Holgorsen Covers A Wide Gamut, From Dinner to Placekickers
It’s not normal that a major college football coach would spend the first five minutes of his press conference talking about nutrition, his team’s eating habits and what he cooked for dinner last night.
But such are the oddities that sometimes come with interview sessions in the midst of preseason practices. After all, there’s only so much that can be said about the third-string center or the battle for the long snapping job.
Thus West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen ranged far and wide during his press conference on Thursday. His team started camp on Sunday and held its first full-contact practice on Tuesday. Per new NCAA rules, there was no practice on Wednesday, as all Division I teams must take one day off per week, even during the preseason.
While Holgorsen eventually got around to some of the nuts and bolts of his team, it all started out with a lengthy discussion about food. WVU has recently opened a new cafeteria in the Puskar Center, which Holgorsen raves about. He’s also been very pleased so far with the work of Taylor Lile, who is in her first year as WVU’s director of sports nutrition.
“Everybody used to look forward to the watermelon afternoon deal,” noted Holgorsen. “Everybody does that; a truck used to come by and drop off all these watermelons. It’s one of the special things that happened at camp. Now-a-days, we have that like every day. We have pineapples and watermelon and all that stuff every day; it’s a heck of a deal. We’ve come a long way. It’s really good.
“We hired Taylor; she’s our new sports nutrition lady,” Holgorsen said of Lile, who earned a double bachelor’s degree in nutritional sciences and Spanish at the University of Oklahoma and a master’s degree in sport and exercise nutrition at Loughborough University in Leicestershire, United Kingdom. “She’s doing a heck of a job, she’s in the back all the time, she sits in my meetings, she’s at practice. Twenty-four/seven, she’s in charge of the food we feed our kids. The new training table in the back is just spectacular. It’s a multi-million-dollar deal, and they did a heck of a job on it. She’s in charge of the menus and everything, and she claims that she picks out fruit better than anybody. I can’t disagree with her; she’s doing a heck of a job.
“We’ve come a long way – we used to not be able to feed them. Now, we can feed them whatever we want,” added WVU’s head coach. “It’s a big commitment – and this is all NCAA driven, obviously – but it’s a big commitment from our administration. It’s expensive when you’re feeding 120 growing men. It’s been great.”
While Lile is acutely aware of what players are eating, Holgorsen is just happy they are eating. He admits eating is something he likes to do, but not all 18 to 22 year olds do it as regularly as they should.
“Kids actually eating,” Holgorsen said when asked what he likes best about WVU’s nutrition program. “For us (adults), we like to eat. Most of us, you’re a foody (speaking to West Virginia’s radio play-by-play announcer Tony Caridi), we like to eat. I cooked last night, and it was outstanding. I’ll tell you the menu, it was good: steaks, chicken, cornbread, corn on the cob, fresh green beans, cauliflower mixed in with olive oil and bacon, onions, baked potatoes, bacon, butter, sour cream, olive oil on the outside. It was really good.
“So, along those lines, (Lile) comes up with the menu that our guys will eat. So far, it’s been really, really good. Our players are back there, and they sit down and they’re back there for about an hour. They eat. The end game is you want that food to go in their system. Eating and sleeping are the keys to recovering and getting back on the field as healthy as you can possibly get.”
Avoiding bad eating habits is still an issue, even for student-athletes with all the nutritional information at their disposal.
“This time of year, as much as we feed them, we can prevent (the players from eating unhealthy food), because we’re giving them four meals per day, really,” Holgorsen noted. “When you get into the routine of us giving them one meal a day (after camp), then what are you going to do? They’re going to go do that (eat fast food). We try to educate them to the point of what’s good and what’s bad. I remember days of when kids would fall out at practice. I’d be like, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ They’re like, ‘I’m starving.’ They’d rush from class, and they’d get over here and go into meetings, then go outside and practice, and they’d fall out because there’s nothing in their system. We really couldn’t give them snacks and stuff, it’s ridiculous. We’re asking them to go out there for three hours and sweat and run and all that stuff, and they don’t have fuel in their body. Now, it’s different. (Assistant Athletic Director for Strength and Conditioning) Mike (Joseph) has a snack for them every day before a meeting. There’s never that excuse ever again. We have protein shakes, we have all the snacks down there, and we feed them sandwiches. That’s not going to happen. But you’re never going to prevent those kids from eating a late-night McDonalds or pizza or something like that. It’s better than nothing. We can’t give them three meals a day year ‘round.
“Any other food questions?” chucked Holgorsen. “This is a great conversation. What’d you cook last night? So, I went back there – we had brunch yesterday – yesterday was our recovery day. We couldn’t practice yesterday; we have to give them a recovery day once a week. I went back there, it opened at like 10:30, so we had a huge brunch. There’s a big pasta bar, so I walked in and checked this pasta bar out because it was the first time it had been open back there. They had like three different kinds of pastas, chicken, shrimp, sausage, with every kind of sauce you’d want – white sauce, red sauce, whatever. I thought, ‘That looks good’, but there were like 30 people in line and I was in a hurry. So, I skipped that and went over to the omelet station, because it’s brunch, and there’s 100 different kinds of omelets and all that. I thought, ‘That looks pretty good, too’, but there were 30 people there. Once again, I don’t have time to wait. So, I went over to the other station where it was just the main deal, and it was pork tenderloin and salmon. So, I had a spliced pork tenderloin with a piece of bread, and then I made a salmon salad, and it had 100 different options when it came to the salad aspect of it. So, I ‘settled’ for a salmon salad.”
