College Football

Inside Read: Scouts say Winston needs another year; ASU's new QB

Florida State survives a scare

Sports Illustrated's Andy Staples recaps Florida State's overtime win without the help of suspended Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston.

When the news broke last week that Jameis Winston had been caught standing on a table and yelling a lewd obscene phrase in the Florida State student union, former Seminoles star Myron Rolle got a text message from Samari Rolle, his cousin and another former Florida State standout.

“He needs to stay another year,” it read.

It was a sentiment shared by many after Winson reaffirmed his status as college football’s most divisive player, with his student union antics earning him a one-game suspension. Winston even bungled the seemingly straight-forward task of sitting out the Seminoles game last Saturday against Clemson. He wore his full uniform onto the field and got a straight-to-GIF dirty look from Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher that ricocheted across the Internet on Saturday night. 

Winston's consistently immature antics led multiple current and former NFL officials contacted by The Inside Read this week to opine that the best decision Winston could make would be to return to Florida State next season (he’d be a redshirt junior) and prove to NFL front offices that he can stay out of trouble. 

“I think that’s a pretty easy decision,” one former NFL general manager said. “That would be my 100 percent advice. Come back and say, ‘Look, I made mistakes and learned from them. I have over a year of impeccable behavior that shows what I learned.’ Without question, that would go a long way.” 

The flurry of off-field incidents that have dominated the NFL’s news cycle the past two weeks will only put more of a focus on Winston’s off-field issues. He’s been accused of rape -- though never charged --  in an incident from December 2012 that’s still reportedly under investigation by FSU officials. Other incidents included Winston allegedly stealing a soda at Burger King, crab legs from a local grocery store and he was also caught carrying a pellet gun near campus. 

In the eyes of an increasing number of NFL officials, Winston is a serial troublemaker whose maturity and reliability trump his Heisman Trophy talent.

“He’s a big-ass immature kid,” said an NFL scout of the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Winston. “I think he needs to stay another year and prove that he can keep himself clean. Maybe even two more years. The skill is there, but …” 

Mel Kiper dropped Winston from No. 3 to No. 25 on his big board this week. While none of the NFL personnel interviewed this week said explicitly they’d avoid Winston, they are getting close. “I’m not sure he’s at a toxic level yet, but he’s starting to get there,” said an NFL scout. “The alarm bells have sounded.”

That scout added that if a general manager drafts Winston, especially high in the first round, it could potentially define that executive’s career, and that is a risk fewer front offices are willing to take. “If you were to buy this guy, he’s your quarterback and you are invested in him, and you tie yourself at the hip to him,” the scout said. “You never saw RGIII or Andrew Luck or Peyton Manning doing this kind of stuff.”

Myron Rolle, a friend of Winston’s, is in his second year of medical school at Florida State, where he’s studying to be a pediatric neurosurgeon. The two met at a 2012 at banquet for the Watkins Award, which honors academic achievement for African-American males. Rolle won the award in 2006. Winston was a finalist in 2012.

Rolle has empathy for Winston living in the Tallahassee fishbowl. When he sees Winston at the airport or around town, Rolle says Winston has a hat or hood pulled over his face to avoid attention. Rolle said Winston faces tremendous pressure every time he steps out of his apartment, and part of his maturity is his failure to understand that he can’t do things that other students or even his own teammates can do.

“Some of his untoward actions are him trying to figure out how he can be normal, how he can be like his teammates,” Rolle said. “How can he be like I was when I was 20 amid this amplified exultation everyone has given him in college football? He’s learned that he has to make some sacrifices.”

As for whether Winston would be better leaving that fishbowl as soon as he can or stick around and rehabilitate his image, Rolle is torn. “I see the benefits in proving that he’s stable and can be a leader and handle some of the attention and acclaim that comes with being a star quarterback,” he said. “On the other side, I understand that one play can put a prolific career in jeopardy for this young man.”

Winston and his family have maintained publicly that Winston will return for the 2015 season, but few players talk openly about leaving until they actually go. But with Winston creating yet another media circus in Tallahassee and nearly costing his team a chance at the national title, it may be more than just rhetoric.

 “[You're] judged by what [you] do on the field,” said a scout. “At that position you are judged by more than that. That’s really a concern there. I don’t know that it can’t be rectified or people can’t get comfortable with it in time or get over it, but it’s definitely working against his stock right now.”


