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January 5, 2018

Mike Houston

Aaron Stinnie

Bryan Schor

Raven Greene

Andrew Ankrah

Frisco, Texas

THE MODERATOR: We will start off, once again, with a statement from Coach Houston, and then we'll have questions for the student-athletes.

Mike, congratulations on another great season. Give us an overview.

MIKE HOUSTON: First off, it's just a tremendous honor to be here representing James Madison University and the CAA. We could not be more thrilled with the opportunity to be back in Frisco, Texas, and have the opportunity to compete for a third national title for James Madison University football.

It's been an incredible year. We started off as the preseason No. 1 in the first poll, and from that day, in my opinion, we have faced the best from each team each week. I really felt like teams were really geared up to play us week in and week out. Our team faced a tremendous amount of adversity with injuries and other difficulties with our student-athletes, but the one thing that was true each and every week was that they stuck together. They worked their tails off. They represented James Madison University in an outstanding manner on and off the field every single week all throughout the fall.

I could not be more pleased with just the way they approached everything and the way they've competed. Throughout the playoffs, I felt like we had a very tough road. We faced really top quality opponents in every single round, and our players were able to rise up and win each round and able to punch our ticket to get back here to Frisco, Texas.

I stand here very proud of the group of young men that I have under me and really excited to get back out on the field tomorrow afternoon and pursue our goal to bring another National Championship back to Harrisonburg.

Q. Aaron, I'd like to ask you if the demeanor of the team is different from this time last year and whether that experience from last year has affected that demeanor positively, negatively, or not at all.
AARON STINNIE: I would say the demeanor of the team was kind of the same as last year. We attacked this season the same we tried to attack it last year, and that's by doing what we do and not changing things. We try to attack each game as the next game, and we treat each game as the biggest game that there is.

And then getting into the experience of the National Championship last year helped us to be able to come out this year and handle everything and be able to go through it kind of more fluidly.

Q. Bryan, last year's win in the semifinals at North Dakota State, what are you guys able to take from that -- maybe confidence-wise, going into such a tough environment, coming out with the win -- that might help you going into tomorrow?
BRYAN SCHOR: I think going on for this season and the rest of last season, any time you get a chance to play on a big stage like we did in Fargo, it helps you as a player. It helps our coaching staff and everybody prepare for big games.

I think just having the experience of that big game last year, it propelled us into the championship game to where we felt comfortable. To be back on the big stage now, I think we've got a lot of veteran guys who are going to feel comfortable in the game tomorrow.

A lot of times you hear people say big games, whoever plays them the most like a regular game will have the most success. We have a lot of guys back this year, and we plan to face this game as if it's any other game in the regular season.

Q. Raven, talk a little bit about what you're expecting to see from both their running and passing game and what you guys kind of have in your mindset to stop it.
RAVEN GREENE: Well, just looking at the film and all that, we obviously know they're going to be physical, and they're a very well coached team, and they come out, and they're going to be disciplined as well. So making sure that we play 11-man defense, as Coach called it, and coming out and just doing what we do and not try to branch out and do too much as a specific play or anything of that nature. I feel like we'll be fine.

Q. NDSU has been known to kind of have a run you over type approach with the running backs. Does that change your approach at all?
RAVEN GREENE: We just have to go out and do what we do.

Q. Andrew, what makes this senior class that you guys are a part of so special, and what's kept you guys so close over the last two seasons?
ANDREW ANKRAH: I feel like a lot of guys up here can attest to what we've been through in the past. Coaching changes, position coach changes, and just so much adversity that we faced together, I feel like, has made us so much stronger as a team. This senior class is very hungry to go out and get the job done on Saturday, and I'm just proud of the guys that are sitting beside me in the senior class that have stuck it out five years to dedicate their time and efforts to James Madison University.

