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December 29, 2015
Miami Gardens, Florida
Q. What's your week been like?
BOB STOOPS: The week has been great. You know, everybody, guys have done a great job in meetings, and practices, I've felt great about the way they've gone. Everybody down here associated with the Orange Bowl does everything in a first class manner, from our facility at Barry University that we're using to practice has been great, the hotel has been outstanding, so it's been a great week.
Q. How have you handled this week different than say your National Championship Game? Have you handled things differently?
BOB STOOPS: About the only thing different is we've got down here maybe a day later than we normally would. You know, and there's just an anticipation of another game, so it just seems different in that it may not be the end, so that's kind of out there, I'm sure, for all four teams.
So that part of it is a little bit different, as well. But as far as practice goes and those kind of things, it's been the same.
Q. How are you health wise, injury wise? You had some guys banged up at the end of the year.
BOB STOOPS: No, everybody is in good shape, healthy and ready to go.
Q. If you look at Clemson, what's the first thing offensively that you look at, Deshaun Watson gets a lot of attention at quarterback, but what do you look at first that you've got to take away?
BOB STOOPS: You know, it's hard to take away anything with them because of the skill in all areas. They've got a great tight end, Leggett, exceptional tight end, great hands. Then you look outside at Scott out at wide receiver, and then Gallman running the football. All of it, you know, they've got weapons everywhere, so it really makes it challenging to stop any one of them.
Q. Deshaun Watson, what do you see when you see Deshaun Watson, the kind of player that he is?
BOB STOOPS: You know, a smooth, excellent athlete, a guy that of course runs well, throws a great ball. You can tell what a poised leader he is. You never see him rattled. You know, I just see an exceptional player.
Q. You mentioned Gallman. He has like 1,300 yards rushing.
BOB STOOPS: Well, again, I think a little bit because of how many all the other players that they have that are all excellent players, but Gallman is a big part of their offense for sure.
Q. Defensively, last year the turnovers took you totally out of the game. Does that matter this year what happened last year?
BOB STOOPS: It doesn't matter if it's brought up or not. In the end it's not that long ago, so everyone does remember it. There was a lot that we weren't very competitive in that game, they were. They coached a heck of a lot better than we did and played a heck of a lot better than we did a year ago, so hopefully we can play better this year.
Q. To what extent do games like this shape the perception of the conference?
BOB STOOPS: You know, again, I don't get into that debate. That's for you guys to do. And you should. That's what writers and people on TV get to do, and I get to play and coach.
Q. Do you think there's any carryover to next year what happens in this game?
BOB STOOPS: I don't think so. I think every year is different.
Q. It's kind of different even though you're the 4 seed, so to speak, they beat you last year, but you're favored. Do you like that role?
BOB STOOPS: I don't pay attention to either role, to any of that. I'm not a I'm not the guy in Vegas doing that. I just pay attention to what we're doing on the field and pay attention to the team we're going to play and how they're what we need to do to be prepared for them.
Q. These two programs have sustained excellence, really hard to do at this level. What are the biggest challenges in creating excellence over time?
BOB STOOPS: I think it's constantly, because you're talking over my time, 17 years, it's a significant amount of time. It's staying current with everything that's everything that goes on in the game, not just schemes, but in recruiting and players and sports medicine. I think it's just constantly staying current in what's happening and how you can get your team better.
Q. From afar, how would you say obviously he's No. 1 in the country, but what has Coach Swinney done best from that perspective?
BOB STOOPS: It's hard to say when you're not there, to be there with the day to day operation. But as you said, I respect the consistency and the quality of players, the quality of coaching. It's evident when you get ready to compete against them.
Q. When quarterbacks leave schools they want to go to your school. What's that say about your program that you got Baker and now you've got Kyle?
BOB STOOPS: Well, again, we have a long history of great quarterbacks at Oklahoma. It goes all the way back to J. C. Watts here in the Orange Bowl, MVP. But of course in our time there we've had two Heisman Trophy winners and Baker came in fourth this year and I think Coach Riley is doing a great job with him and will continue to, so again, I think we've been a quarterback friendly system, and we've had some guys that really have you know, have had a great light on them just because of the way we've run our offense.
Q. This isn't a normal game week, but you've been here before. Obviously having this kind of situation, how do you keep them focused when you yourself are getting ready for a playoff game?