Three-and-out

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1. Is Arizona St.'s Bercovici ready for prime time?

After Mike Bercovici graduated from Arizona State in just three years, he could have transferred to another FBS program after the 2013 season and been eligible immediately for two years. In an era where the quarterback transfer market has turned into a cottage industry, Bercovici decided to instead stay where he felt at home.

“I love maroon and gold more than anyone,” he told The Inside Read. “The thought of leaving and going somewhere and putting on a new uniform and helmet, playing in front of different fans, didn’t feel right.”

His loyalty has yielded an unexpected opportunity. On Thursday night when No. 15 Arizona State hosts No. 11 UCLA in the week’s best matchup, Bercovici will make his first career start. He will be filling in for injured senior Taylor Kelly (right foot), debuting in a game that could well decide the Pac-12 South race. The last three seasons either UCLA or ASU has represented the division in the Pac-12 title game.

“I couldn’t be more excited,” Bercovici said. “Obviously Taylor is team captain and leader, and for him to go down last week takes a toll on our team. But it’s my job to be ready at all times and keep our team on a national championship track.” 

Bercovici, a redshirt junior, has only completed 14 passes in his career. So there are plenty of questions about his ability to handle the magnitude of the moment. Bercovici admits that his biggest accomplishments at ASU have come outside football. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business management last year and is in a one-year master’s program in sports law and business.

While friends and former coaches nudged Bercovici about transferring, he couldn’t find any good reasons to leave. He’ll be the frontrunner to start for the Sun Devils next year, and he’s also built a vibrant life off the field. He has the potential to graduate with a second masters if he takes another one-year program next year. He loves the area, as he raves about everything from the desert sunsets to the support he gets from ASU fans at Zipps Sports Grill. He also has a serious girlfriend, Jaylee Merrill, who dances for ASU. “She’s the good looking blonde on the dance team,” he said. “Everyone loves her.”

Bercovici came to ASU as a drop-back quarterback and a potential replacement for Brock Osweiler. But the firing of Dennis Erickson and accompanying change to the quarterback-run heavy scheme of new coach Todd Graham forced Bercovici to change his game. He said that all started in the weight room, where the Arizona State quarterbacks go through a rigorous program to make sure they are durable. Bercovici said he now considers himself a dual threat, in part because strength coach Shawn Griswold has transformed his body. He can power clean 300 pounds, a lift quarterbacks in some programs may not even do. 

“The quarterbacks,” he said, “train like linebackers.”

On Thursday, we’ll find out if he’s tough enough for the task.

2. Recruit Drake Davis has future in football, not soccer

Drake Davis, a highly touted 2016 wide receiver recruit, recently made headlines by opting to play soccer this fall instead of football. It’s a move that has been hailed by some U.S. soccer supporters as a watershed moment for the sport in its decades-long battle of unsuccessfully trying to attract the nation’s best athletes. After all, the 6-2, 212-pound Davis, who transferred to Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy for this season, reportedly has football scholarship offers from Alabama and Florida State among others.

His decision has also been cited as evidence that younger athletes are having second thoughts about playing football because of the sport’s risks. One writer even mentioned Davis in the same breath as Jozy Altidore, a U.S. born soccer player who plays for Sunderland in the English Premier League. Those type of comparisons are baffling to Willie Davis, who coached Davis in soccer for two weeks last season at The Dunham School in Baton Rouge, La. before dismissing him after he skipped a tournament.

“Some of the story is absolutely blown up,” Willie Davis told The Inside Read. “His technical ability was probably as good as my 15th player.” (Multiple efforts to reach Drake Davis were unsuccessful.)

Dunham is a 723-student private Christian school for grades K-12 that's not known as an athletic powerhouse. In the lone soccer game Drake Davis played at Dunham he did score a goal. But Willie Davis emphasized that high school soccer in southern Louisiana is far from the pinnacle of the sport.

“I would be absolutely astounded for Drake Davis to step out of a sport that he’s excelling at and go into what is not a hand-eye coordinated sport,” Willie Davis said. “Obviously, he’s got the athleticism, but not the skill set, the tactical understanding or the years of training to be the next big anything. It could happen, but the chances aren’t very high.”

Willie Davis isn’t some geometry teacher who also moonlights as a soccer coach. He holds a national license from the U.S. Soccer Federation, was an assistant at Franklin Pierce University when the school won a Division II national title in 2007 and is director of coaching for senior players for a Baton Rouge soccer club.

