Spring Phenoms Old and New

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Great Zamani Feelings shot of Bruce Arians, Geoff Collins and Todd Bowles on Saturday.

Having seen names like Myron Myles and Lou Angelo light it up on Cherry and White Day and disappear a few months later, I’ve come to take a skeptical view of one-day spring wonders.

That said, spring practice is more than a month of hard-hitting and difficult throws and catches so the cream seems to rise to the top over 30 days and this year offers several intriguing candidates. Forget some of what you will see on Saturday in the spring game and remember a lot of what you see below.

From what I’ve been told from people who have been able to see at least one practice every week, these are the guys who are getting the reps that might surprise you (hometowns in parathesis):

Sean Ryan, WR, New York City

After Ventell Bryant and Isaiah Wright—probably one of the best receiving tandems in the nation—there was a huge dropoff in talent from the first to second unit. Ryan, one of NYC’s top receivers a year ago, seems to be filling the talent void and has made a number of difficult catches with the kind of deep speed that Wright seems to have. Offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude likes to use three-receiver packages and do not be surprised if Ryan is able to make an impact right away.

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Anthony Russo, QB.  Doylestown

Patenaude said at the end of last year that Russo was “light year’s different” in practice in December than he was in September. Add that to the fact that Patenaude also said early last March that Russo corrected a “looping motion” in his release plus increased playing time with the ones means that Russo could slot into the role Nutile had at the beginning of last year—a guy in the No. 2 slot who is ready to get his chance in a real game. Mix in the fact that the staff is trying to find new positions for Todd Centeio and there is a clear indication that the first and second jobs are Frank Nutile’s and Russo’s. A lot of the Philadelphia area has been waiting to see what Russo can do in a real game and not a practice or a scrimmage and this year could very well be that chance. It took the staff eight games before it finally decided to insert Nutile in there to give him a chance to run the squad and hopefully they will give Russo the same chance this season that Juice got last one.

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Jager Gardner, Black Mountain (N.C.)

One thing that has been a relatively accurate predictor of future success at Temple for any player has been eye-popping numbers in high school. Folks here kind of knew Adam DiMichele would have projected as a pretty good quarterback here when he tossed 35 touchdown passes as a senior for Sto-Rox in the WPIAL. As a running back, Gardner had far better numbers than the other guy, Ryquell Armstead, who came in his class. Gardner’s senior year numbers: 2,776 yards and 36 touchdowns on 282 carries. Armstead’s senior year numbers at Vineland (N.J.): 1,488 and 18 touchdowns. Gardner got injured and fell behind and now seems to have caught up. Head Coach Collins said this has been a “break out” spring for him. Since Gardner already owns the Temple all-time record for longest run from scrimmage, that bodes well for this year.

Rock Ya-Sin, DB, Decatur (Ga.)

Already one of the greatest “names” in Temple roster history, Rock looks primed to become one of the great producers on the field in this his first season for the Owls after transferring from FCS school Presbyterian. Last season, playing for a Villanova-level school, Ya-Sin led his team with 49 tackles and five interceptions. More importantly, he has stood out during spring practices in an area of need—defensive back—as the Owls scrape hard to find replacements for three departed starters.

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Benny Walls, Safety, Cherry Hill, N.J. and Keyvone Bruton, Norfolk, Va.

Walls was a standout for a great state championship team in St. Joseph’s Prep and clearly the star of Wednesday’s practice when Collins tweeted that Walls had a dominant day. Walls was a two-time first-team All-Catholic playing in one of the best high school football leagues in the nation. Benny has great athletic genes. His dad, also Benny, played basketball at Camden High and his uncle, Kevin Walls, was even more famous–scoring 81 points in a single game for Camden High before going off to Louisville to play his college basketball. Bruton—not to be confused with defensive backs coach Nate BURTON (different spelling) had 18 interceptions for Lake Taylor (Va.) High and is just as likely to be a starter with Delvon Randall as Walls is and this should be a position battle that lasts through the summer.

Wednesday: The Scrimmage

Friday: 5 Things to Watch for at Cherry and White

 

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Best Cherry and White Day Ever?