BOB STOOPS: Well, again, I think where they need to be focused is when we're in meetings, when we're on the field, and in those kind of situations they've been great. We haven't had anyone late for anything. Everybody has shown up. We've had great practices, and what they do when they're out eating dinner, they should relax and enjoy where they're at.
You know, as young people they can only be focused so long, and that's the same way when you're at home, as well.
In the end I think they're being young adults like they do even when they're home.
Q. What have you learned from these experiences? You've done this a couple of times. Every time do you learn something different, take a little bit into the next trip?
BOB STOOPS: You know, sometimes just in the way you practice or the time in meetings. As much as anything you can adjust that to some degree. There's a fine line of too much and wearing them out and having them burned out from doing it so much, or then did you do it enough. So there's always a little bit of a balance there, and hopefully you hit it just right.
Q. Does the Orange Bowl have any different feel because it's a playoff semifinal or is it pretty similar to your past experiences?
BOB STOOPS: You know, we were just talking about that as a staff. It has a little bit of a different feel. We're here a day less, and I guess there's just a sense of the anticipation that there's something else out there, which there is for all four teams, there's another game possibly, and you can't ignore that. So in that way it is a little bit different.
Q. Do you like the system as it is or do you care either way?
BOB STOOPS: Yeah, I think it's great. We're right in the middle of it, so this year for sure it's the way it's worked out. But I thought even a year ago that this was pretty good because the bowl system is allowed to continue in a positive way. I think that overall is good for student athletes and coaches around the country, and you're still able to get the playoff feel, as well.
Q. What gave you the idea to allow Joe Mixon to talk to the media today?
BOB STOOPS: It didn't give me the idea. I think it was mandatory as part of the playoff system.
Q. How close have you been to doing this previously, bringing him out, letting him speak and speaking his mind?
BOB STOOPS: I haven't been close to doing it, really, because it's just not necessary. You know, he's a young guy that's continuing to mature in our program, you know, so we'll do it at some point again.
Q. Right now he's taking questions and saying, I can't talk about that, I don't have anything to say about that. From a public relations standpoint, an image standpoint, it might not be the best thing, but what do you
BOB STOOPS: That's because in this game that's what we're here to talk about. We're here to talk about the game, so he's been directed to say that.
Q. Is it kind of awkward to have it happen right before the playoff game?
BOB STOOPS: Well, it had to happen. Again, he's going to talk about the game. I'm going to talk about the game. So anybody else, feel free to ask about the game.
Q. In a nutshell, what's the difference between these two teams as opposed to a year ago, aside from the obvious, aside from the different quarterbacks? Is there anything
BOB STOOPS: Well, you can't ignore the two quarterbacks. That's a major difference in this game. You're not going to let me say that, I don't know what else you want.
Q. Well, the reason I said that, I thought it was pretty obvious, but I didn't want to ask the question.
BOB STOOPS: But they're the two focal points, and should be. One is runner up in the Heisman, or I don't remember who was second or third, and the other guy was fourth, so they're two exceptional players, and that's a big difference from a year ago when they didn't have Deshaun and we didn't have Baker, and it's different.
Q. Are there any other
BOB STOOPS: With them comes the quarterback run game that was different from a year ago, so yes, it's and the way they call plays with him will be different than exactly what we saw a year ago.
BOB STOOPS: You know, in the coaching profession, I don't think you're ever thinking how many years. I think you do the very best job you can from year to year, and circumstances in life change from time to time that you feel it's time for something different, or people you're working with can change that you feel now may not be what it was, and it's time for something different, circumstances, and you can lose too much or get NCAA violations and you end up out of a job.
So I can't say that I ever anticipated 17 years, but I did know Oklahoma was not a stepping stone job. It was a destiny job, destination job, and it's a job that when you do well, you stay there.
Fortunately I've had the same athletic director and president for 17 years, and that's also a major part of why we've been able to sustain the success for so long.
Q. How much did you have to learn (inaudible)?
BOB STOOPS: Oh, man, my first week there, my first month there, I've said it a bunch of times, I barely remember it. You know, you're hiring coaches, trying to recruit. It was such a whirlwind that it was really challenging, difficult, and I look back now, and I laugh at it because now of course after 17 years, it runs pretty smooth.
But it was I was chasing my tail for a good month.
