Dec. 18, 2007
ORLANDO, Fla. (www.ucfathletics.com) - UCF head coach George O'Leary met the media on Tuesday in the interview room at Bright House Networks Stadium for his weekly press conference. Before O'Leary sat down to answer questions, junior running back Kevin Smith announced his intentions of returning to UCF for his senior season in 2008.
The Knights kicked off their practice schedule this week in preparation for their journey to the AutoZone Liberty Bowl Dec. 29 vs. Mississippi State in Memphis, Tenn.
Below is a transcription of selected comments from the press conference. All-Access subscribers can listen to Kevin Smith and George O'Leary by clicking on the link above.
Kevin Smith's Opening Statement:
"I got a chance to go home during our vacation and went home as a champion. It felt good. Miami recognized me as a champion. I had some time to go home and do some thinking with the advice of coach O'Leary and sat down with my mom and a few family members. I did a little bit of investigating. And I came to a decision that I want to get out of the way, and my decision is that I will be returning to UCF next semester and next football season. I have a lot of things that I want to work on. I think before I enter a business where it is a business and you're discussing money and your life is going to change, I want to be bigger, faster, stronger and I want to be at the top of my athletic ability before I go into a field like that. My teammates had a lot to do with my decision. I want to come back my senior year and lead my team to another championship. Maybe the day I made half of America happy, I made half of America mad, but that's the decision I came up with. I want to come back to school, I want to get my degree. I should be graduating around the same time next year, so at the end of the football season I should be done. I'll be back as a Knight next year and I hope people can appreciate that decision."
On his stock as a running back being high right now and risking having it drop before next year's NFL Draft:
"For me it's about getting better. This year I got better but that doesn't mean I am ready to leave. I think this year compared to last year, if I would have run for 1,000 yards I could have gotten better the same way. People wouldn't have been saying, `I think you are this or you are that.' For me it is about getting better. I took another step forward. Coming off my sophomore year where I had a small slump, I learned things. That doesn't mean I am ready to go, I have a lot more that I need to learn until I put myself out there to the point where I am presenting myself as stock (for the NFL). Again, I still have a lot of things I need to work on before I leave."
On being 1,838 yards from becoming the all-time leading rusher in the NCAA:
"In due time I think it will come. People have been asking me, `you ran for 2,400 yards this year, what else can you do?' If I run for 1,800 and become the all-time leading rusher, will my stock rise or fall for next year?"
On people who might say his decision to stay is crazy:
"I care about the people who supported me when I was not being talked about. Now that I am being talked about everybody has an opinion. When it is time for me to reflect on what I am going to do, I am always going to get advice and worry about those people who were there from the beginning. Everybody else next year that has an opinion, it's their job and that's fine. I have to do what's best for me."
How much did loyalty to your school affect your decision?
"It had a lot to do with it. I am loyal to my coach and more importantly my teammates. I came in with a freshman class that has been through a lot. Since we've been here we have been to one, now two bowls, two conference championships, we won one, lost one. I think there are more things to win and get after. My teammates are happy I am coming back."
On going back to school rather then going to the NFL and making NFL money:
"I don't want to sell myself short. I feel there is a lot more I can get out of myself with another spring and another summer and another camp. I want to better myself. Again there is a lot more I need to work on. I want to catch more balls and I want to gain some weight. Like I said people say, `he should go when he is at the top.' We are going to have a strong team next year and I believe in the guys and I want to play with them next year. I want to come back as a senior, I want to get my degree, I want to have a chance to lead my team and I want them to be able to say `When Kevin was a senior, this is what he got out of his group.'"
On the message this sends to the other underclassmen thinking about leaving early for the draft:
"If you're ready to go, bye. If you're not, stay. I'm just not ready to go. I appreciate the thought, `Kevin you could go and be whatever,' but I am just not ready to go. My mom supports me and that's the biggest one. Coach O'Leary supports me and my teammates support me and I feel like with all that support I can't go wrong."
On turning in his evaluation papers in the NFL Advisory board:
"I didn't even turn in the papers. When I was being recruited to college I only took one visit: UCF."
On who advised him where he would end up in the draft and if he looked into the draft:
"I didn't get any information back from the advisory committee, but I did look at some statistics and I played the head games on who might or might not be coming out. As I am concerned, I don't mind if the rest of my fellow junior running backs stayed another year."
On if he has an insurance policy incase of injury:
"I have already done that. I did it before the C-USA Championship. Depending on how I am ranked next year, I might be able to take out a little more."
On making UCF a popular school:
"That's a part of my decision. I think we have a tough opponent in Mississippi State and if we beat them we might have a chance to be ranked in the top 25. That's big coming back next year being ranked in the top 25 in the preseason with a young group of guys. We've got a good football team and that helped us with recruits this year."
Is there pressure on your shoulders?
"No, not at all. My team supports me. We handle the pressure together."
Legacy he wants to leave at UCF:
"When I am gone, I want people to think of me as a good person besides playing football. When I am out here and people ask for autographs I try to give as much as I can. I never want to tell someone no, I just want it to be, `he was an awesome person, and he was a great football player.'"
On if not getting postseason awards were part of him coming back to school:
"Not at all, no awards had anything to do with this. This is strictly what's best for me. I am going to work at it, I am definitely going to work hard this off-season and that's my plan, and that's the reason why I am coming back."