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Proof that a stadium or two can be built at TU without community opposition

Back in the day, they built a $22 million on-campus stadium right in the heart of Temple University’s footprint with nary a peep of protest from the surrounding community or student “Stadium Stompers.”

That day was two years ago and it is now the permanent home of Temple soccer, field hockey and lacrosse.

It will also be the temporary home of the Temple football Owls for what could be the best Cherry and White Day ever. The game will be moved to the soccer home of the Owls a few blocks south of 10th and Diamond this year, better know as the “Temple Sports Complex” or, more specifically, Howarth Field.

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We called for this a year ago and the university listened

We’ve called for the Temple spring football game to be moved here last year (see inset to the right) and finally the university listened. Meanwhile, we had a lot of the status quo apologists on social media pooh-pooh the idea saying “you can’t do it because of recruits” and “you can’t do it because of logistics.”

Well, Temple is doing what the naysayers said cannot be done and the powers-that-be (Pat Kraft and company) need to be applauded for that, moving the football game from an overly cramped facility to a more roomy location with plenty of seating.

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The discussion last year centered on just why the university was intent on squeezing 5,000 pounds of fans into a 100-pound bag when a 2,000-pound bag became available.  Bringing portable seats for 500 people when, on a nice day, you can get 5,000 people into a little over 100-yard square area made sense when you had no place else to go.

Now they do and I hope this is the temporary spot for the game going forward, at least until a larger stadium can be built. The soccer facility opened in the fall of 2016 and the place has 2,000 permanent seats and they can still move those portable E-O seats to that location.

South Florida, which also plays in a NFL stadium, moved its spring game from its football complex to its soccer complex in 2016 and it was an unqualified success. All the Bulls had to do was line the soccer field with football yard lines, put a couple of goal posts in and away then went.

April 14th’s Cherry and White game figures to be the best ever for a couple of reasons, a celebration of the school’s third bowl win and Paul Palmer being inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. Bruce Arians can’t come this year due to a prior commitment, but has promised to catch a Cherry and White game in the future.

The people have been the ones who have made Cherry and White great in the past. Now that they get to enjoy it in a place slightly larger than a phone booth, the location just adds to the usual great time.

Friday: Rock and Hard Place

Monday: Scheduling Buddies

Wednesday: The Bullhorn Lady

A Book That Needs To Be Written

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Bruce takes items from his office home the day he was fired at Temple

Anyone who knows Bruce Arians will tell you he will use approximately one week to rest and relax after his “retirement” and then get so restless he will have to move on to his next project.

I personally think he would be best-suited to be Jon Gruden’s replacement on ESPN (they could not pick a better person), but there is a compelling project that needs to be finished first.

Arians is a best-selling author, having published his first book “The Quarterback Whisperer” to great acclaim.

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“After writing that book, I realized there were a lot of good stories I left out, particularly from my Temple days,” Arians said. “Maybe I’ll include them in the next one.”

Include them?

He has to have enough great stories in that head just about Temple that would make an entire book a best-seller.

Five years as Temple’s head coach—two of them winning seasons against what the computer then rated the No. 10-toughest schedule in the country—should provide enough good stories for a 387-page book.

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Plenty of topics could be covered.

Loyalty?

In these days of leaving for Power 5 programs and big bucks at the drop of a hat, Arians can talk about the time he turned down the head coaching job at Virginia Tech, his alma mater, for more money so he could stay in Philadelphia. “I can’t leave my Temple guys,” Arians said.  That job went to a guy named Frank Beamer.

Temple returned that favor by firing him three years later. That was a move current Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz brought up unsolicited  during a St. Louis Post-Dispatch interview on colleges being quick to fire head coaches: “Look at Temple. Firing Bruce Arians set that program back 20 years.”

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Arians could write about beating a one-loss Toledo team in the Boardwalk Bowl in Atlantic City, 35-6,  1984 and watching that same Toledo team go out to play in the California Bowl while his 6-5 Owls stayed home. We still don’t know what Bruce was thinking when Bill Cosby hid the ref’s flag under a piece of sod, causing a 22-minute delay of game.