Q. Were there one or two coaches (inaudible)?
BOB STOOPS: You know, I really patterned most everything after Coach Spurrier and what we were doing at Florida. That's where I had just come from, and of course he was always supportive and gave me a lot of encouragement, of course. In fact, a funny story, I went back there for the holidays on Christmas to see my wife and child. They weren't out there. I just started recruiting. And my car dealer, Rick Rundell, up in Gainesville, picked me up at Jacksonville to take me to Gainesville, and I said to him on the way home, I said, I may have just ruined my life. I said, what did I go and do.
Obviously I'm pretty glad I did, yeah.
Q. A couple weeks ago you had mentioned that you didn't want to spend all 15 days working on just one game plan for one game. Have you been able to accomplish that? Has it gone as smoothly as you wanted it to up to this point?
BOB STOOPS: It has. We got a lot of good work against each other.
Q. Obviously after the loss, getting to this spot, was that something that you envisioned?
BOB STOOPS: Well, I didn't think it was out of the of course, to some degree, yeah. We've had a lot of consistent success through the years, and remember, just ahead of it last year, we were sixth in the country and won the Sugar Bowl. We weren't too far off there.
So sure, we expect we can be in this position.
BOB STOOPS: I never acknowledge whether I had the opportunity to or not, so in the end, again, what we were doing here at Oklahoma has just been has been too positive, and timing in life is everything, and sometimes timing is right, sometimes it isn't, and I've been very fortunate and blessed to be at Oklahoma the amount of time I have, and to have the success and the leadership there at the university we've had.
Q. Have you talked to Steve since he retired?
BOB STOOPS: Oh, of course. We talk often.
BOB STOOPS: I think he'll do well. I think his golf game will improve, and he'll get it down in the single digits again and be beating my shortly. He always beats me, but next time we go out I'll get beat worse maybe.
Q. You guys talk every week?
BOB STOOPS: We do, yeah.
Q. What do you know about the stadium renovation project that's going on here?
BOB STOOPS: I just heard a little bit about it on the way down here today. It sounds great.
Q. What did they tell you about it? What did they say?
BOB STOOPS: Just that they're going to bowl it in or cover it, make it a dome, and put four big Jumbotrons in the four corners, and they said primarily because of the rain, I guess.
Q. What's your impression of the stadium?
BOB STOOPS: I love it. I think it's a great stadium. I think it's been awesome. Although I was a big fan of the old Orange Bowl, as well. In fact, our first year here in 2000, we brought the team there for the walk through instead of here. I always wanted to play in the old Orange Bowl, and that was the first year, I think, that they weren't playing in it, so we took our team on the day before the game for a walk through in the old Orange Bowl.
Q. It's a shame that that got knocked down.
BOB STOOPS: Yeah, just things change. But this has been a great stadium.
BOB STOOPS: It's fabulous. You know, the people here do an incredible job. All the staff of the Orange Bowl, and like I said, the hotels, Barry University where we practice, everybody is first class and great facilities. You couldn't ask for anything more, really.
Q. I know you probably get asked this all the time, but a lot of people would love to be inside the mind of Baker Mayfield. As a coach how would you describe his mentality and his confidence?
BOB STOOPS: Baker is just you know, there's true natural confidence there. There's excitement and a true joy to playing and competing and going to practice. You can tell he's just a guy that he's like he's like a kid in a candy store when he's on a football field, and he just enjoys the moment. The moment is never too big for him, you know, but there's a true joy in the way he competes.
Q. How different is this year's team versus last year's team? Obviously a different offense, different quarterback, but talk about that excitement. Is there kind of a different feel around the program this year?
BOB STOOPS: Well, obviously this is a different game than a year ago, you know, and different consequences, as well, being here in the Orange Bowl for both teams having a chance to compete for the National Championship makes it different. It's very exciting.
Q. What changed after the loss to Texas?
BOB STOOPS: Well, a lot changed. We continued to evolve and grow as a team. Some younger players improved, matured, and started to perform at a higher level. As coaches we settled down on some things and improved in some ways in what we were trying to do, and I think more than anything, the players competing against each other in practices, we made each other better as we continued that, and stayed healthy. We were able to compete against each other more.
Q. The offensive line has improved throughout the season. What kind of challenges have they faced?
BOB STOOPS: Yeah, the offensive line made great strides through the season, and playing a true freshman at one tackle and a redshirt freshman at the other, and they did a great job, though, growing through the year. It'll be a major challenge. You know, the defensive front for Clemson is excellent, a lot of great players, all conference players and All Americans. It'll be a major challenge, and it'll be a big part of the game.
