock the crap out of each other, all because they love the game. They love this football game. And all those people [are in the stadium] because they love the game, and they love this place. Yet their love is deep enough it carries across two states, to another state. So I think it’s a great thing. It is a great thing and I’m proud to be a part of it.

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