He could spin a nice tale about beating another one-loss team, the aforementioned Virginia Tech, 29-13, in the 1986 Oyster Bowl and then watching those Hokies go on to play in that year’s Peach Bowl, while his own Owls remained home.

He could talk about being the only coach to offer a Division I scholarship to Paul Palmer and then coaching him up to be a Heisman Trophy runner-up and someone the numbers showed should have won the trophy.

He could talk about his hot and cold relationship with Peter J. Liacouras, which started off hot and ended cold when the then Temple President had the kind of obsession with the Owls returning to the Sugar Bowl which bordered on insanity.

Most of all, Arians could tell a lot of the personal stories that few of us know of how a 30-year-old got a major head coaching job and interacted with players who loved him for the rest of their lives.

It would be a compelling read and a book that needs to be written.

Wednesday: The Power of a Resume

Friday: February Surprises

The True Legends

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Three TU legends: Sheldon Morris, Willard Cooper and Anthony Gordon (Bruce’s players).

In a recent Sports Illustrated article, Geoff Collins gives a well-deserved shout-out to a true Temple football legend, administrative assistant Nadia Harvin.

Nadia’s office has pre-dated the E-O and she goes way back to Bruce Arians, even though she must’ve made a deal with the devil (like Dorian Gray) because she doesn’t look a day over 26. She survived coaching changes through Jerry Berndt, Ron Dickerson, Bobby Wallace, Al Golden and Matt Rhule.

That’s saying something since new coaches like to bring in their own people.

 

Her hubby, Allen, was

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Steve Conjar (left), Wayne Hardin’s greatest linebacker

a great running back for the University of Cincinnati but we will forgive him for that because he’s been Temple all (or most) of the way since.

(I pointed out to Allen on Cherry and White Day that Temple holds a significant lead in the all-time series against Cincinnati and he said, “Not when I was there.”  I will have to look that up but I will take him at his word.)

Still, Collins would do well to sit down with Nadia and discuss the term legends from what I’ve been hearing from Temple guys who played back in the day.

Collins throws the term “legends” around like Frisbees, including recent guys like P.J. Walker, Haason Reddick, Tyler Matakevich but, to me, the “true” Temple legends are the guys (and girls, like Nadia) who have withstood the test of time like Steve Conjar and Paul Palmer.

When Matt Rhule took the head coaching job at Temple, I shot off an email congratulating him for getting the job.

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More of coach Hardin’s guys, including Phil Prohaska and Mark Bresani (Cherry and White rear).

Matt immediately emailed back and asked for my phone number. What followed was a cordial 35-minute phone call, where he picked my brain for names of guys who played at Temple, specifically back when he played at Penn State. He wanted to welcome them back into the fold.

When I casually mentioned that former head coach Bruce Arians was still close to his players and that I had Bruce’s personal cell phone number, Matt asked me for it. Since one of the players was the guy who gave it to me, I told Matt that I had to ask his permission.

I did, player said yes, and Matt thanked the player and his teammates by saying that the program wanted to welcome them. Matt got the lowdown from Bruce, then Matt developed a tight relationship with coach Wayne Hardin where he got to know the players of that era.  Rhule went the extra mile, really few miles, to embrace those guys and make sure his players honored those who came before them.

There has been a slight difference, though, in the Collins’ approach and it definitely needs to be tweaked. While Collins did stop by at the Cherry and White tailgates of the older guys, I don’t get the vibe that he knows the older alums like he does the younger ones.

Neither do many of those guys.

While he knows all of the recent guys, he really has not reached out in the same way to some of the other guys.

“He acts,” one of them said to me, “like nothing happened at Temple football before Al Golden. This program did great things before Golden, like Heisman Trophy runnerups and finishing in the Top 20. With all due respect, none of the recent guys came close to that.”

That needs to change.

On a recent day devoted to high school coaches, Collins was introduced to a very special guy and was given his name.

“Coach, where do you coach?” Collins asked.