BOB STOOPS: Yeah.
Q. What was that like?
BOB STOOPS: It was great. Brent had that positive attitude that he always has had. It's been a long time. I forget how it all went, but
BOB STOOPS: Well, we ended up finding a scholarship for him. I was glad we did.
Q. What was it like approaching him or working with him? Did you feel like a mentor to him at some point?
BOB STOOPS: Well, I don't know. Again, as a player he was easy to coach. He was smart, loved the game, really was an excellent player, and so it was always a joy to coach him, and that's why I wanted him to be a graduate assistant. I felt he would make a great coach, and that this is really what he should be doing. Fortunately he did. He hung around with us, not only as a graduate assistant, then became a full time assistant.
And then, of course, we worked with him for 13 years at Oklahoma. Anyway, so we Brent is yeah, very close for sure, and if not like a brother, maybe like a cousin. How's that? I don't know how else to describe it. But we all even with Mike, for a good number of years, he lived with Mike, as a GA, saving some money. But I don't think Mike even charged him any rent.
Anyhow, he's you know what, it was great when he went to Clemson with Dabo. There's a time for everything, and I know when I left Kansas State and went to Florida, it was another new experience with another really successful coach, and Brent, after 13 years, it was just time for something else, and I get that. Anyway, he's done a great job.
Q. What was your first impression of Coach Stoops when you first met him?
BAKER MAYFIELD: I mean, my first impression, I went up to him and introduced myself, so he was a little surprised. But I mean, he was who I expected he was. Very professional, I mean, he knew what he was doing, and everything he said, it looked like the guys were paying attention and he took it to heart.
Q. Is there anything you feel like you've learned about him most?
BAKER MAYFIELD: He's a competitor. Obviously he loves winning, and he's going to push his guys and his coaching staff to get the job done. I mean, I appreciate that.
Q. He's been at Oklahoma for so long. What's his stature like amongst high school guys now? He's been there almost 20 years now.
BAKER MAYFIELD: Yeah, he's kind of a legend. It's an Oklahoma team that I grew up watching and I was always a fan, so then to be able to play for him is kind of a big deal for me. Obviously he's been very successful, and we're trying to continue that for him. He's great at what he does. There's no doubt about that.
Q. What's been the most memorable part of this year for you personally?
BAKER MAYFIELD: Just the ride with the team. It's been fun. I mean, it's been ups and downs, a lot of adversity throughout the beginning of the year, so I've enjoyed the ride.
Q. You had a great season at Texas Tech. We all know that. But you burst onto the national scene after that Tennessee game. Talk about the ride. Try to encapsulate that for you. What is the ride? What's it felt like?
BAKER MAYFIELD: It's been a lot of fun, like I said. We've had a lot of success. Obviously had one slip-up against Texas, but other than that, we've gone to work and enjoyed every second of it, every second of practice, and all the workouts and everything that comes with it. I mean, it really has been fun, and that's a credit to the coaching staff and the guys on the team to make it enjoyable because you have to do it -- with how much work you put in, you can't dread going out to practice, and we do a good job of going out there and enjoying every second.
Q. From an athleticism perspective and moxie perspective, everybody wants to say Baker Mayfield and Johnny Manziel. I'm sure you've heard it a million times, but what do you think about that comparison?
BAKER MAYFIELD: I can see the comparison on the field and the competitiveness. That's a guy that he loves to win, and I watched him in high school. I watched him play in high school and college, so I can see the comparison, the scrambling a little bit, and he's a competitor, and I like to compete, as well.
Q. You obviously love the game. What's the best part about football for you?
BAKER MAYFIELD: Enjoying those wins with the guys. I mean, when you get to enjoy the work you put in and the success you have after it with your teammates, there's nothing like that.
Q. How big is the chip on your shoulder?
BAKER MAYFIELD: It's a pretty big-sized boulder.
BAKER MAYFIELD: Along the way it's just kind of built up. I use it as fuel, and it's not like it's a negative thing. I use it as positive energy for me, so it works, and so whatever I can add onto it, I will.
Q. Because of the way you sort of react to those things, do you create some of that stuff in your mind?
BAKER MAYFIELD: I do. I do. It's about how you take in all the influence on the outside. Like I said, I use it as positive influence for me, but I do kind of create an extra energy.
Q. Along those lines, you've mentioned TCU a little bit yesterday, and Gary Patterson had some comments in response to that. Did you see that?
