Greg Gasparato, Nick Okeke Talk Spring Practice

Louisville football safeties coach Greg Gasparato and outside linebacker Nick Okeke discussed several aspects of spring practice with the media.
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(Photo of Greg Gasparato: Wofford College Athletics)

LOUISVILLE, Ky - As quickly as it began, the Louisville football program getting ready to wrap up their third spring practice under head coach Scott Satterfield.

Following their practice session on Monday, safeties coach Greg Gasparato and outside linebacker Nick Okeke took some time to meet with the media. They discussed coach Gasparato's transition, the newcomers in the safeties room, how the defense has taken a step forward, and more.

Below is the transcript as well as the videos from their press conference:

Safeties Coach Greg Gasparato

(On his experience so far with the program, and if he has had any time to actually move)

That's a daily process. So I ended up taking the job on a Friday, flew in on a Sunday. First time ever met my guys was that first meeting. We practiced that Monday. It's been a good transition. You try to piece it together as best you can. The good thing for me is the familiarity with the defense, and being able to be with with Coach (Bryan) Brown and Coach (Scott) Satterfield back in 2018, and then also in 2013 and 14 as a GA in this system. Just kind of having that familiarity last year, the defense we were in, it was the same structure same call system, a lot of the same checks up at West Point. There is that familiarity, but there's the it's the nuances of the defense that everybody's kind of put their own little spin on it. That's the biggest thing. For me, I try to teach the guys in buckets and concepts. They got to know the defense, they got to know where their help is, they got to know their strengths and weaknesses, they got to know 'what is this defense meant to stop, and what are we willing to give up in it?'. They'll understand that we can call something different, if they're hitting us on something, we have other calls and go to. So we don't have to stop everything. You got to do your job within the scheme of the defense. But at the end of the day, if you play faster and you play harder than everybody else, the team that wants to win the game the most generally does. Teaching the concepts to them has been - it's been fun for me too just try to kind of start over and reteach because of the youth in the room. These guys, a lot of them didn't know anything about this defense on the first I walked in. Just teaching them what it meant, how we called it, just the different coverages, the checks, the three by ones. It's amazing to watch their progress from day one to day 13. It's been a lot of fun. Moving, it's a never ending process. That's why I was just telling these guys. I went back and forth as much as I could, and then last weekend, we had a good 13 hour family drive from West Point to Louisville. It was fun, but it's it's it's a necessary evil, but it's also what makes this so fun in this profession. The people you meet, the young men you get to work with, the areas you get to see. I've been so blessed, especially to be here in this place right now. We couldn't ask to be anywhere better.

(On how much the relationship with Bryan Brown helps get guys up to speed)

It does help me. He's been in this system for a long time, and he's unbelievably smart. He knows what he wants, and there's things that have been tweaked, and he knows why. It's because it's helped us to take this defense to the next level. He's done a great job being patient and helping me understand the defense. Then on the flip side, he understands that we've got young guys. There's kind of two ways you can do. You can either slow it down, so slow where these guys get really, really good at something and then you move on to the next thing, or you can throw a little bit more at them and see what they can and can't do, but you also get to see what the MO of this defense for this year's team is going to be. What we want to do is we wanted to say, okay, we're going to kind of have a balance of how fast we put things in. We want to see who can pick things up the quickest, who's got kind of that football IQ, but then also to see what we do well as a defense. These guys, and I try to teach them what a quarters is concept is, how do you play a post, how do you play a half technique. Then all of a sudden, once you start throwing more and more and more out at them, you can just tell them, 'hey we're playing quarters coverage, or we're playing a post conference, or we're playing a skip technique'. We can do a lot of different fun things if you keep it simple enough and teach the technique, teach leverage and where your help is. Those guys can play fast, and you can see it today that it's starting to click for them. When they play fast, it's a whole different defense. When they're thinking, it makes the game a little bit more difficult. The good thing is, we don't play this week thank God. But we got plenty of time, and it's a progression. We got a plan, from an offseason plan, to a summer plan, preseason plan. We got a plan in place to get these guys ready to rock and roll in September we got to really roll the ball out and play.

(On when he started to become a 'teacher of the game', or if he's always had a natural football IQ)

I know for me as a player, if I understood something, I could play really fast. The way I try to break it down is - and I remember. I've kind of parted some defenses where we've ended up throwing a lot of stuff in there. It almost became to a point where I was overwhelming myself. So in my mind, I said 'how can I make this simple for me to understand, and make it simple for the kids to understand', because at the end of the day, everything you put on a board is great, but when you got a team that's going tempo, and you got to make checks and calls, and do things quickly, you've got to be able to slow the game down and simplify it. I've been able to put things in buckets, slow the game down, teach it. At the end of the day, for a defensive back, it's formation recognition. They can be in a two by two, three by one or formation to the boundary - we call it FSL - that's about it. Whether you motion to it, or whether you you shift to it, whatever it is, it's a numbers game. Understanding what your job is on any given set, and how splits dictate what the parameters are that you can play with, I just think teaching the guys the game is the best way to do it. For me, the way I've always said it is, if something ever happened to me - this has happened to me in my past with with some family issues or what not But if something ever happened to me, and I had to go out to take off tomorrow, you guys should be able to coach each other up. You guys should know the game, and understand, and think about it the way I do, so that we don't miss a beat. That's what it is. At the end of the day, I'm gonna be in the box, I'm gonna be on the sidelines. That's what I tell them. I'm not on the field with you. I do it on practice, but as this thing goes, I'm gonna eliminate myself from it and say: 'your game, play it'. They got to use each other, and so they need to be able to think about the game the way I do, and be able to simplify it enough to get us lined up and get ready to rock and roll and go play.