“Over at Haddon Heights in New Jersey,” the man said.

“It’s great seeing you. Thanks for coming.”

The man walked away, shaking his head.

That man, unbeknownst to Collins, was in my humble opinion the greatest player in Temple football history and a guy who should have won the 1986 Heisman Trophy.

His name was, and is, Paul Palmer. To me, that was a little like Nick Saban arriving at Alabama, meeting Joe Namath, and asking him which high school he coaches.

That introduction needs to be redone and guys like Conjar and Palmer deserve their place at the top of the Temple legend list and placed in front of a row of the more recent guys. These guys played at Temple through a lot of thick days remained loyal through a lot of thin ones afterward. For that, they deserve special thanks from the program, specifically its current CEO.

A phone call to Matt Rhule would set him on the proper path, as would a talk with Nadia.

Monday: Wandering Eye

Paying Temple Forward

 

Letter from Bruce Arians I found two days ago.

Letter from Bruce Arians I found two days ago.

When you make two or three moves like I have, you have a tendency to throw a lot of things into a box and leave them there.

The thought occurred to me that the house I have is slightly too large I and might like to downsize, like my friend, Steve Conjar, whose birthday is today, did so the first step in this long process is to clear out some of the boxes, which necessitated saying goodbye to a lot of good things that I had been holding onto a bit too long.

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Bruce wearing best TU cap ever.

One thing where I won’t comprise is my Temple football stuff. A good doctor from South Carolina, Jim, once send me a lot of great Temple football memorabilia and I put that away in a drawer with a plan to take photos of it and put it on here eventually and leave it in cyberspace long after I am gone (which hopefully will not be soon).

A couple of days ago, though, I came across a bit of Temple football memorabilia I thought I might have tossed and it was like seeing an old friend again after all these years. It was a letter I received from Bruce Arians, who was then the Temple head coach.

Found the above photo accompanying this post in my basement. At the time, I  working on a story about Central Bucks West players going to college late in the recruiting process and asked  then head coach Mike Pettine Sr. where Dick Beck was going to school. “Either West Chester or Towson,” Mike said. My response was a loud: “WHATTTTT???” and then told Mike, “that ain’t happening.” Put Bruce on Beck and the rest was history for the sole captain of the 1990 (7-4) Owls.

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Beck was without a doubt the best pulling guard I have ever seen playing high school ball, but just a little undersized for most D-1A schools. Sent a letter to Bruce, who asked for Dick’s film, and Bruce was sold on Dick’s film and offered him a scholarship.

Bruce became a two-time (probably should have won it three times) NFL Coach of the Year and Dick Beck became a state champion head coach at North Penn after being the only captain of the 1990 (7-4) Owls, who should have gone to a bowl game.

Beck paid Temple forward with kicker Brandon McManus, and I have no doubt Brandon one day will pay Temple forward somehow, someway.

It is sometimes amazing the ancillary benefits that spring cleaning can bring.

Tuesday: The Turner Field Solution

Enjoy The View

Be there or be square.

One of those morning shows that targets largely a women’s audience has a perfect slogan that should apply to particularly this Temple football season: “Take a little time to enjoy the view.”

Kyle Friend blew a hole open here that 3 guys could have followed for a TD

Kyle Friend blew a hole open here that 3 guys could have followed for a TD

Even if it was a little wet and foggy last night in a very satisfying 37-3 win at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (the guy on Camera No. 5 really needed a towel or a shirt or something to clean off his location), a pretty spectacular view is starting to come into focus. After surviving a stumble last week at UMass, the Owls now have a blueprint of how to win out. They now have to take care of business against a Tulane team for Homecoming, a UCF team that lost to Furman but is always dangerous and an ECU team that has revenge on their mind and a huge home field advantage.

Still, winning those three games, one at a time, is doable if the Owls keep doing what they did against Charlotte: Play good defense and special teams, run the ball on offense, and pick their spots in the play action passing game.

It’s not a particularly flashy style of winning, but any kind of winning is a beautiful sight.