On if he couldn't play in the NFL, what would he do:
"I would try to start out coaching in little leagues, coaching seven to eight year olds, go out there and win a championship."
On comments by Urban Meyer that a player like Tim Tebow makes you a better coach and if Kevin is the same way with him coming back:
"I want to make sure you understand that Kevin gave a lot of thought into this decision, he had a lot of information conveyed to him that was accurate. It didn't surprise me that he wanted to come back. From the first game to the 13th he has always talked about the team. In fact he has handled it very well with the media and all the hype, he always goes back to the team. After the championship game, I left and after an hour and half, Kevin was still out there signing autographs out in the parking lot with a long line. So what he said was pretty accurate. Kevin wants to get his degree, that's been big with him and big with his mom. He is ahead of schedule and we are proud of him for the decision. Obviously there are some things that he wants to work on and anytime you can bring someone back with his ability you can either get better or worse."
On where he thinks Kevin would have gone in the draft:
"With my experience, probably from around the late second to the fourth round. Honestly it's a crap shoot. That's the deal, it's not about where you are ranked, but what your grade is and who needs what position and not everyone is looking for a running back. The draft is about who needs what to help improve their team and only one or two running backs will be taken in the first round if they are exceptional. Most teams will look at quarterbacks in that early of a round."
On what message Kevin sends to the other underclassmen thinking about coming out:
"I think the message he is sending is that he is going to have his opportunity in the NFL, he is protected through an NCAA insurance policy so he is protected. I said during the conference championship that Kevin was the most excited person, he had never won a team sport of any sort before. I think he said it right that a lot of people have opinions but the only opinion that really matters to him is the people that cared about him when people basically didn't talk about him."
On the extra practices before the bowl game:
"We really don't get that many extra practices as everyone thinks. I think what the bowl does is prolong your ability to get some younger guys some more practice. Players who haven't been able to get much playing time, some red-shirts and walk-ons that I keep out, get more time to get some practice experience."
Kyle Smith's Opening Statement:
"I think it felt good to get a little break. I think we're a lot fresher compared to the end of the season are legs are rested up. We just need to get our timing back on the offense. It's getting better out there and we're looking pretty good."
Keith Shologan's Opening Statement:
"Same thing on defense, our first practice was a little bit shaky because we weren't use to running around. We had those two weeks off. After the second and third practice we were back like we were at the end of the season."
On the weather change in Florida and the weather in Memphis:
"It's really good that the weather is a little bit colder because it's going to be cold in Memphis. It's kind of nice because you are running around not sweating as much, you are just feeling the breeze."
"This weather change is good because most of our players aren't used to playing in the cold and it's a good chance for them to get used to it."
On if this time around with a bowl are people more relaxed:
"I don't know about more relaxed. We are going into playing a game and we want to win but as far as preparations go our coaches always get us prepared for games the same way."
On O'Leary's view of each game is a championship game and how you use that in the situation of a bowl game:
"It's actually the same way, it's a one game season. You have to take it as all the other games as just another opponent. They are a good team and we just have to get ready for them."
On the difference of Hawaii where they were almost no UCF fans there compared to Memphis where there will be a UCF crowd:
"It's always nice to have fans, always nice to have that support coming from the sideline. It's going to help us out a lot compared to Hawaii where we didn't basically have anyone there. The fans are going to be a really big push for us."
On the Barry Sanders' record possibly being broken in the Liberty Bowl:
"It is huge, especially for Kevin, but the main thing we are looking for is the win. I think I can speak for Kevin when I say he would rather have the win than break the record and lose."
On what O'Leary does to get the best out of the team:
"He pushes us hard, he doesn't accept lack of effort and he wants you to give great effort on every play and during every practice. That's how you become a good football player and a good football team."
On if they play with a chip on their shoulders when they play a school with a big name or a big conference:
"We go into every game with a good amount of intensity. We want to win because you can't let up on any team. That's when you get beat, you have got to bring your `A' game to every play in order to win."
On how a bowl win translates into next season:
"Coming off a win is always a good thing. The guys next to you will be able to look back and say, `hey we won the last one so lets go out and work off the momentum and to end this season with a win would be really good.'"
On the extra work put in because of the bowl game:
"We enjoy it. The bowl games are for the players to go have fun. It's a lot to play an extra game especially in front of a national audience."
"It's football. Everyone loves to play football. We're out there practicing for two hours a day and everyone loves playing so you kind of get hyped up for it. It's better sitting around not doing anything. I'd rather be playing football."
On the fun activities the players are looking forward to in Memphis:
"We're going up there to play a football game. We're taking it as a business trip, and we're only going to be there for a couple days. We're going to get up there and play a game, after that we get to go home."
"We're going up there to win a football game. That's fun. Winning football games are fun. So we are going up there a getting ready for that, just taking it as a business trip and doing the bowl obligations that we have to."
On this year's bowl game not being a surprise to them:
"Our goal at the start of the season was to win the conference. We came in with that goal even though we lost a few at the start of the season. That was our goal and that was our mission and we just kept pushing towards it."
On what the players and the coaches did after the big loss to USF at the beginning of the season:
"We just stayed focused on our goals. We knew our goals were still in sight, we only had one loss in conference so we knew we could still make the championship game. All of our goals could still happen, we just focused on that."