Willie Davis said Drake Davis decided to play soccer after quitting Dunham’s basketball team. He also had “issues” with the football team according to Willie Davis.

Drake Davis’ dismissal from the soccer team also came after he was dishonest about missed practices, according to Willie Davis.

“He’s an interesting kid,” Willie Davis said. “He’s a good kid, but there’s something I just couldn’t put my finger on with him.”

Drake Davis, the son of former LSU and Kansas basketball standout Lester Earl, visited The Dunham School last month and talked with first-year football coach Neil Weiner. Davis is concentrating on his academics at Fork Union and is interested in returning to Louisiana to play football next year according to Weiner.

Weiner said Davis is better at football than soccer and seemed somewhat “unsure” about the football coaches at Fork Union, a football factory. A majority of his friends at his new school are also soccer players according to Weiner.

“Soccer is not a game you just pick up when you’re 16 years old and decide, ‘Hey, I’m going to be one of the best in the world,’” Weiner said. “Drake Davis is a phenomenal athlete, but it takes more than just being able to run fast and jump high to be a great soccer player.”

A college football assistant at a school where Davis allegedly has a scholarship offer according to recruiting services said the program hasn’t extended one. Another assistant whose program is recruiting Davis described his decision to play soccer as “World Cup fever.”

“He’s a very talented football player,” the assistant said. “Not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but a Division I player.”

Both assistants foresee that Davis’ future is on the football field, not in soccer. Just like Willie Davis does.

Said Willie Davis, “It just seemed like it was a big, gimmick hype thing to me.”

3. Mississippi St. avoids curse, gets big win

With two outs remaining in the clinching game of the 2004 World Series, Dan Mullen’s father called him. The Red Sox were leading the Cardinals 6-2 and Mullen answered and snapped: “Why are you calling me right now?”

Mullen grew up in New Hampshire and spent more than three jaded decades rooting for the Red Sox. These days he’s the head coach at Mississippi State, where he’s dealt with plenty of streaks and karmic curses. Entering Saturday’s game at No. 8 LSU, Mississippi State hadn’t beaten the Tigers since 1999 and hadn’t won in Tiger Stadium since 1991. Mullen entered the game 2-21 against Top 25 teams.

Mississippi State dominated for 55 minutes and led 34-10 early in the fourth quarter. But a flurry of blunders cut the Mississippi State lead to 34-29 in the final seconds, and LSU had a shot to win on a Hail Mary on the final play. As the near meltdown unfolded, Mullen channeled memories from his childhood. “I was thinking of Bill Buckner, to be honest with you,” he said with a chuckle in a phone interview on Sunday.

RICKMAN: Dak Prescott leads Mississippi State to win in Death Valley

The Bulldogs survived and woke up as one of the darlings of college football. The upset in Baton Rouge ascended them from unranked to No. 14 and marks Les Miles’ only home loss at night to a team that wasn’t No. 1 in his 10 years as LSU’s coach. “This is huge for us,” Mullen said. “If you’ve seen us through the years, we’ve competed with everyone. We just haven’t found a way to win. Our guys went into that game with the attitude not that we can win, but we’re going to win.”

The Saturday night showcase also prompted some Heisman Trophy chatter around quarterback Dak Prescott, who elbowed his way through the LSU defense like a human bumper car. Prescott finished with 105 yards, and perhaps the most impressive part of the win for the Bulldogs was how they battered the Tigers in the interior. Most seasons, outmuscling LSU is as likely as beating Oregon with tempo. But Mississippi State rushed for 302 yards, gashing LSU for 6.2 yards per carry, the most yards an LSU defense let up since Cam Newton-led Auburn eviscerated it for 440 rushing yards in 2010. LSU averaged just 2.5 yards per carry, finishing with 89 rushing yards.

Prescott has drawn the inevitable comparisons to another one of Mullen’s old protégées -- Tim Tebow. They share the same number (15), style (punishing) and heft (Tebow played at 235, Prescott is 230). Also, the zone reads the Bulldogs run were seemingly clipped from Mullen’s Florida playbook. As a player, Prescott reminds Mullen more of Josh Harris, his quarterback at Bowling Green in the early 2000s. But as a presence, Mullen said the comparisons to Tebow are prescient.