Holgorsen did eventually get to points about preseason camp.
• On the new redshirt rule – “I don’t how we use it, but I think we can use it in a bunch of different ways. I can see us playing guys early and say, ‘We need you on the shelf. You’re not ready.’ But I can see, in game eight, that this kid is like (senior wide receiver) David Sills was – he’s really making a lot of plays on scout team. So, let’s pull him up. Guys get hurt, we need a body, and we can plug them in.”
• On if he has different thoughts about the redshirt rule for different positions – “No, I don’t. O-line and d-line are the hardest stuff to play at this level. With that said, we played two freshmen last year that weren’t ready to play on the d-line. Those guys weren’t ready to play. We had to use them. If we have a need and a void, then we’ll utilize them, but I don’t want to (senior offensive lineman) Isaiah Hardy somebody. What I mean by that is he played 60 snaps last year. (Sophomore defensive lineman) Darius Stills played 40 snaps last year. We can probably save that and play them unless we absolutely have to and save that year.
• On if it bothers him when his team has to take a day off in the midst of preseason camp, as it did Wednesday per a new NCAA rule – “I thought it would, but it’s good. We ask so much out of them out of the practices that we get. When I first started coaching at Valdosta State, we had three-a-day practices. We had practice for an hour-and-a-half in the morning, and hour-and-a-half in the afternoon, and then like 45 minutes at night. So, it was three-a-days, and we spent more time dressing than we did practicing. So, with one-a-day practices, we’re literally out there for about three hours. You’re out there for a long time. I thought I’d be concerned with it, but the morning walk-throughs that we have, you can use balls now, so that’s basically a practice in the morning that, really, doesn’t technically count as a practice. No pads, but it’s all mental. Half of the practices, you’re focusing on the mental aspect of teaching them what to do anyway.”
• On his defense – “I like our maturity on the d-line – those old guys. (Redshirt senior defensive lineman) Jabril’s (Robinson) looked good, (redshirt senior defensive lineman) Kenny’s (Bigelow) looked good. They have brought maturity to our d-line. They’re grown men. (Senior defensive lineman Ezekiel) Zeke’s (Rose) old, (junior defensive lineman) Reese (Donahue) is old. So, it’s nice to have older mature guys. It reminds me of, and these guys have a chance to be better than two or three years ago, when we had Christian (Brown), Noble (Nwachukwu) and Darrien (Howard) – three seniors, old guys, two fifth-year seniors and a fourth-year senior. Those were program guys, guys that have been here for a long time. Those guys are mature. It gives you a chance to be successful. If you have young guys at those spots, then you have no chance. That’s where we were last year. So, we have older, mature guys that talk and play football and understand the game. It gives that second level and that third level, which we have a lot of experience there, a chance to do their job.”
• On his takeaway from the first practice in full-pads – “I was pleased with our situations. We did two-minute, we did four-minute, we did third-and-play it, which on third downs if you convert, then you stay on the field. If you don’t convert, then you have to run off the field, and we exchanged it with punt teams and PAT/field goal teams. It flowed pretty well. I’m happy with that. It was sloppy, which is expected. We played a lot of bodies and a lot of guys that aren’t quite ready to play yet, they’re never going to look good. Overall, I was pleased with it. It was physical.”
• On redshirt junior linebacker Shea Campbell, who had been a walk-on – “He’s earned his scholarship. He’s on scholarship. I don’t know if he’s taken a snap yet, though. (defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Tony) Gibby (Gibson) loves him. He reminds us a lot of Justin Arndt – a West Virginia kid that walked on and does everything right. He’s a good football player, shows up in practice. He did a great job for us on scout team last year. He’s going to be on a bunch of special teams and a backup linebacker right now. Hopefully he lives up to what we think he can do.”
• On the competition at kicker – (Redshirt sophomore) Evan (Staley) is a clear-cut number one at PAT/field goal. He’s kicking the ball very well. We have some competition as a backup kicker. (Redshirt sophomore Luke) Hogan and (redshirt junior Skyler) Simcox – those guys are competing right now. (Redshirt senior) Billy (Kinney) looks really good. Billy’s been on the shelf for about six months. I can’t remember if he finished spring or not, but he looks good. We haven’t got into the competition aspect of the kickoffs yet. We’ll get into that next week. That’s really the only competition right now. Deep snapper and kickoff guy are the only competitions right now.
• “Even knocked through a 54-yarder yesterday, or 53-yarder yesterday. That one had some space. He’s striking the ball really well. He’s earned his scholarship. He’s striking the ball really well. Those other guys have to keep competing. That’s the way things go.”
• On the two injured players (Quondarius Qualls and Brendan Ferns) who are not participating in fall camp – “They can be here and get treated and eat. They just can’t be a part of any football activities. They’re not in meetings, and they’re not in walkthroughs. They’re not a part of any of that. They’re just rehabbing all day long. Rehabbing, eating, sleeping and all the necessary to get back on the field. We reported to fall camp with 110 guys, and those two guys were not a part of the 110. But they can be here, and they get treated and use the facility and eat. Once school starts, they’ll be in meetings, be a part of walkthroughs. They’re both doing good. They look good. They’re both two kids that have played a lot for us, and they will play this year. At what point? I don’t know. That’s a medical decision.”