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January 7, 2017

Mike Houston

Curtis Oliver

Bryan Schor

Jonathan Kloosterman

Khalid Abdullah

Gage Steele

Frisco, Texas

James Madison - 28, Youngstown - 14

THE MODERATOR: Hats and shirts, and everybody's happy. Congratulations on the championship. Please give us an overview.

MIKE HOUSTON: Well, first off, just want to thank God for the opportunity to be here at James Madison University and have kids like I have up here on this stage, because certainly my life has been very, very blessed with a beautiful family and a locker room full of players that love each other and believe in each other. So I'm very, very fortunate to be where I am.

Today, you know, I don't think I could have asked for a better team effort in all three phases, and a display of what we believe in and what we try to be than what our players went and did out on that field today. I think they showed everyone just what can be done when you have a group that believes in each other and trusts each other and cares about each other and tries to do things right and plays the game of football the way it's supposed to be played. So hats off to our players. They deserve to hoist that trophy and be recognized as national champions.

Q. Mike, could you quantify in some way the value of leading 14-0 after five minutes?
MIKE HOUSTON: I think that's what we try to do all year is get off to a fast start, and certainly that's easier said than done. But we were able to get stops early, able to give our offense a really good field position, and of course we had a huge play from our punt block unit that gave our offense the ball in the red zone. So I think it was a culmination of all three phases working together and really clicking there early in the ballgame that got us two quick scores.

Q. Sometimes during the week coaches see possibilities for special teams, plays and blocks. Was that the case in this situation?
MIKE HOUSTON: We felt like with the operation time that Youngstown State had, that we'd have a great chance to get a block there in the punt game.

Q. For Coach Houston and Gage, what was the formula to slowing down Youngstown State's run? Obviously, they had come in averaging over 250 yards a game rushing, and you held them to 9 until about a minute left in the fourth quarter. What did you do to slow their running game?
MIKE HOUSTON: I think the biggest thing, and Gage knows this is what we talked about, and he'll probably give you the same answers, we talk about fitting gaps and doing our job. So on every snap, our kids know exactly where they're supposed to fit. Really, the key to keeping a running back like that from getting going is to make sure that you fit those gaps and fit them aggressively and fit them physically. Don't give him room to move. Don't let him get to the second level. And Gage can speak to more of that and the physicality of how we play that.

GAGE STEELE: Yeah, going off what he says, the big thing we harp on is building a wall and setting it. That's how we can keep our running backs, such as Youngstown State, to the best of our ability and making sure that they can't get out. They have a very good offense, and we realized that we were going to have to step up our game, make sure that we fill the gaps very physical, which is something else that we harp on. I mean, it's just something that we need to execute, and we made sure that we were able to get off the field when we do that.

Q. Gage, Khalid, both seniors. Gage you had a pair of sacks, and Khalid had Most Outstanding Player. Can you talk about what it means to come out as national champions and to come out with the games you had in your last career games?
KHALID ABDULLAH: Well, you know it means everything. It just means that all the dreams and the goals that we had as a team, you know, those dreams and goals came to fruition today. That's what's most important. It's not about even the fact that it's our last game, because we're leaving behind a great group of guys that are going to continue to hold on to the legacy that we built since we've been here. So that's never been the issue. It's more so we just wanted to go out on the right note, and we knew we had the team to do it. So the fact that we were able to go out here and get it accomplished is something that we'll remember forever.

GAGE STEELE: I was going to say, just as this is going to be a moment that we talk about for the rest of our lives. It's a very special feeling to have a team that you've been through a lot with. We've been through ups and downs and we fought hard and stuck together. Khalid could agree with that. But to have the coaching staff come in here and really build upon us as men and show that they genuinely care about us, I believe that allowed us to play to the type of level that we played all year. Anybody else would be able to tell you the same thing, and I feel like that helped us a lot.

You know, we just came together as a group of guys and decided we wanted one goal, and we achieved that today. It's a surreal feeling. To go out like this is definitely every athlete's dream to be a national champion. In order to end it out like this, it's amazing.

Q. You guys come in against those two monster defensive ends. They didn't get to you too much. What was the game plan to shut them down?
BRYAN SCHOR: I think when you go against talented defensive ends, you just have to keep the faith. I have a very good offensive line, and I think that was notable today. So going into this game, we did hear a lot about very talented defensive ends, and a credit to those guys for making the plays that they did, because they're very talented players. But we have a really good offensive line. So not once did I ever worry that I was going to get pressure off the edge or anything. I trusted Denny and I trusted Tyree, and I knew they'd come out here and play a good game, which they did.

Q. Mike, how much of that game plan was getting the ball out of Bryan's hands quickly? You stretched the field, but released it quickly today?
MIKE HOUSTON: I think that's a strength of Bryan's all year long. We wanted to come in, establish a run game, and throw the ball off of that. Certainly being able to get the ball out of his hand and into the hands of our receivers, as quickly as possible, especially on the RPO stuff, was critical, so we don't put him in a position where those ends have a chance to make a play.