“They’re both people who every day show up ready to give you their absolute best,” Mullen said. “In the world, there’s not a lot of people that are like that. In any field. They don’t ever show up and have a bad day.”

With a bye this week, there will be a lot of good days in Starkville. But the upcoming schedule is daunting: Texas A&M visits on Oct. 4 as does Auburn the following week.


The Blitz

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Oklahoma offensive coordinator Josh Heupel likes to joke that freshman running back Samaje Perine looks like an action figure.  “He’s nothing but shoulders and thighs,” Heupel told The Inside Read. “He’s got bowling balls on his shoulders. He’s massive.”

The 5-11, 243-pound freshman was huge in the Sooners’ 45-33 win at West Virginia on Saturday night, rushing for career highs of 242 yards and four touchdowns. He did it filling in for Keith Ford, the team’s previous leading rusher who missed the game with a leg injury.       

“Physically, he’s a freak,” Heupel said of Perine. “You’ve never seen anything like him as a true freshman. He’s mature way beyond his years.”

That’s something Oklahoma running backs coach Cale Gundy, the Sooners’ primary recruiter on Perine, noticed early in Perine's junior year at Hendrickson High, just northeast of Austin. He committed to the Sooners that spring, even after the Jackson, Ala., native made an unofficial visit to the Crimson Tide, his childhood favorite that also offered him a scholarship.

“He’s different physically, but what people saw Saturday is that he’s got enough wiggle to make people miss and he’s strong enough to finish through a shoulder from somebody and push the pile forward,” Heupel said. “He’s got unbelievable taste and vision. The offensive line loves blocking for him because he takes his time to the block and doesn’t rush it.”

Heupel still gets a kick out of watching others meet Perine for the first time because of his rocked up physical stature. “He will make you take a step back and say, ‘Holy cow,’” Heupel said. “Everybody that meets him is like, ‘Wow’ and then they watch him play and they say, ‘Wow’ again. He’s got a lot better feet than you would ever think he would for a guy that size at that age.”

Heupel laughed at the notion that Perine looks so mature in his recruiting photos his goatee appears to be graying. “I don’t think so yet,” Heupel said. “Maybe he’s using Just For Men.”

While Auburn’s run-defense deservedly got plenty of praise for surrendering only 40 yards on 30 carries in a 20-14 win at Kansas State last Thursday, don’t overlook the play of the Tigers’ secondary.

With Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson loading the box to take away Wildcats quarterback Jake Waters’ running, it put a lot of pressure on the inexperienced group, which was without suspended starting safety Jermaine Whitehead.

But the secondary didn’t surrender a touchdown pass and came up with two interceptions. Quite an accomplishment for a unit that at times didn’t have anyone on the field who had played in the Tigers’ secondary last season.

That group consisted of senior cornerback Trovon Reed, a wide receiver the previous three seasons, as well as freshman cornerback Nick Ruffin, freshman free safety Stephen Roberts and safety Derrick Moncrief, a junior college transfer. “I was really pleased with the way they handled the situation,” Johnson told The Inside Read after the game. “They’re only going to get better, but it was a good outing for us.”

The secondary helped offset a struggling Auburn pass rush that Johnson called a “major issue.” It better develop quickly because seven of Auburn’s nine remaining games are against teams in the top 20.

“We’re not getting a lot of good one-on-one pass-rush from any particular one guy,” Johnson said. “That’s got to develop if we’re going to be OK.”

After the win, head coach Gus Malzahn told reporters that Whitehead, a three-year starter, is suspended indefinitely. It came after what Johnson described as “a conflict with an unacceptable response to the way he had been coached.” The incident was third of its type for Whitehead since preseason camp according to Johnson.

He said Whitehead’s suspension isn’t necessarily permanent, but emphasized it will ultimately be up to Malzahn. “It could become [permanent], but that depends on how the young man handles it,” Johnson said. “There’s been no determination on it. It’s just a day-to-day thing.”

College Football Roundup: Week 4

Ben Glicksman breaks down the top games from Week 4 in college football.

Matt Wallerstedt’s surprising resignation as Texas Tech’s defensive coordinator last week came on the heels of an ESPN.com report that he had been sent home from the team facility three days earlier for allegedly being under the influence of an unknown substance.

But in a text message to The Inside Read last Friday, Wallerstedt wrote, “All good! Don’t believe all the rumors!! My statement yesterday says why I resigned and that’s the truth!!”