BAKER MAYFIELD: I'm not paying attention to that. This week is all about the Orange Bowl. Media asked me a question about my recruiting process and I answered it, and I was honest. Today is all about the Orange Bowl and playing a good opponent.
Q. One of the things that Coach Stoops talks about with your personality is that you're just true to yourself, don't try to do anything different. I'm curious, when your teammates, when they first got to know you and got to know your personality, did it kind of take anybody by surprise?
BAKER MAYFIELD: I think it did. I don't really hold back. I'm very blunt. I'm honest. But they could tell by the way I carried myself that it was real. It wasn't fake. It wasn't just some persona that I was trying to put on. They could tell it was real, and they enjoy that. You always want somebody that's going to be real and honest with you.
Q. It seems like, and I've been to a couple of your practices, it seems like you and Striker or you and Tapper, you just kind of seem to have a lot of back and forth.
BAKER MAYFIELD: Oh, yeah.
Q. That keeps the practice pretty lively?
BAKER MAYFIELD: It does. We try and keep it energetic, and when you go good on good with those guys, it's pretty exciting. They're very talented players, and they talk a lot, so you've got to talk right back to them. Got to keep them honest. We make it fun, and like I said, you've got to keep it enjoyable, and that's one of those aspects of it.
Q. What concerns you most about the Clemson defense?
BAKER MAYFIELD: I mean, they're very talented up front and Coach Venables does a good job of getting those guys in positions to make plays and getting their talent in spots where they can change the game. Their front seven is a big part of their game.
Q. Is it their speed or because they have guys that can run through guys?
BAKER MAYFIELD: Oh, yeah, obviously it's an undefeated team. They wouldn't be there without that defense. They're talented. They're fast. I mean, we'll see. We have some pretty fast guys, too. There's no doubt about that. I think it's going to be a good match-up.
Q. What's the coolest thing you got from the gift suite?
CHARLES TAPPER: I would have to say the watches. I love those watches that they gave us. I got my mom a couple nice things that the Orange Bowl has provided for us, so I got a nice little purse that she's going to like, I hope.
Q. What's been the funnest part about the trip?
CHARLES TAPPER: We haven't got to the funnest part yet. The funnest part is going to be this Thursday when we go out there and play the football game.
Q. It seems like a lot of Clemson fans have been saying some of the comments you guys have been saying is trash talk. Do you feel like it's trash talk or is it just confidence?
CHARLES TAPPER: It's not no trash talk at all. We're just going off of what we've seen on film. We've seen a couple things on film that they don't do, and we just kind of said it. We're not trying to give them any confidence or like anything to feed off of, so it's kind of hard, people just kind of take our words and use them how they want.
Q. Do you feel like the Clemson offense presents more problems than just Deshaun Watson?
CHARLES TAPPER: Oh, yes, their running back is a great running back. If you don't contain that running back you're up for a long game because those wide receivers can get going at any time. They have an all around team that's going to be a fun game because we feel like we have an all around defense.
Q. When you guys played Texas (inaudible) how do you avoid doing that again, avoiding the quarterback running over the defense?
CHARLES TAPPER: I mean, we just play our technique. That game we had a lot of missed tackles, a lot of miscommunication on the field, and you just see over the game we kind of changed. The communication has been there, and flying around to the ball is going to be the key to this game. Whoever is in the best shape is definitely going to really help our team out a lot, and we feel like we did the best preparation for this game and the extra running after practice is definitely going to pay off for us.
Q. In the time you've been here, there's one big bowl game obviously but you have another one after you win. Is that a weird thing to think about?
CHARLES TAPPER: It's not weird. We just hope we're in it. We don't find it weird, we're just hoping we go out there, play to the best of our abilities and hopefully go out there and make it to the next game out there in Arizona.
Q. When you get into a game like this, to what extent do you think you're playing for not just Oklahoma but the Big 12 and how people view your conference, as well?
CHARLES TAPPER: Oh, yeah, we can definitely get a conference boost from these two games. If we go out there and show the world that the Big 12 is the ultimate conference with power running, with the power pass, high power offenses and great defenses, I mean, that's what we're going out there fighting for because people in the world feel like the Big 12 doesn't play any defense. It's not that, it's just how high powered these offenses are. We're just happy that we're a team that is going to stop some of these high powered offenses.