Q. Jonathan, your touchdown catch extends a lot of touchdown catches for you in the playoffs. Why is it around the goal line you seem to get open and catch the ball?
JONATHAN KLOOSTERMAN: That's mainly because of my teammates. I have such great talent around me. And people tend to forget I'm in the red zone because you have people like Abdullah that can run the rock in. You have great receivers like Domo, Ravenel and Rashard, and you have a great quarterback that can run the ball, so people tend to forget about me. So that's a testament to the talent around me.

Q. Coach, it seemed like every time Youngstown State did throw a pass, your defenders were right there in their face playing physical. Was the game plan just to put your athletes versus their athletes and let's see what happens?
MIKE HOUSTON: We were mixing it up between quarterbacks in man coverage. The big focus for the DBs was we wanted to be very aggressive with their receivers. We've done a good job. If you looked at us in the beginning of the year, how we played balls in the air then, versus how we played balls in the air now, you'll see how much those guys have grown. They do a great job attacking the ball, and they play with a tremendous amount of confidence. That's really a testament to Coach Trott and Coach Weaver and those guys and what they've done in the secondary.

Q. Bryan and Curtis, obviously a lot was made about beating North Dakota State and getting this far. So what does it mean to not only dethrone the champion, but become the champion?
BRYAN SCHOR: It means a lot. I think a lot of the country probably thought when we beat North Dakota State that we'd have a good chance to win the championship. But it's something that we preached around a little bit was we have to play that game. We might be a favorite. We might have a really good chance to win that game. But at the end of the day we're going to play a very talented football team at Youngstown State. So I think something that we really focused on throughout the whole week was it's just another game. We've got to earn the right to win it, and that's something we came out here, and I think we did today.

CURTIS OLIVER: Bryan basically hit it on the nail. But just to extend on that, I think we did a great job just playing it as the next game. After beating North Dakota State, I think a lot of guys would have settled in right there, but we just kept fighting. We wanted to get it all, and that's what we did.

Q. Curtis, can you walk us through that interception? It goes off his foot. Did you even know that ball was still alive when it was in the air?
CURTIS OLIVER: Basically our D-line has been doing a great job all day rushing. We have great ends like Darrious Carter and Andrew Ankrah. They basically did their job. I was just pursuing to the ball, next thing you know, it kicked off his foot, I seen it in the air and went to go get it. That's basically all that happened.

Q. Khalid, Jonathan kind of reflected on there are so many standout players on this team. If you had to vote for most outstanding performer today, who would you give it to?
KHALID ABDULLAH: Bryan Schor. I mean, I might as well just give that to him. No, really, Bryan Schor is amazing. He's playing chess out there. We might be the pieces, but he's definitely the person behind pulling all the strings. Man, you know, we just have a lot of trust in him, and a lot of trust that he's going to make the best decision to put us in the right position to go out there and win games.

But, yeah, definitely Bryan Schor. He's somebody that we all care about, somebody who has gotten us this far. And a lot of the pieces that you see moving around him, they wouldn't be moving if it wasn't for him in the middle. So he's definitely somebody that I would give it to. But that's just me.

Q. Khalid, you broke I think three JMU records today. To go along with the championship, what's it mean to be in those record books in program history?
KHALID ABDULLAH: You know, that's cool. But at the end of the day it's definitely about the team. Outside of statistics, it's more so about hoisting that big trophy at the end of the day. So the ability to do that with my brothers, people who have seen me at the lowest points of my life and seen me at highs, which is one of these moments right now, that's what's most important. I just appreciate the opportunity to be in position to get those individual accolades and stats. So I've got to thank Coach Houston, too, because he definitely gave me an opportunity when not a lot of other people would. So I'm just humbled and blessed.

Q. Tough time for a big-picture question, but can you estimate what this means to the program in terms of general national awareness?
MIKE HOUSTON: Well, it's the second national championship in school history. But with the way that media has changed since 2004 and the last time the championship was won and the presence of ESPN and everything else, I would think that not only is this -- this team won 14 games this year. They went undefeated in CAA play. They beat North Dakota State at North Dakota State and won a national championship on a big stage. I think they go down as the best team in JMU history, hands down. I think they've put JMU on the map, at least at the FCS level, and I think nationally in college football as being a football power.

Last time I checked, a lot of them are coming back next year, and we've talked about we've got great expectations after we finish celebrating this championship. So hopefully JMU's here to stay.

Q. Curtis, that interception, people would say that was just a lucky play. But you guys were in position to make the play. You guys have made your luck this year, right? Can you explain how this team sort of made things happen?
CURTIS OLIVER: Well, we really don't believe in luck, you know. We prepare for every moment to come. So I think it was just in the moment. The ball went in the air. See ball, get ball, as he said. We did a great job this year as a defense coming along and just adjusting to each other as the year went on.