In a Texas Tech news release, the school stated that Wallerstedt resigned for “personal reasons.”

“I have submitted my resignation to Coach Kingsbury effective immediately because I want the best for the Red Raider program, and this will allow them to go in a different direction on defense,” Wallerstedt said. “I love our players and this school and have only their best interest in my heart and mind. I wish Coach Kingsbury every success this season.”

Wallerstedt’s resignation came less than a week after Texas Tech’s defense was gouged for 438 rushing yards in an embarrassing 49-28 home loss to Arkansas. The Red Raiders are the nation’s second-worst against the run (294.7 yards per game).

Wallerstedt, 48, was in the midst of his second year as Tech’s defensive coordinator. He had previously worked a season as linebackers coach at Texas A&M when Kingsbury was the Aggies’ offensive coordinator.

East Carolina offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley and his scoreboard-destroying unit once again raised the eyes of college football coaches, this time with Saturday’s 70-41 beatdown of North Carolina. “Now that,” said an assistant whose team will play the Pirates later this season, “is the definition of an ass whipping.”

One in which the Tar Heels surrendered the most points and yards (789) in school history as East Carolina quarterback Shane Carden had his second straight 400-yard-plus passing game. The Pirates have now won four straight games against ACC opponents.

East Carolina’s offensive prowess already has some head coaches once again salivating at the prospect of trying to hire the 31-year-old Riley. He had discussions about Notre Dame and North Carolina’s offensive coordinator positions after last season.

“They’re firing on all cylinders,” the assistant said. “They’re shooting some hell of a bullets. They ain’t shooting no f------ shotgun. They’re shooting an AK-47 right now.”

Be ready to see this statistic often this week: Tommy Tuberville is 2-0 against Urban Meyer. Those wins for Tuberville came at Auburn, but the intriguing nugget will be revived as Tuberville’s Cincinnati team faces No. 22 Ohio State on Saturday evening. In a light weekend of games, the prospect of a Bearcat upset lurks as potential storyline.

How good are Tuberville’s Bearcats? No one is quite sure. Thanks to a scheduling quirk, Cincinnati has played just two games. The Bearcats have been inconsistent in both games, a blowout-turned-barnburner of Toledo and a close victory over Miami (Ohio).

Cincinnati is led by Gunner Kiel, the itinerant quarterback recruit who ranked as the No. 1 pro-style QB in 2012. He’s thrown 10 touchdown passes in two games, but looked shaky at times against Miami on Saturday night. Kiel doesn't have much game experience, which is why Tuberville said the success of the team will depend on Kiel’s ability to distribute the ball to the Bearcats’ plethora of skill players. Kiel’s six touchdown passes against Toledo in a 58-34 victory went to six different players.

“This is as good overall a group of receivers that I’ve been around, Miami or anywhere,” Tuberville said, referencing his time as an assistant coach for the Hurricanes. “We’ve got speed, we’ve got height, we’ve got athletic ability. We’ve got guys who can take a 5-yard pass and go 60 or 70 with it. We’ve got some deep threats, so he’s going to have some weapons.”

This should be a test for Ohio State’s overhauled secondary. If the Buckeyes can’t slow Cincinnati’s receivers, Meyer’s mark could easily fall to 0-3 against Tuberville.

In the aftermath of LSU’s season-opening comeback win over Wisconsin, there were plenty questions about the health of Badgers tailback Melvin Gordon. He carried the ball just three times in the second half, as LSU rallied for a 28-24 victory. Gordon later revealed a hip issue slowed him down, and the injury sabotaged what would have been a much-needed out-of-conference victory for the Big Ten.

BECHT: Indiana stuns Missouri behind big performance from Tevin Coleman

Gordon’s hip is feeling much better these days. He torched Bowling Green for 253 yards and five touchdowns Saturday after fumbling on his first carry. That marked Gordon’s first career fumble in 322  carries, but he recovered by averaging more than 21 yards on his next 12 carries. Wisconsin racked up 756 yards in the 68-17 rout.

“Not much you say but, ‘Wow,’ Wisconsin running backs coach Thomas Brown said with a laugh on Sunday night.

Bowling Green won the MAC title last season and upset Indiana last week. While the Falcons won’t be mistaken for the Steel Curtain, Gordon’s production is impressive against any team. Heading into the season, Gordon made it clear he wanted to be considered among the best tailbacks in the country. His performance early against LSU and Saturday have planted him squarely in the middle of that debate.