The view last night included:

  • Nick Sharga playing fullback, seeking out and destroying a linebacker that allowed Jahad Thomas to get an eight-yard gain and then, later, subbing for Tyler Matakevich at linebacker, making a Tyler Matakevich play to stop Khalil Phillips at the line of scrimmage. Haven’t seen that kind of two-way impact since first-round NFL draft choice John Rienstra led the way for a Todd McNair touchdown against BYU and then came in on goal-line defense and sacked Robbie Bosco.
  • The P.J. Walker to Robby Anderson connection being revived on a pair of touchdown passes. That was good to see. It was evident on a nice hookup in Cincy, but this is the first time it worked for multiple TDs. Love for P.J. to go up top and hit Robby in stride. That hasn’t happened yet, but will.
  • Probably the greatest Bruce Arians’ interview on the CBS Sports Network ever ended with a “go Owls.” Great to see a nice photo of Matt Rhule with Bruce. True story: The day after Matt was hired as Temple head coach, I casually mentioned to Matt that I had Bruce’s cell number. He asked for it and I gave it to him. (That’s for all of you people who think I hate Matt Rhule; I don’t.) I hope Matt and Bruce become as good friends as Matt and coach Hardin are. I also hope Temple University can pull up that interview and post it online. Without a doubt, Matt and Bruce are the two nicest guys to ever become head coach at Temple University.
  • The Temple defense not breaking, even though we could do without the bending part.
  • Something tells me all of those February practices in the snow are paying off. Temple does not seem fazed by inclement weather. Temple Sunshine.
  • Nate L. Smith making a real impact on the special teams, although not in the punt returning role he might be better-suited for. He showed he still has a nose for the end zone, though.
  • This team played like it didn’t want Charlotte to take them down to the wire and that’s the kind of ferocity they need to play with going forward.

The Owls are now 4-0 for the first time since 1974 with a Homecoming Game against Tulane coming up in a week (noon start). They deserve a crowd of 40,000 or more and any fan who ventures down to the stadium is going to get a great view of a good football team on a mission.

Take a little time out of your schedule to enjoy it.

….. and now a few words from the bad guys ….

Arians’ Reaction to Win Was Classy

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When Bruce Arians led the Arizona Cardinals to a late-season upset of the Seattle Seahawks two years ago, it was the final loss of the season for the Seahawks on the way to winning the Super Bowl. The question for Arians then was a natural one as someone in the press room asked him if that was his biggest win as a head coach. Arians paused for a second and said, no, his biggest win as a head coach came at Temple when the Owls broke a 39-year losing streak to Pittsburgh in the 1984 season.

So, of all the congratulatory messages pouring into third-year Temple head coach Matt Rhule after a 27-10 upset of Penn State on Saturday, the one posted by Arians on his twitter page was priceless:

Rhule had one-upped Arians in the sense that he broke a longer streak over another in-state rival in Penn State (after a 74-year drought), so the two men have been in the same shoes at the same place. No one knew more what a win over Penn State could do for the Temple program than Arians, who said the first question asked of him at his first Temple press conference was, “Why does Temple even play football?” Like the presser after the Seattle game two years ago, Arians paused before a thoughtful response: “To beat Penn State.” Arians came close twice, losing to nationally-ranked Nittany Lions’ teams, 23-18, in 1983 and 27-25 to what would become an 11-1 PSU team in 1984, but never quite got over the hump.

Now that Rhule did, Arians used both twitter and the phone to express his satisfaction with the result. Rhule took the call and said, “Yes sir, thank you sir.” to a guy who was a young coach at Temple once, too. Rhule said he did not know what else to say to the NFL coach of the year. Then Rhule went out to the parking lot at Lincoln Financial Field and presented the game ball to another former Temple coach, College Football Hall of Fame member Wayne Hardin, who came close a few times against Penn State but, like Arians, could not get over the hump.

In the fraternity of college coaches, and the circle of life, all three coaches will now share a pretty neat memory forever because only those three fully understand the magnitude of the moment.

Tomorrow: Still Not Focusing on Cincinnati (but we are sure the team is)