Q. The fact it's No. 1 versus No. 2, does that add a little gusto to this game?
AARON STINNIE: Yeah, you have the best teams competing tomorrow, and it's awesome it ends up like that on the bracket. We give a lot of respect to North Dakota State, but we're going to be ready to play tomorrow.

Q. Aaron, what weighs more to you, the win at North Dakota State last year or the win here against Youngstown State, in terms of confidence and knowing you're among the elite teams in the nation?
AARON STINNIE: I would say that both of them probably have equal weight because we were able to go there and do something that hadn't been done in a while and go to North Dakota State to beat a really great team there. And to come to the National Championship Game and win that game, I think that definitely helped try to solidify us in things.

Q. I'd like to ask Bryan the same question. No. 1 versus No. 2, does that add a little more to this game?
BRYAN SCHOR: I think it does, but like Andrew said, we were very lucky the selection committee got everything perfect this year. To have the opportunity for No. 1 and No. 2 to make it out of their brackets and have a chance to play in the National Championship Game, I think it's what every fan in America was looking for.

I think a lot of fans loved the game in Fargo last year. It was a great matchup. You saw two really well coached, disciplined teams, and to get the opportunity to do it the right way and have No. 1 versus No. 2 and to have one championship game decide everything, it all adds into it, and it's a perfect story for everybody.

I know both fan bases are really excited about it. As a team, we're definitely really excited for it too.

Q. Bryan, what would you say is the greatest strength of North Dakota State, and what makes them such a formidable foe?
BRYAN SCHOR: I think, when you watch North Dakota State, you see a really well coached team. They have all the attributes that coaches talk about. They play really hard. They're very physical, and they don't make a lot of mistakes. When you turn on the film, you see guys flying around, guys making plays, and guys not making mistakes. You don't see a big play because someone's out of position or they blew a coverage.

We're going to have our hands full tomorrow with a very well coached team, and that's probably the main thing that stands out when you watch them.

Q. Has the offense -- obviously, the fan bases are going to show up strong, but you know the rumors of North Dakota State's fan base possibly being a little bit larger tomorrow, has the offense practiced for this game as if it's a road game in regards to communication?
BRYAN SCHOR: I think it's something we'll be prepared for. That's something you always have to have kind of in your bag. If you come out and the other team is really loud and the fan base is really loud, you have to be prepared for that game.

If that's the case tomorrow, that's something we'll embrace. We don't mind going into somebody else's house or having less fans somewhere. It's something we'll be excited for.

THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up now for questions for Coach Houston.

Q. Could you also speak to your team's demeanor. Does it feel different? Do you have a different vibe than last year?
MIKE HOUSTON: Well, I think -- not that my team last year was not confident. I think they were a confident group, but I think that this year's team has more of a calm confidence, one where they're not the most loud, boisterous group, but they are confident going into every week. They're going to go out, and they're going to win. They don't talk about it a whole lot. They just go out and do what they do. I think there's definitely a more confident attitude that's more genuine this year.

Q. Coach, you talked a little bit about it yesterday, but how do you plan to deal with them moving tight ends around and trying to get more men at the point of attack?
MIKE HOUSTON: Well, we've been preparing for this game for I don't know how many weeks now. I don't know how much more we could do to show the kids. Coach Trott and the defensive staff have done a great job with formation adjustments. We've thrown things at them from last year's North Dakota State team. They see everything that that team has done and have really -- we had a flawless practice yesterday and walk-through today. I feel like the kids are prepared.

Now, the big thing is going out on a big stage and not letting the nerves get to them and to be able to go out there and communicate and adjust properly, same way they do in practice, but we feel like we're prepared.

Q. A little speculation over the years about JMU and FBS and FCS. I know you don't pull the trigger on this, but in your estimation, does Madison's continued success at the highest level of FCS make it more likely that you stay in FCS or more likely that you move on?
MIKE HOUSTON: I think it makes you pause and think, I think that's for sure. I think it would take the perfect opportunity for the institution in order for us to transfer to FBS given the last two seasons because I feel like our fan base has spoken very loudly and our administration has been very pleased with the amount of exposure and the amount of enthusiasm behind the playoff runs the last two years. I think it would make you pause before doing anything real quick, and I think it would have to be just the perfect fit.