Q. Did that stick in your craw last year when there was no Big 12 team in the National Championship?
CHARLES TAPPER: Oh, yeah. TCU and Baylor could have definitely been in the playoffs and probably won the playoffs.
Q. Do you look at it as if we win this game, we prove Big 12 teams are legitimate?
CHARLES TAPPER: We definitely feel like if we go out there and we dominate, the Big 12 will definitely take a step up because people feel like we can't play any defense, and being a defensive player we want to go out there and show them we play good defense. We play great defense, and we have some explosive players on defense just like we have on offense.
Q. Let's talk about the way you'll have to play defense when I say Deshaun Watson is the quarterback. Give me how you break him down.
CHARLES TAPPER: I mean, he's a running back at quarterback we feel like. He wants to run the ball, call his own numbers, he wants to get in goal line situations so he can call his own numbers and run the ball in. He's a good quarterback, but we want to apply some pressure to him, make him run around, and we feel like we have some athletes to chase him down.
Q. Why was it important to do that picture over again after the TCU game?
TY DARLINGTON: I felt like it was too poetic of a line. It was the first time I ever snapped the ball on our own field, and that was so long ago, and I was not planning on being a center at that point. I think I still had dreams in my head of playing on something other than the offensive line. It's crazy, though. I mean, that's the foreshadowing. I would call it God's plan, just that all those years ago, I couldn't have been more than six or seven at the moment, snapping the ball out there to my grandpa, it's like a dream come true. I try to take it in and appreciate the fact that not everyone gets to see a dream become reality like we have, but we've been able to, so it's been fun.
Q. Your parents both said that they didn't realize how many awards you had won, that the school website listed all these awards and they didn't even realize you'd won all these awards because you hadn't brought it up. Was there a reason for that?
TY DARLINGTON: Oh, man, I've never been overly comfortable telling if they find out, cool, but I don't want to be the guy to advertise it or anything. Awards are great and everything. I'm here for my teammates, especially here. I'm here to win this thing with my team. Individual awards are great, and it's a great honor because of the people that recognized me and that type of deal, but I don't know, it's never been my highest priority.
Q. You mentioned you never set out to be a center. What other positions did you play as a kid and how did you get into playing the offensive line?
TY DARLINGTON: I didn't play football until I was in like fourth grade, so by that time I was way bigger than everyone else. I actually towered over everyone and stopped growing. I'm undersized now. I wasn't undersized back then. I was huge. But I wanted to be a fullback. Growing up I dreamed of being a fullback. I wore the No. 4 and the No. 44. I was a ball boy for my dad's teams. I was No. 44, and I think it was fourth grade my dad broke it to me, hey, you need to change to an offensive lineman number. I wore 79 all the way until I got here. They sort of broke it to me. I guess not too harshly, hey, you're a little too big to be playing a position other than offensive line.
Q. You would go out for passes with your brother?
TY DARLINGTON: I grew up playing football in the front yard just about every single day and everything. I always had like a good arm and everything. I used to always be like the all time quarterback like at recess and stuff. I used to be a lot more have a lot more finesse, skills, back in the day. I got a little bigger and stronger and now I can't throw the ball and catch it like I used to.
Q. How about hands?
TY DARLINGTON: I had great hands. I really don't have great hands anymore. I don't know what happened. Yeah, I used to love to do all that stuff.
Q. Another thing your mom said to me was she was really impressed with this team, your teammates and how you guys really kind of resemble she mentioned kind of the Apopka teams back in the day, almost like a high school team where you guys have so much camaraderie and so much family. Do you feel that way with this team?
TY DARLINGTON: Oh, absolutely, and it's something that has been more publicized recently. It's been talked about over the last couple weeks leading into the game, but it's something that's been so crucial to us all year, the chemistry. The fact that we have a great time around each other. If you come and see like yesterday we did our good on good at the end of the practice and it was just so typical of the way that it goes every single time that we every time we do that, and in past years it's a grind. It's tough and it's physical, and there are a lot of expectations, a lot of difficulties. When we're at the end of practice, and I've got Tap everybody is talking trash, defense and offense are talking trash, Tap yelling in me in my ear about my daddy watching, he's going to embarrass me in front of my daddy. And then on the last play, it was tied 3 3 and we threw a touchdown, Baker threw a touchdown to Shep down on the goal line, and it was just like a little kid celebrating. Shep spikes the ball, everyone goes running around, making a fool of himself, things that you can't really do in a game or you'll get personal fouls, and we just have a great time in practice. Whether it's at practice or off the field, everyone enjoys being around each other. I think that's the key to our success, the fact that we're passionate and energetic and the fact that we make the most of our opportunities.