“I think even before this he was in that conversation,” Brown said. “Anyone who didn’t have him in that conversation was watching the wrong tape. But it was definitely a big statement to go out and have that type of production.”

Don’t expect Gordon to slow down. Wisconsin doesn’t play Ohio State, Michigan State and Penn State in the Big Ten scheduling splits this year. That means No. 21 Nebraska is the only ranked team remaining on the Badgers' schedule, and that game is in Madison. Wisconsin may not be an underdog until the Big Ten title game, if it is able to make it.

“I feel blessed to be able to coach in this type of offense,” said Brown, who is in his first year at Wisconsin. “There’s great coaches and a great offensive line. I’ve never personally seen anything like [Gordon’s performance]. We just want to try and keep it going.”


Four In (and one out)

The Read's weekly playoff predictions

1. Oklahoma: The Sooners have played the most consistent football of any top team.

2. Auburn: The Tigers' aggressive scheduling of Kansas State on the road earns them the spot here over Texas A&M and Alabama.

3. Oregon: The Ducks should send a thank you note to the Pac-12 officials, who never seem to get it right.

4. Florida State: A late Clemson fumble saved Jameis Winston from torpedoing the school’s hopes for back-to-back national titles.

5. Alabama: The Crimson Tide also get the edge over Texas A&M for having beaten better competition.


Q&A with Vince Young

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Vince Young won a national championship at Texas and became the No. 3 pick in the NFL draft in 2006. Young is retired from football after a career hallmarked by uneven play on the field and poor decisions off it. Texas recently hired him in its Division of Diversity and Community Engagement for at least $100,000 annually. Young reflected on his career and the potential of another talented young quarterback, Jameis Winston.

You had a similar profile to Jameis Winston while at Texas. What was that like?

Well, I’m totally different from anybody. I was raised by five women. More so that [when] things happened to me it was just because I was just out having a good time with some friends and a situation occurred. That could happen to anybody. So the only thing is that social media kind of exploited it, blows it up too much to what the facts are and who this guy really is. That’s what I hate about it. Everybody’s talking about the bad about this young man.

I don’t really get into all the negative stuff. You don’t really know who this young man is. If people had an opportunity to meet him they’d probably think a whole different way about that man. I totally understand what he’s going through. I just want him to stay strong and fight through this hard time. It’s going to make him stronger and get him prepared for different stuff if he has an opportunity to go to the NFL.

ELLIS: Alabama learns some key lessons in victory over Florida

What mistakes did you make?

First of all, I made the mistake (laughs) of trusting some people on a lot of stuff. I wasn’t structured right. I have a team now that’s protecting me and helping me to sell my brand, who I am as a person. I’m very passionate about being a mentor for men like Winston and helping them get through these hard times; I know how to get through them because I’ve been through all of it. I’m just very happy to say that I came through fighting strong and that I can help somebody else and guide somebody else through that type of stuff.

How hard was it to find people that you can trust?

You just have to understand to listen to that person that tells you no. Don’t listen to that person that tells you yes all the time. [Winston] has to understand that.

STAPLES: Florida State learns it can win without Jameis Winston

What are you up to now?

Oh my God, if I could show you my calendar (laughs). First of all my family. I get to be with my kids and watch them grow. Going to dance recitals. My son’s soccer. My oldest daughter is in gymnastics. That’s fun to see. To be a part of that because most of the time I wasn’t able to be a part of that. But then just being a part of the community, and that’s one thing I’m huge in is making sure young men and ladies take dead aim at all of their opportunities to be the first to graduate in their families just like I was. Somebody they can lean on and talk to [in helping] ensure they fill out their applications, do their resumes and essays, all this stuff. Most kids don’t understand there’s so much free money out there. I want to be able teach them that so they can understand stuff like that.

Where are you most of the time these days?

I’m in Austin and Houston. Back and forth. Dallas as well.

What would you tell Jameis Winston if you had 30 minutes to talk to him?

First of all, I definitely want to talk to him to understand what’s going on. If I had to tell him something, I just want him to understand that football is an opportunity to get a degree and then also win a championship, which he already did. But at the same time you need to understand that you want to be accepted by everyone. And some of the decisions and choices that he is making, he just has to be very careful about doing it. He just has to let those peers know that he can’t do the same thing everybody else is doing because everybody’s watching him. Because social media just took off in a whole different kind of (laughs) situation. He just has to have a plan and understand that he cannot do what other people can do. He just has to understand that, especially at the position he plays.

