Simonton Meets The Press

Aug. 28, 2001

(On Fresno State in general) 'This will be the second time I've played Fresno State, we played them two years ago here (at Reser Stadium). I've known about Fresno State for quite some time. I'm glad the rest of you have finally caught up. They have an aggressive team, a program that is really trying to establish itself. They did a good job the other day by beating Colorado. They're going to be looking forward to us coming into their house, it's a hostile place to play, they've got the third-longest home streak in the country. They'll be ready to go.'

(On this being one of the biggest games in Fresno State history) 'Big games are exciting. If they circled this game as being a big one for them, good. It's a big game for us. We want to come out and look sharp and play hard. It's opening up on the road, it's going to be a tough game. It's going to be a real good gauge for where we are. We really want to take time and prepare this week and get ourselves ready, because we know they're going to be ready.'

(On the progress OSU's offensive line is making) 'Good. Coach (Gregg) Smith is going to have the offensive linemen ready. That's definitely not something I'm worried about. He's the best at what he does. They've picked up a lot of our runs, run-blocking, a lot faster than last year's unit with some of the counters. Guys like Vinny (tackle Vincent Sandoval), he's done that. It feels pretty natural to me running behind them. We just want to make sure we do a great job with the blitzes - Fresno State does a lot of shifting, a lot of stuff up front - so that's really my concern this week, making sure we take special focus on picking up the blitz.'

(Do you enjoy the activity that surrounds being a Heisman Trophy candidate?) 'I think any time you have a chance to be a playmaker, you get the ball in your hands, you're a Heisman candidate. It's just good to really get some notice nationwide, people really kind of looking at you, taking notice of your play. I like that.' (If it were up to you, would you be doing all the rounds of interviews every week?) 'I've been doing these for three years, so this is nothing new for me.'

(At OSU's media day, you talked about the atmosphere surrounding the 2000 team. How does this team's chemistry feel so far?) 'I like this bunch. It's a lot of new faces, but I haven't really seen a team jell this fast. There were some times where we really got after each other. We need to play somebody else. We've been doing a lot of aggressive ... I don't know, it's just been good. I haven't seen a team fight for each other this fast. It took us a while in years past to really pull it together, but these young guys really believed in what they saw, so when they signed on they knew what it was about. It's been a good feeling.'

(After all the preseason attention on you and the rest of the Beavers, is getting on the field sort of a refuge?) 'When you're a ballplayer, that's where you want to be - on the field. There's nothing more natural than that. All the talk is fine and dandy, but after a while there's not much you can talk about. We're kind of in one of those stages now where there's not much to talk about, there aren't many new questions I can answer. Everything else is going to come after playing, so we're looking forward to that.'

(When you came to OSU, did you ever imagine you'd be in this position heading into your senior year?) 'I guess you have to hope so. You come in with the faith that you're going to turn it around. I'm just thankful things have worked out, the timing has been great. A lot of people come to programs like this and say, `I'm going to turn it around.' And you go in and work hard with great intentions but it just doesn't work. But I've been part of something special and it's working, so I'm thankful.'

(On Fresno State's defense) 'Aggressive - just like two years ago when they came up here, they don't bow down. They're going to play hard wherever they go. They do a lot of things up front, a lot of blitzing, a lot of switching the coverages and fronts, so they're going to make you do your homework. If you don't, you're going to get your quarterback hurt. We're just really trying to go out and it's a `Protect Jonathan' mission this week.'

(Have you had to convince some younger teammates how dangerous Fresno State is?) 'No. The good thing about freshmen is, you could tell them `The sky is green' and they'll buy it. They're just going to fall in line.'

(Fresno State recruit you at all?) 'A few buddies of mine a year before me, when I was a junior (in high school), went to Fresno State but I wasn't recruited by Fresno.'

(How dangerous is Fresno State, considering it's in the middle of the Pac-10 teams and they have a chip on their shoulder because they weren't recruited by those schools) 'I wouldn't say they didn't, because we were watching film and the coaches pointed out a few guys at Fresno State that we recruited. So some of those guys chose to go to Fresno State, and with good reason. They've got a good program that's really trying to be about something. They just saw it as a place for them.'