Q. Do you think that the Clemson offense is going to say, wow, you're beautiful?
ERIC STRIKER: You know, I don't know what they're thinking right now. I don't know what they have in their head. I'm not thinking that they're thinking I'm a beautiful guy to be honest with you, but I'm sure their mind is focused on other things.
Q. I always love to ask defensive guys, when do you know you've made your (expletive)?
ERIC STRIKER: You can say that on are you on the radio? What's this radio? Oh, you're on serious? You're cursing?
Q. I got you speechless, didn't I, beauty?
ERIC STRIKER: The word threw me off. You play the game to win like everybody else, and you prepare all week. A lot of people say you win it during the week. You've got to show up on game day and win it. We prepared. We prepared really great. I'm proud of the guys, the young guys who had a great practice and everybody has been focused, so now we've just got to go out there and leave no doubt at this point. It's a championship drive, so I think that talent don't win these games when you're at the championship level. I think the will is what gets you past these games, right, because we're all talented. I mean, that's nothing that we don't everybody knows that. But who has the will to want to win it.
Q. I'm going to ask you to do me a favor. Will you introduce Samaje Perine?
ERIC STRIKER: Who am I introducing him to, the people on the radio? People on the radio, you have a mean, green, big bodied machine coming at you. What time is it? Right now, around noon. Give it up for Samaje (growls).
Q. I talked to Coach Callahan this morning. Coach Cal said he's only inviting a couple players to his wedding. You're one of them.
ERIC STRIKER: That means a lot. Coach Cal has had a lot of great players come through that program. A lot of guys who have made it to the D 1 level, great athletes, and for me to be picked out of many, you talk about the '03, '04 team, I mean, all them guys is phenomenal guys. You talk about the '05 team, lost the T Bowl in '05, Nease, great athletes on that team, and so on. Even the guys I played with. So that means a lot, and that means that he thinks highly of me and I appreciate it. I think he picked how many guys? Only just a few three or four or five guys. I mean, that means a lot. I don't think coach Cal is bad. I think he's banking on my personality. That's why I got there.
Q. What did you learn from him?
ERIC STRIKER: He's a great motivator. I think his motivational speeches are the best. I mean, before that game in those locker rooms, especially the ones before we played Plant, it was just some of the best speeches you could ever have to go win a game. That's the one thing I can remember. He's just a great guy, good guy, but he's a players' coach, relates to the guys well. I mean, that's one thing, when I talk to Matt, you talk about Cody Waldrop, he had these conversations where we want to go and win for this guy. I mean, he deserves it.
I'm not a tattoo guy, but a lot of my teammates, they have the Armwood logo tattooed on them. That's how much impact he had on our lives. I keep it in my heart. I'm not a tattoo guy, but if I was, I would definitely have a tattoo. So he's had a big impact on a lot of our young kids' lives and putting us in a place to be the best that we can be and D 1 ready. I always say Armwood was like a mini college. It was, the way he ran the program. Guys weren't late, guys were meant to be on time. It was a system that you had to follow in order to be successful. That's what we did. He made me into a winner. I never knew nothing about winning until I got to Armwood to be honest.
Q. He said that when he met you as a ninth grader, you were playing baseball at the time, right?
ERIC STRIKER: I was playing baseball, I was.
Q. You thought you were going to be a baseball player?
ERIC STRIKER: Is this mic on? It don't matter, do it?
Q. He said he thought you were going to be a baseball player, not a football player.
ERIC STRIKER: Yeah, you know, I played both sports growing up, and I'll tell you what, I still miss baseball now. I miss the sport sometimes. I actually took BP at Barry University. Some of the guys hit it a little bit just after practice swinging the bat a little bit. I lost my touch. Baseball, that sport, you've got to be consistent with what you're doing with your craft. You can't take some months after baseball, let alone years. I love baseball, and I played it, have fun with it, just like I have fun with football. It was that thing like Striker, you're going into spring, because in Florida they have spring football, so you're going to do spring football or you're going to play baseball. I was like, Coach, I'm going to play baseball.
Q. He also said that the thing that struck him about you was your maturity even as a ninth, tenth grader. Where did that come from?