How do you view your career now?

I had a beautiful career (laughs). Yes, I had some ups and downs. Yes, I made a mistake of getting into it with my coach. But overall I really felt like I had a great career. I wish I could have finished it a little bit stronger, but like I said I made a mistake getting into with it my coach. He was one of the guys on the [NFL Competition Committee]. Once the rumor got around that I’m a bad guy, it was kind of hard to kind of fight that perception. But overall I respect coach [Jeff] Fisher and wish the best for him. I feel like my career was really good. I got an opportunity to meet some really good people. I can call any athlete right now and they will come support my foundation. That’s what it’s all about. The friendship of it. The memories of it. I had a great time. I didn’t win a Super Bowl. I’m mad about that. I didn’t get in the Hall of Fame. I’m upset about that. But overall I’m very happy about my career. And right now, I’m in a happy stage. I’m working doing some stuff. I’m very passionate working for the school. I’ve got some businesses that I have going on. One of the best decisions I ever made was to go to the University of Texas, and to win a national championship there. That was awesome.

Are you at peace with your football days?

Yeah, I’m definitely at peace because I’m doing stuff that I’m very happy about. The only thing I’m not doing is playing football. I definitely miss the game. I loved playing on Sundays. I definitely miss that. I miss the camaraderie of hanging out with your teammates. But overall, just having an opportunity to be with my family. I missed a lot of birthdays. And now I get an opportunity to do a lot of stuff that I feel like I’m very passionate about. I’m a family man. I love being around my family and making people smile.   


Heisman Five

Thamel’s list

1. Marcus Mariota, Oregon: Can’t argue with 13 touchdowns and no interceptions.

2. Todd Gurley, Georgia: His 9.8 yards per carry is impressive.

3. Everett Golson, Notre Dame: Should pad his numbers against Syracuse this weekend.

4. Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin: A few more carries in the second half against LSU and he’d be atop this list.

5. Dak Prescott, Mississippi State: He manhandled LSU and can solidify his spot here with upcoming games against Texas A&M and Auburn.

ELLIS: No Heisman repeat from Florida State's Jameis Winston 

Evans’ list

1. Mariota: Was only a matter of time before Jameis Winston gave him this spot.

2. Amari Cooper, Alabama: Lane F------ Kiffin, bro.

3. Gurley: Only Mark Richt can stop him (didn’t play final three quarters of Saturday’s blowout).

4. Rakeem Cato, Marshall: This is called using the R-stick.

5. Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska: The most interesting player in college football.

Heisman watch: Week 4 review

Sports Illustrated's Zac Ellis breaks down the top performers from Week 4 of college football action.


Assistant huddle

Kerry Cooks tries to think like a player. After all, the Notre Dame secondary coach was once a star Dallas-area recruit faced with the dilemma of whether or not to stay in-state. He thought he would attend Texas A&M, but wound up choosing Iowa and later briefly played in the NFL.

“A lot of people who live in Texas think there’s no other state,” said Cooks with a laugh.

But since 2011 Cooks has convinced six Texas recruits otherwise in getting them to sign with the Fighting Irish, including emerging sophomore wide receiver Corey Robinson, the son of former NBA star David Robinson. He’s also got a pair of current Lone Star commitments in Dallas-area wide receiver Jaylen Guyton and safety Prentice McKinney.

Cooks has made the Fighting Irish perhaps the front-runner for Plano, Texas, running back Soso Jamabo, one of the nation’s best at his position. Cooks has also emerged as one of college football’s hottest recruiters with seven commitments, a group that has him ranked as the nation’s 12th-best according to one service.

“I love Texas, I think I’m going to end up retiring there, but there’s so much more out there,” Cooks said. “I’ve been exposed to so many other universities, people, cultures and ethnicities that for me right now, I’m enjoying living outside the state of Texas and the connections that I’m making.”

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Besides Texas, Cooks also recruits Louisiana, New Mexico and defensive backs regardless of location. The 40-year-old has twice declined opportunities to return to his home state and work as co-defensive coordinator for Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, initially after Sumlin’s hiring in late 2011 and also following last season.

