Notes from the road

January, 5, 2009

I figure I've neglected the blog a little in the past few days while travelling some, so here are some random notes/thoughts from a trip to Orlando for the Under Armour All-American Game and Monday's media day for the BCS title game.

• Bo Pelini apparently has been quite a source for both teams. UF offensive coordinator Dan Mullen credits Pelini for advising him how to handle the dual role of outgoing assistant and new head coach (Pelini told him to set aside times where you focus on each and also to not forget to appreciate the chance of playing for a national title). Pelini, the former LSU defensive coordinator, also spent some time with his former colleague, OU defensive coordinator Brent Venables, to break down the Gators' offense.

• I'm curious to see how mammoth OU offensive tackle Phil Loadholt does against the Florida edge rushers. Sooners strength coach Jerry Schmidt raved about the 6-foot-8, 337-pounder, saying he's the most flexible offensive linemen they've had which, given the guy's size, is quite a statement. The JC transfer also has proven to be quite a leader and an energetic presence in the OU locker room.

• A few years back, Florida offensive guard James Wilson was one of the nation's most coveted O-line prospects. Wilson, a former high school teammate of Tim Tebow, experienced quite a roller coaster ride during his recruiting process. He said his mom, who lives in Florida, wanted him to go to UF, while his father, who lives in California, wanted him to go to USC. "It was so hard because I felt like I was choosing one parent over the other," he said Monday. The fallout from his decision to attend UF was steep. He said he and his father didn't speak for two months after signing day.

While at UF, things haven't gone smoothly for Wilson. He has struggled to stay healthy as he battled through two micro-fractures last season and he said the inactivity really took a toll on him. "I was always hurt," he said. "I didn't feel like a part of the team. I didn't go to the meetings. I felt just out of place."

He wanted to transfer to Wake Forest and reunite with some of his old Nease High teammates, but Urban Meyer wouldn't release him.

Wilson, who is now on crutches as he overcomes a stress fracture, is glad he didn't. "It's definitely the right choice staying here," he explained, adding that not only does he have a chance to get a national title ring but he will be able to compete for a starting guard job in the spring.

• I was able to catch up with Florida lineman Matt Patchan. I had met Patchan and his parents while down at Ole Miss two years ago. (Patchan's father, also named Matt, was a standout lineman for Miami in the mid-80s known for his tenacity, and he was close to then-Rebels line coach Art Kehoe.)

The younger Patchan is a chiseled 6-6, 260-pound freshman with tremendous athleticism and toughness who wants to play on both the offensive and defensive lines.

As a true freshman, he even started a game on the D-line against Kentucky and had two sacks this season despite dealing with a half-dozen different injuries, which ranged from a torn pec muscle to getting shot in the back to a hip pointer. Four weeks ago, Patchan tore the MCL in his left knee. Doctors told him he'd be out eight to 10 weeks. But the young lineman is still hopeful he might play Thursday night and reports that he's made great progress and has even been cutting on the knee.

"I really want to be able to play in this game," he said. "My dad played -- and won -- two national titles and played in four national title games."

So is he trying to compete with his father's title game history? "Hell, yeah I am."

• Mickey Marotti, the Florida strength coach, who used to work at Notre Dame, said he thought Reggie Bush was the fastest player he'd ever seen in football pads … 'til he saw Percy Harvin. Marotti also had high praise for fellow UF speedster Jeff Demps. "He's a born leader," said Marotti. "He's very mature and he's almost like a linebacker in a track guy's body."

• Domonique Franks -- why would you go there on Tim Tebow? Can someone remember more than one time where a player called out a star and really backed it up? I feel like this could be another Larry Birdine/Matt Leinart deal.

• Whether or not Russell Sheppard proves to be a great college QB is debatable, but the kid is electric with the ball in his hands and I suspect he will be a weapon for LSU right away. He's also a very engaging, likeable young man who pound-for-pound might've been the charisma king of Orlando this week. Sheppard, who has become a de facto recruiting coordinator for LSU and was pitching all week, promises a few shockers come signing day. It'll be interesting to see if he can back that up.

• Manti Te'o, a linebacker from Hawaii, drew raves from coaches all week and flashed some of the skills that have college coaches thinking he can come in right away and contribute. Te'o still says he's planning on going on a two-year mission after his freshman year and is looking to major in architectural engineering or sports science. The Hawaiian who visited Notre Dame amid a snow storm seemed to enjoy the change of that climate. "I was even throwing snowballs at the recruiting coordinator," he joked. Te'o is weighing offers from Stanford, BYU, Notre Dame, UCLA and USC.

• Colleague Tom Luginbill was so impressed by Texas QB Garrett Gilbert, he predicts the future Longhorn will "win the Heisman Trophy … before his senior year."

• I know this won't sit well with Big 12 or SEC fans, but Utah is deserving of the No. 1 spot after the way the Utes smashed Alabama. You can dismiss the win, saying the Tide's best player (Andre Smith) didn't play, but it was still Nick Saban's Alabama team. The Utes beat some very good teams before this game -- beating an Oregon State team that beat USC, beating TCU and BYU -- and they handled Bama more convincingly than UF did. Plus, they had no slip-ups.

• Meet Bennett Fulper, an offensive lineman who is headed to Maryland, according to the Baltimore Sun. I think he will replace Nick Feldman as my favorite college player next fall.



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