Q. Coach, I know it's important for coaches to keep a regimented schedule and keep everybody on the same schedule. This is so different with all the stuff yesterday and this even today. How have you tried to keep your guys focused on the task at hand for tomorrow?
MIKE HOUSTON: We talked about it in the last week, especially in the few days before we came down here, just what the schedule is going to be like. We tried to have all of our preparation done when we got on the plane Wednesday morning. That way you're not sitting here just having to get a meeting in or get something in. I do think that the experience of last year has helped our roster a good bit.

The players really, you see the kind of players I have the opportunity to coach. They are very mature, and they're just phenomenal young men. So I don't worry about them being late to meetings or being late to the bus or stuff like that. But I think it's just the preparation, trying to just prepare them for it, and just don't get too stressed out. The bus broke down on us on the way to the hotel when we got here Wednesday. We talked about it. There's going to be stuff come up that you can't control. Just got to go with the flow.

That being said, when we got back to the hotel this morning after the breakfast, I told them this is it. We need to lock in. You're just over 24 hours from kickoff. From here on, it's all business. I think they've done a good job of being focused when we need to be focused, to practice and walk through the meetings, and they've been able to kind of let their hair down a little bit at the two events yesterday or at the breakfast this morning.

Q. Coach, thinking big picture here a little bit, what does this opportunity and this exposure mean to James Madison as a university as a whole?
MIKE HOUSTON: Well, I think James Madison's been playing football for 40-some years, 45 or something like that, 46. We've won two National Championships. So two times in 40-some years, it's pretty rare. But you have a chance to win a third National Championship, you have a chance to play on the national stage, to be on national television in the Championship Game against the second ranked team in the country. The spotlight that JMU is going to be on right there, that's something that you can't buy in marketing dollars. JMU is going to be all over everywhere tomorrow.

So I just think that that's just not only great exposure for our football program, for recruiting or whatever else, but it's also great exposure for our institution. I know that we saw a drastic increase in the number of applications after last year's championship run. So I think it's good for everybody.

Q. I'd like to follow up on John's question on FBS. Do some of these lightly regarded FBS Bowl games factor into your comments too, when you watch those and hardly anybody is in the stands?
MIKE HOUSTON: I'm not talking about my opinion, but I'm talking about the opinion of our fan base. I think this is the kind of environment they want to be involved in. I think that, when you compare the playoff run and you look at the playoff games at home and the crowds we've had and the enthusiasm and just the way JMU Nation has responded, and then you look at what some of the smaller Bowl games, what that looks like, I just think that -- I think our alumni and fan base, they prefer this right here right now.

No disrespect to any other level or anything else, but I think this is pretty special, what we have going on on this field tomorrow with North Dakota State and James Madison University.

Q. Coach, there's only four teams playing at this time in January, two FBS and two FCS left. What kind of experience has it been for the younger kids to be able to bring them on this trip, have the extra time at practice, and to expose them to this, what does that do overall for your program?
MIKE HOUSTON: Hopefully, it sets the bar for what the standard of expectation is for performance and conduct. I mean, just the way my upperclassmen carry themselves on the field and off the field is outstanding, and it's something that every coach hopes for. Hopefully, that's something the younger players are seeing as a positive emulation of how they should go about doing things.

You know, the tough thing, I think, about having this kind of success, which I'm sure North Dakota State has faced this as well, is you heard Andrew talk about what the senior class has been through. I take it from experience, tough times really make you appreciate the good times. So there's a lot to be said for the heartache and pain of that Colgate loss a couple of years ago for these seniors and the way they've responded in the playoffs the last two years.