Cooks was Notre Dame’s co-defensive coordinator for two years prior to this season and was an assistant at Minnesota and Wisconsin before arriving at Notre Dame with coach Brian Kelly in 2010. “I love Sumlin, but for me where I’m at right now, it’s going to have to be something spectacular to pull me away from Brian Kelly and Notre Dame,” Cooks said.

Cooks maintains his next move would likely only be for a defensive coordinator gig at a major program or a job in the NFL, but doesn’t rule out an eventual return to Texas to coach. “I’m almost like a player,” Cooks said. “I’m still growing and developing.”

North Carolina State offensive coordinator Matt Canada has a reputation for building prolific offenses. It’s one he built with Michael Turner at Northern Illinois, through his pass-heavy schemes at Indiana and Big Ten championship-winning season at Wisconsin in 2012 with Montee Ball, James White and Melvin Gordon.

Canada’s offenses have usually scored a lot of points -- except for last season’s N.C. State unit, which ranked 97th nationally in scoring (22.8 points per game) on the way to a 3-9 record.  “Last year was a hard year,” Canada told The Inside Read. “It was a real challenge.”

Now, a year later, Canada’s offense has exploited a favorable early-season schedule and so far this season has been one of the nation’s best on the way to a 4-0 start. It has outscored opponents 91-17 the last two games, which includes Saturday’s 42-0 romp against FCS foe Presbyterian.

“It’s been a good start,” Canada said. “We’ve certainly improved.”

The addition of quarterback Jacoby Brissett, a Florida transfer who sat out last season, has certainly helped Canada. So far, the redshirt junior has passed for 1,005 yards with 10 touchdowns and just one interception.

But other than him, North Carolina State’s offense lacks star power. That’s fine with Canada, who prefers to talk using we instead of I. “We’re pleased with the way we’re spreading it around,” Canada said. “We don’t have one guy with a tremendous amount of catches or rushing yards, but we do have a lot of players doing it. Hopefully that makes us hard to defend.”

Canada will soon find out just how prolific this offense is. The Wolfpack’s next two games are against Florida State and at Clemson.

Said Canada, “We’ve got a ways to go.”

Duke’s uprising from a generation of dismal football is often attributed to the offensive genius of coach David Cutcliffe. His up-tempo, spread attack has helped lead the Blue Devils to back-to-back bowls for the first time in school history and now a 12-game regular season winning streak after Saturday’s 47-13 rout of Tulane. But lost in all that success is defensive coordinator Jim Knowles’ impressive unit, which has emerged as one of college football’s best this season.

The Blue Devils rank seventh nationally in scoring defense (11.5 points per game) and have yet to surrender a touchdown pass this season. Last season, they were second in the ACC behind just eventual national champion Florida State in points allowed in the fourth quarter (4.64)

“We’re going to quietly do our job,” Knowles said.

Knowles has done this throughout his career with often overlooked defenses. He first became a defensive coordinator at Western Michigan, where he coached Jason Babin, the school’s first NFL first-round pick. and had the nation’s 28th-best unit in 2002.

After a year stint with Cutcliffe at Mississippi, Knowles, a Cornell graduate, returned to coach his alma matter for six years before linking back up with Cutcliffe when he was hired at Duke in 2010. He’s never been bothered that his defense is going to be on the field more because of Cutcliffe’s high-scoring offensive scheme.

“This is not anybody’s way except our way,” Knowles said. “We all believe in it. This is our plan and it works.”

It has again this season defensively behind redshirt senior defensive end Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo and redshirt sophomore safety Devon Edwards, a dangerous returner who is improved against the run. The Blue Devils also actually have enough depth on the defensive line for a rotation.

“Our matchups have been good upfront,” said Knowles. “That at Duke doesn’t happen a whole lot.”


Coach’s kitchen

South Carolina quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus rarely eats pasta. But when he does it’s often on date night with his wife, Lauren, at Rosso Trattoria Italia, which is located in a strip mall on the east side of Columbia. He recommends the ragu di bolognese, which is an orecchiette pasta with slow-cooked angus beef and Italian sausage pork as well as shaved Grana Padano and white truffle oil.

“It’s got the perfect spice and sauce,” Mangus said.

Mangus and his wife also order some Valpolicella, a red wine. The restaurant draws a good crowd, but you don't usually need reservations. Said Mangus, “It’s a word-of-mouth, neighborhood kind of place."

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