Football season is finally here.
The telling sign isn’t the chattering of players and the yelling of coaches on a field, or the whistles and horns that shuffle them from one drill to the next during fall practice.
No, it’s the throng of media descending on the Grandover Hotel in Greensboro for the annual ACC Kickoff event. Here the league gathers all of its coaches and a pair of players from each team and parades them to the horde for a barrage of interviews and photo ops over the two day event. Also there’s golf, if that’s what you’re into.
The Pack’s Art Norman and Tony Creecy drew the short straw this season as representatives of the Pack. Head coach Dave Doeren "volunteered" both players to join in festivities this weekend. Norman said he was a bit resistant at first because he’s not a "big talker" when it comes to the media, but said he’s actually enjoyed himself so far this weekend. But, there are limits.
"No [golf]," Norman said. "I’m terrible at golf."
Despite some apprehension in front of the media, the two players talked at length about last season’s struggles and the myriad of ways they’ve tried to address those problems and get better heading into 2014. Norman summarized 2013 quite well when he was asked about the Pack’s struggles against in-state opponents.
"It sucks because our slogan was ‘This is Our State’ and we didn’t have the success we wanted to. It sucked."
So yeah. He said what we were all thinking. It did suck. Kudos to you, Art Norman, for not sugar coating that one. Creecy delved a little further into the suck, bringing up a reason that both players kept coming back to during the hour-plus media session.
"We went 3-9 so we have nowhere to go but up. We haven’t looked back at it but we have looked at the seven games we were in the 4th quarter that we did not finish. We didn’t have the comaraderie or the chemistry to finish games."
Both players said the team wasn’t as united as it could have been last year, saying the process of learning new plays and adjusting to a new staff meant that the leaders who graduated in 2012 weren’t properly replaced in 2013, and the results showed on the field. The Pack not only had to adjust to a new playbook, but to new techniques at each position. Norman noted that the transition was harder than he expected going into last season.
Both players believe the problem has been addressed this offseason. The Pack brought in a group of ex-military personnel to help with team building and the players themselves have organized and paid for cookouts to help build chemistry apart from the coaching staff and the field. Norman had a unique perspective on becoming a leader in the locker room and what it takes to be a good leader.
"[Leadership] is in you," the senior defensive lineman said. "The biggest thing with leadership is caring – if you really care about how your team does then you are probably a leader. If you really care you’ll try to bring people up to where you are and you’ll be a leader."
Creecy agreed that leadership is more an innate trait than something that you learn over time, but said his father taught him to be a leader by sheer force of will. As a freshman in high school, Creecy bombed an interview with a local paper – stuttering and misspeaking his way through the whole ordeal. His dad’s solution – he’d be interviewing his son every week to teach him how to speak better in front of people and to phrase his thoughts. As a result, he became not only a better speaker but a better leader – able to articulate things to his teammates.
Norman continued drawing parallels between life and football, something that isn’t exactly normal for the average college football player, when he talked about the goals he has for the Pack this year (the team hasn’t set any official goals at this point). Norman said his goal right now is 1-0, which is right out of clichéd responses 101, but his reasoning was much less predictable.
"You can’t look at the end of the season because you’ll lose sight of what’s important. Not only in football but in life too – you have to deal with what’s in front of you first."
-- Surprisingly, people asked about Jacoby Brissett. Norman couldn’t really come up with a good comp for the new starting quarterback, but still praised his abilities, both physical and mental.
"He doesn’t really remind me of anybody – he’s just his own person. But he’s impressive. Even on scout team he would encourage those guys – a lot of times it’s easy to get discouraged on scout team because it’s like ‘I’m not playing why am I going hard’ so it was really impressive. Really unselfish."
-- Creecy and Norman would both be favor of athletes getting more from the NCAA and agreed that the rules need to be looked at and changed.
"I feel like all student athletes should get something. Not saying they should get everything, but just something," Creecy said.
"I would love to see [athletes get more from the NCAA]. These rules were made so long ago – they were made for the student athlete but so many things have changed. It wouldn’t be a bad thing to change those rules as well. But I know it would be a complicated thing to do because you can’t just pay football players and basketball players – they might bring in the most revenue but the other student athletes work hard too and it wouldn’t be right," Norman said.