So hopefully it's something that the stories and the experience of these older players, hopefully, they can convey to our younger players the last few years, and certainly I've told them. This certainly could be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many of them. We hope not. We hope we're back here regularly, but it's really hard to get to this ball game. It's very, very difficult. I know we've made it two years in a row, but you could easily have not been here this year or last year.

Hopefully, this is an experience that will serve our young players well, and we'll see them grow from that and be able to rise up and hopefully meet the expectations that the senior class has set out.

Q. Coach, have you had a conversation with Coach Klieman since you got down here?
MIKE HOUSTON: Yeah, we talked back in December after we both qualified for the game, and we spoke last night. We spoke this afternoon at the administrative meeting. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Chris, and I've said in multiple interviews, you know, Craig Bohl did a great job at North Dakota State building that program, but I really respect what he's done because it's really difficult to take over for someone who's had that level of success and sustain that success.

Many times you see a dropoff over time, but Chris has done a great job keeping that program at that championship level, and that takes a lot. He and his staff have done a great job, and they do it in a first class manner. He and I have a great relationship, and I respect him greatly.

Q. North Dakota State is obviously a great team. Where is the advantage in tomorrow's game?
MIKE HOUSTON: Well, I don't know that there's an advantage, but they are an outstanding football team. I think they're a 5 1/2 point favorite right now on the line. So obviously they have the respect of the entire country. But I can promise you our kids are confident and they're motivated, and they're going to be ready to play tomorrow.

The strength of our team, if I start naming off our strengths, they will be the same things that are the strengths of North Dakota State. So I think you have two pretty evenly matched football teams, and I don't know that there's a great advantage one place or another.

That's why I told Chris last night, it's a good thing we don't have a game next week because I know there are two rosters that are going to go right at each other with everything they've got. It's going to be a great game to watch and enjoy. Hopefully, we can figure out some way to come out with one on top at the end of the day. But it's going to be a great contest.

Q. I think I heard you suggest, even the South Dakota State week, that a lot of people viewed JMU as an underdog in that game. Is this something you're bringing up to your guys, both that game and this game?
MIKE HOUSTON: I don't have to. They know it. I don't have to say a word to them.

Q. Is there any way to explain the top seed playing at home and being the underdog and then going on a neutral field and being an underdog?
MIKE HOUSTON: Obviously, there's people that don't respect us very much. They don't think we're good enough to be here.

Q. Coach, what can you say about the core of your senior class? Has it just been a blast to watch them? How do they feel going into this?
MIKE HOUSTON: I gathered the seniors together Wednesday morning. They probably weren't real happy about it then. I think it was 7 or 8 degrees when we practiced Wednesday morning. I gathered them on the field after everybody else went inside because, like you said, once you get here, the schedule is pretty chaotic. But I just wanted to talk to them because after the game tomorrow it could be chaotic, and then the banquet's always chaotic, and some of them have already graduated. So as soon as we get back to Harrisonburg, they're going to take off going to a job or whatever.

But I wanted them to know just what a special group that they are. Since I got here two years ago, that group has done everything that I've asked of them, and they have led our ball club in a first class manner on and off the field. They provided JMU Nation with tremendous wins on the field, and they have been just outstanding members of the student body around campus. And every single day I go to work, I have a good time. I enjoy it. And I enjoy being around them.

You know, you look at last night, the barbecue, my little son Owen, who's 9 years old, all of a sudden, these are his idols. All he wanted was to be with John Miller last night. You know, John's a 22-year-old college senior, but he took Owen and played video games with him for an hour or so and just -- and it's not just with my son. It's with any kid. The way this group is, it's just you hope that that's how student-athletes are nationwide, but I know it's not. So for that reason, I say that we're very fortunate and blessed. We've got a great bunch of kids. So hopefully, we can figure out a way to get them a win in their last game.

THE MODERATOR: No more questions for Coach. Good luck tomorrow.


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