ERIC STRIKER: Well, I think I'll check myself. By I time I got to the ninth grade, all those childish things that you did in middle school. You get tired of being silly, you get tired of being the class clown. You get tired of getting in trouble. I'm in high school now, got to pick it up, be more mature, have more responsibility as a young man, so I just took that step. I haven't really changed my personality, I just got more mature and more disciplined.
STERLING SHEPARD: I mean, it's crazy to think about. My dad played in the Orange Bowl, and now I get a shot to play in it, and he also won a National Championship. To know it's right there in front of my face, we just have to go execute some things and go get it is a pretty cool deal. We've got to maximize this opportunity and take full advantage of it.
Q. You guys are obviously getting a shot at the fifth one. How perfect is that?
STERLING SHEPARD: Yeah, it's crazy how things have played out. We've gotten to play four teams in the regular season, and fortunately beat them, and now we get a shoot at the team that we lost last to in last season, and it's just crazy how things kind of worked out for us.
Q. This has gone on forever. There's always a long break between the end of the season and the bowls. How do you stay great when you're used to playing every Saturday and then you sit around for a while?
STERLING SHEPARD: You have to maintain the focus. I've been around for four years playing in bowl games, so you know, things that I've learned is it's the team that stays focused for the longest, going through the three weeks of practice and not playing in a game can kind of take a toll on a team, and you can start to drift off and lose focus, but I think the team that maintains that is the team that's going to come out on top.
Q. In a weird kind of way is it almost like training camp all over again?
STERLING SHEPARD: It is kind of like training camp. I guess it's a little less harder on your body because you get some of the second team guys taking reps a little bit more, so it's different in a sense, but it's kind of similar.
Q. You have such a storied history with this school, dating back to when your dad played here and your involvement with the program as a kid. As you look at this post season, your last time around, what's the foremost thought running through your head?
STERLING SHEPARD: It's crazy how fast time has flown by. I mean, it feels like just yesterday I was a freshman walking in the door. But it's my last go around, and what better situation to be in than what we're in right now.
Q. How do you compare the chemistry that you've developed with Baker Mayfield, what you have now versus when he first walked in the door?
STERLING SHEPARD: Yeah, I mean, when he first walked in the door, he didn't get granted his eligibility to play, so I didn't really get to get much reps with him. So over the summer we started getting that chemistry together, and it's been great. Over the season it's just been getting better and better.
Q. You know him as well as anybody; how do you explain how a guy who's been that prolific didn't get offered a scholarship?
STERLING SHEPARD: I really don't know. I think about that a lot, actually, like how did this guy not get a scholarship. If you look at some of the things that he does, even on the practice field, it's kind of like, wow.
Q. What impresses you most?
STERLING SHEPARD: What impresses me most? I really feel like his character off the field. I just love being around him, and I think everybody just loves being around him. His character off the field, I mean, he's great on the field, but if you get to know that guy off the field, you'll really see how special he is.
Q. What is it about the system that Lincoln Riley has implemented that's enabled the offense to have the turnaround this year that it has?
STERLING SHEPARD: Just how he makes it so simple. He makes the game so simple and easy to play. It's easy for guys to get moving around faster, and it gives you a lot of big play opportunities when you have guys that can make big plays.
Q. When I was talking to Samaje yesterday, I said, which year's Clemson front seven was better, this year's or last year's. He said last year's. What's your opinion?
STERLING SHEPARD: Last year.
STERLING SHEPARD: I totally agree. Man, they had some beasts up there they have beasts up there now, don't get me wrong, but they had a lot of guys get drafted last year from that front seven and have continued to do the thing in the league, as well.
Q. You and I were talking yesterday about difference making moments in your season. We were talking about how y'all were stuck in the airport before the K State game after the Texas loss. What happened when you were all stuffed in a room together? It was a really valuable bonding moment for your team.
STERLING SHEPARD: Oh, man, it was so close quarters in there. Everybody was really close to each other. We got a chance to get some fast food, which never happens if you know our nutritionist, Tiffany.
Q. So you were eating pizza
STERLING SHEPARD: Pizza, wings, fried chicken, you name it, in there. Guys were excited and happy about that. Our nutritionist wasn't, but it was a good deal, got us closer.
Q. What did that do for you to make you closer?
STERLING SHEPARD: I mean, just got a little bit more bonding time. We didn't get to sleep until about I think midnight, but everybody was close, and we didn't whine about it, we didn't stress about it, everybody just had a good time with it.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports