UC’s Mick Cronin, Trevon Scott on loss to UCF and approach to Houston game
Scott Springer, email@example.com
When the University of Cincinnati Bearcats football team begins spring practice on Saturday, head coach Luke Fickell will be looking for able bodies to replace eight lost starters. The biggest need comes on the left side of the offensive line at center, guard and tackle, plus the entire three-man front of the defensive line.
The 2018 Bearcats finished 11-2 and champions of the Military Bowl with a 35-31 dramatic win over Virginia Tech in Annapolis, Maryland. Luke Fickell was named American Athletic Conference Coach of the Year and quarterback Desmond Ridder was named AAC Rookie of the Year for his redshirt freshman season.
The season was the first 11-win campaign since 2008’s 11-3 and 2009’s 12-1 (Orange and Sugar Bowl seasons, respectively).
From that squad, center Garrett Campbell, left guard Kyle Trout and left tackle Dino Boyd have moved on along with defensive end Kimoni Fitz, nose tackle Marquise Copeland and defensive tackle Cortez Broughton. Also out of eligibility are linebacker Malik Clements, wide receiver Khalil Lewis and defensive back Tyrell Gilbert.
“We’ve got to do a great job replacing them,” Fickell said.
Boyd, Broughton, punter James Smith and linebacker Perry Young made AAC first team. Campbell, Copeland, tight end Josiah Deguara, Fitz, running back Michael Warren II and safety James Wiggins were second team.
Injured Cincinnati Bearcats starting quarterback Desmond Ridder (9) hugs head coach Luke Fickell after the fourth quarter of the Military Bowl at Navyâ€“Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md., on Monday, Dec. 31, 2018. The Bearcats took home the Military Bowl trophy and complete the team’s third-ever 11-win season. (Photo: Sam Greene, The Enquirer)
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Based on their Military Bowl depth chart, UC returns Trent Cloud, Rashad Medaris, Jerron Rollins, Thomas Geddis and Javan Hawes at receiver but will have to replace the 56 receptions and nine touchdowns from Khalil Lewis. Offensive linemen returning are left tackle Vincent McConnell, left guard Zach Bycznski, center Jakari Robinson (who started a few games), right guards Morgan James (starter) and Jeremy Cooper, right tackle (starter) Chris Ferguson.
Michigan transfer James Hudson, a Toledo Central Catholic teammate of Warren II, will also be important in the offensive line mix. Hudson was able to participate in a few Military Bowl practices upon arrival to UC.
Strength coach Brady Collins has always done a stellar job of molding Bearcat bodies, with some of the evidence posted on Twitter.
“Looks can be deceiving,” Fickell joked. “But it’s definitely a start. That’s where a lot of our culture and things are built. That’s why we’re excited to get spring ball started, to find out how far these guys have come.”
Ridder returns at quarterback with redshirt freshman Ben Bryant in the mix. Running back is stacked with a 1,347-yard rusher (19 TDs) Warren II, plus Tavion Thomas, who gained 499 yards, and Charles McClelland, who had 485. Not to be forgotten is Gerrid Doaks, who missed last season but led the 2017 team in rushing.
“I hate to use the word comfort, but what it does is give you a lot of confidence,” Fickell said of the experienced backfield ‘Cats. “That’s a key in the entire program. Having a quarterback that has done some things and established himself gives a lot of confidence in a lot of different places.”
Fickell used the example of New England’s Tom Brady in the NFL and how he makes those around him better. As for early leadership, Fickell points to Chris Ferguson, who was approved an extra year on the line and Morgan James on the line.
“We have to find a way to get our best 11 guys on the field,” Fickell said.
Defensively, redshirt freshman Malik Vann (Fairfield) is at end, Marcus Brown at nose tackle and Curtis Brooks at defensive tackle. Kevin Mouhan also returns after spending a year injured. The “Jack” position has Michael Pitts and Ethan Tucky, with “Will” linebacker featuring Jarell White (La Salle) plus the return of AAC first-teamer Perry Young, who suffered a knee injury against Navy. Young should be ready by fall. Middle linebacker has Bryan Wright and Joel Dublanko. RJ Potts is at “Sam” linebacker, Cameron Jeffries, Coby Bryant and Noah Hamlin at corners and Darrick Forrest, Ja’Von Hicks (Colerain), James Wiggins and Marquis Smith at safeties.
Kickers Ryan Jones and Cole Smith return along with Australian bomber James Smith at punter. Long snappers back are Zach Wood (McNicholas) and Cory Armstrong. Kick returners are Wiggins and Aulden Knight.
New to the coaching staff is wide receivers coach Mike Brown from Liberty, who has NFL experience as a player and defensive line coach Chad Wilt from Army (who soundly thumped Houston in a bowl game).
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These Bearcats have been outdoors in the elements, indoors on mat drills and finished conditioning work with recreational inflatables and a dunk contest. The mood goes from serious to light back to serious.
“We’ve got to have a balance in the intensity of the things we do, but not losing sight of what this is really about,” Fickell said. “This is something they really love to do. We have to create as much fun in different ways we can. Playing football is fun, but you’ve got to have some true relaxation fun.”
The Bearcats are less than six months from the opener on Thursday, Aug. 29, at Nippert Stadium against UCLA. Sept. 7, the Bearcats visit Fickell’s alma mater, Ohio State.
Several Bearcats put their talents on display on Wednesday at the Sheakley Athletics Center and other UC facilities. St. Xavier’s Garrett Campbell had the best bench press day (29 reps of 225 pounds). Linebacker Malik Clements had the best vertical leap of 40 inches and the best 40-yard dash at 4.61.
Bearcat participants were offensive lineman Dino Boyd, 6-3, 302 (22 bench presses, 27.5 vertical), defensive lineman Cortez Broughton, 6-2, 293 (East-West Shrine Bowl) 24 benches, 33.5 vertical 5.05 40), offensive lineman Garrett Campbell, 6-4.5 309 ( 29 benches, 29 vertical, 5.43 40), defensive back/linebacker Malik Clements, 6-0, 196 pounds (16 benches, 40 vertical, 4.61 40), defensive lineman Marquise Copeland, 6-2, 281 (26 benches, 30.5 vertical, 5.08 40), defensive lineman Kimoni Fitz, 6-2, 242 (18 benches 30 vertical), defensive back Tyrell Gilbert, 6-0, 194 pounds (12 benches, 34 vertical, 4.69 40), wide receiver Khalil Lewis, 5-11, 190 pounds (15 benches, 36 vertical, 4.63 40), offensive lineman Keith Minor, 6-3, 283 (15 benches, 22.5 vertical), quarterback Hayden Moore 6-2, 208 pounds (29 vertical, 4.84 40), offensive lineman Kyle Trout 6-6, 319 (24 benches, 30 vertical, 5.19 40).