(Does Fresno State having played - and won - a game already this season give them an advantage?) 'I don't know. It's a physical sport we play, so maybe some of their guys got a little banged up. I just think it was a good confidence-booster, of course. To go on the road, into Colorado, and come out with a win definitely doesn't hurt you. They've been battle-tested, and for some of the guys it boosted their confidence level. Some of them may have gotten a little check on what they need to work on. I think it was a benefit for them, I think it was a benefit for us that we could see them and get a good assessment of how they play, as well.'

(What goes through your mind when you go into downtown Portland and see yourself on the side of a building?) 'I don't have a car, so I don't get to downtown Portland much. I pretty much just look on the internet when I want to see it.' (How does it feel to have those kind of things happen after what you've been able to do at OSU?) 'It's a great sign of things - maybe - to come, but nothing's promised. I'll be blessed to be alive for Sunday's game and I'll consider that a great honor. I thank God - you just look at it and realize you have an opportunity. You may be able to take this game to another level, you may be able to take your performance to another level, and that's a great feeling to see that. But all in all, you just have to stay focused on what got you up here. I just try to stay focused. I'm thankful, but you can't take too much time to smell the roses.'

(Your analysis of the Pacific-10) 'It's the Pac-10. Every team you face that week is the team to beat, because if you don't take that approach, you're going to lose. It's a beautiful conference in that aspect, hopefully it will be respected for that. Each week is going to be a fight, so you can't really sit here and say. You can make a prediction, but I wouldn't.'

(Fresno State expecting perhaps biggest crowd ever, you're highest-ranked team to play there, the noise, the atmosphere - how tough will that be to overcome in your first game of the year?) 'We have to play Fresno State, so that's the hurdle. You can't start thinking about the crowd and how big it's going to be and how loud and all the other numbers. Until you told me that, I didn't know. Our hurdle is Fresno State, so we've got to go out and prepare for Fresno State. If the crowd is out there loud and crazy, then we'll be out there loud and crazy. That's what the game is about. Hopefully it will be sold out and Jonathan will have to go to hand signals and we can't hear. That's great, that's what the game is about.'

(Playing Sunday night this weekend is sort of the equivalent of a Monday night NFL game - is that a little extra charge for you and your teammates?) 'To be playing is the charge. To be playing on national TV is the cookie after the steak. It's great, but if you don't eat the cookie, you still have the steak. It's great - I'm glad somebody is going to pick us up and broadcast us nationally. That's cool, that's the opportunity you look for. But I'm just looking forward to going out and breaking a sweat.'

(How does the preparation differ for a Sunday night game rather than a Saturday game?) 'We get ready to leave on Saturday instead of Friday. We're creatures of habit, you repetition it out. Believe it or not, that's a big difference, to leave on a Saturday vs. a Friday. It gives us an extra day to anticipate, rest up - I don't know, it really doesn't change much except you're just leaving on Saturday.'

(Does Fresno State's stunting and blitzing create a challenge for your running game, or does it open up some possibilities for big plays?) 'I'm more worried about protecting Jonathan. We get a kick out of what you call challenges - to me, that's what the game is about. If everything was catered to how you like it, it's no fun. I put the onus on protecting Smith - the blitzing, the passing game. As far as us running the ball, we're going to have to run the ball. If that makes it an added challenge, cool. That's fun, that's exciting. But I'm really just focused on protecting Jonathan, more than anything.'

(You seem to enjoy the attention surrounding the Heisman race - where does that come from?) 'When I was like a sophomore in high school, I had to give a public speech and I didn't like it. But I had to do it to get my grade, and I realized, `You know what? Whatever I get up there and talk about, they have to listen to it, so I'm going to go enjoy it.' It's one of those things that you just have to take the negative of it and turn around and say, `If I have to do it, I'm going to find some enjoyment in it.' So that's my focus when I come in on Tuesdays - it's repetitious, it's tedious, but you've got to find something in it that you can laugh at, smile with, and get it on so you can get to what you really like doing.'

(You don't seem to have needed coaching in this department) 'We all need a little coaching. I've got a lot of good people around me that I trust that really walk it out with me, so I'm definitely not alone even though I'm the only one speaking on the podium.'

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