Q. Bryan, you've been the best quarterback in the FCS all year. Can you describe what your game plan is going into every game, and what makes you so great?
BRYAN SCHOR: I don't know if I've been the best, but I think we've proved out here that I've had the best team. I think the responsibility for me is just to get our guys in the right position for them to make plays. A lot of guys up here with me right now who deserve to be, and that's because they go out each week and they make those plays. There's a lot of guys that should be up here, probably. Guys like Ravenel, guys like Domo, guys like Rashard. I'm lucky to have the arsenal that we have at JMU. To call me the best, I don't know if that's accurate, but I think we have the best team. I'm lucky to have those guys because they make me look good each week.

Q. That blocked punt early on kind of set the tone for the game. Was there something you guys saw on film that you might be able to get to them?
MIKE HOUSTON: Yeah, we felt like the operation time wasn't the quickest in the world. We hadn't gotten a good beat on the protection right there, so we tried to basically pick a guy and free up Jimmy Moreland. I don't know who ended up blocking it. But we had four or five guys coming. Jimmy should have come free. If they turned back on Jimmy, then somebody else would have come free.

Q. Coach, I know special teams is a key for you. How big were they today, and how big have they been all season?
MIKE HOUSTON: They've been big all year. And certainly with a game like today, you're in a field-position ballgame where you have two teams that are running the football effectively, and you have two really good defenses. So special teams is going to dictate a lot. I really felt like, number one, the special teams allowed us to get an early lead. I think great special teams play by Youngstown State got them the touchdown right before the half. And I think there in the second half, there were some plays on special teams that put them in tough situations with long fields, trying to drive, trying to come back. So I think it was critical today.

Q. During the season, coaches always downplay being No. 1 in rankings and everything. At the end of the year that's what they point towards. What's that designation mean to you when you can say we're No. 1?
MIKE HOUSTON: You're the best team in the nation. At the beginning of the year every college football program in the country has this goal. The great thing about tournament play is it's not up to a vote system or anything like that. You go out there and play it out on the field. I think Youngstown State had a really tough road to get here, and they did a phenomenal job of winning games in tough places to earn their right to be here today. And our team did the same thing. So to face teams like Sam Houston State and North Dakota State at North Dakota State, and then Youngstown State here in the championship game today, and to be able to go out there and win it, nobody can take any of that away from these kids and these coaches that they earned the right to be declared the national champions and the No. 1 team in the nation this year.

Q. You took over for the program a little less than a year ago. You told the athletic director that it might take you three years to build a championship-contending team. When did you think that this team was capable of winning it all?
MIKE HOUSTON: Probably somewhere around the Richmond week or the Villanova week. Then the reason I said that in the beginning is I felt like we had talent. But you saw so many flaws in the way the team had played the last few years, just from not having a sound defense, not being great on special teams, not having great unity in the locker room. All of the tangibles that I really think are critical to championship football teams. So you come in and try to change the mindset of a team, and a lot of times you have a lot of resistance. So sometimes you have to wait for graduation before you can truly change the culture in a program.

Fortunately, I had a group of kids that were led by some seniors that have been through some adversity with me being the third head coach in their career, and a group that had two tough losses early in the playoffs the previous two years, and they were hungry to be good, and they bought in.

It wasn't easy. Spring practice was tough. When you're changing from a finesse team to a physical, running football team, and you're trying to establish some kind of an identity on defense, it's not easy. But the kids never flinched. They did everything we asked them to do. Then you go into that Richmond game against a team that's a Top 5 team in the country, and to win that game the way we won it in the end and have a big stand by our defense coming off their goal line, and to have a huge play by Jonathan and Bryan to give us the lead there and just the guts and unity that showed in that ballgame. Then turn around next week and win at Villanova without Bryan Schor and see the toughness displayed by our team as a whole. At that moment I really thought we had done in one year what I thought would take several years to do.

So when we got the seed that we got and we got home-field advantage in the early part of the playoffs, I thought we had a shot.

Q. Earlier you answered a question and remarked about you had a lot coming back. You have the foundation in place. In your postgame talk, did you use the word "repeat" with your players?
MIKE HOUSTON: Well, I haven't seen all my players yet. We haven't made it to the postgame talk. But several of the underclassmen made the comment. Really, Taylor Reynolds and Gage Steele were two of the most adamant. They're alumni now, so they can put all the pressure on us. But they're right. You've created expectations. But you know what? We had those expectations anyway. We had the expectation that we wanted to win the CAA championship, and I think anybody that follows the CAA knows the champion of that conference every year has a chance to win the national championship. To me, there's two conferences in the country that are hands down the strongest, Missouri Valley and the CAA. Those two leagues, if you can make it through that league and still be healthy at the end of the year, then you've got a shot.

Thanks a lot. Go Dukes.

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