(On what the conversation was with Bryan Brown and Scott Satterfield, and if it took a lot of convincing to bring him aboard)

No, not at all, It's just amazing how this works. It was a Wednesday in the office, and I had no idea any this was going on. I got a call in the afternoon from Coach Brown and Coach Satt called me that night and offered me the position. I've always, always, always said, and I told him this, I said 'because I'm probably going to do it, I just always told my wife that we're going to talk about everything that comes through first before I ever say yes to anything'. So we talked about it and knew that it was the right fit for us. I'll tell you this, West Point is a special place. The people you work with, what they're gonna do, we were very blessed to be a part of that, even if it was for a short period, Created some amazing relationships with my family, my guys, the coaching staff. That part's always difficult, but coming here and being with - you know you're with good people, there's no question marks. I've been with Coach B when he was a position coach - a coordinator. I was with Coach Satterfield, and I always tell people the story. I was with him in 2013 and 14, the last year in SoCon and first year in the Sun Belt his first two years. We started that second year off 1-5, and the thing that impressed me the most, was he did not flinch. He knew who he was. He knew who he was as a person, as a coach. He didn't start threatening people, he didn't change it. He was as steady as you can be. He's a great human being. There's not a person more in the world that I want to coach for me with. I am so blessed to be here and be a part of this, and we're ready to get started and rock and roll, and go roll the ball out this fall. It's gonna be fun.

(On his impression of the guys on the safeties room during the spring)

I just think we have a lot of versatility. We have so much youth in that room, so you just kind of - at the end of the day, it's about putting the right people in the right places. That's what I've always believed. You could have the best defense in the world, but if you put Vince Wilfork at safety and Ed Reed at nose guard, probably not going to be very good. It could be the best defense personnel-wise in the world, but if they're not in the right spots, then you're not nearly as good as you can be. That's the first thing, is making sure from a skill set, and what they can handle, we put them in the right position. That was my challenge as we've gone through this, to maneuver people and put them in position, see where they can be successful. But they got smart guys. Kendrick Duncan is the guy that came over from Georgia Southern, obviously ran a very similar system with Coach Sloan and those guys down there. Coach Sloan was at App State with us, so from a call standpoint, he understands the base structure of the defensive calls. Lovie Jenkins is a smart player. He understands football. The more reps he gets, the better he gets, the more confidence he gets, the better he's gotten this spring. There's a lot we still need to work on, but he's taken that first step. Then the young guys, it's just about getting lined up. If they don't know what calls to make to me, the first thing you got to do as the safety, you got to set the defense. What you call, it affects everybody. Whether you bump 'backers in a run fit, who you tell, what calls you make tells who has the vertical routes, and that's a big deal. They've got to understand the playbook, and I've got to do a good job slowing it down as much as I can, but making them understand the game enough to go out there and play. It's been fun, it's been challenging, and sometimes I got to remind myself and them that, like we said earlier, we're not playing this weekend. So we got to make sure each day, we got to take something off the tape. Whatever that is, something that we can't make the same mistake. It can't be everything, but let's pick one thing for that day, and let's put it to bed. Let's get better and let's move on.

(On newcomers Ben Perry and Bralyn Oliver's willingness to get into getting the playbook and get in the film room)

Those guys, they come in extra on their own as much as they can. Ben's in there everyday trying to get extra work and watch extra film. Bralyn's in there a good bit too sitting with anybody he can just to try to learn this system, and it's paying off. When you watch the practice like today, they're getting their checks, they're making their - the hard things. The tight splits with the motions, they're seeing it before it happens, and that's the big thing I preach. You got to know what you're going to before those parts start moving, and it makes the game so much more simple. The more they understand it, the better they're going to be. Because it's hard. That first couple of days, you don't even know how good they are, or how bad they are, because their feet aren't going anywhere. Their heads going this way, the feet are staying still no matter what coverage you're in. But as we've gone on, they've been able to slow the game down and play fast. Now I can truly start to evaluate them to see where they're going to fit best, what role they're going to have, and how much they're going to be able to help us. But you can't do that until they know what they're doing, they're starting to get there.

(On what his recruiting philosophy is)

For me, recruiting is all about relationship. Anything in life is about relationships, period. No matter what you're going to do, you got to develop the best relationship. You've got to develop trust. I look at it like this: I've got a five year old Dominic, a two and a half year old Christian, and a 10 week old baby girl Mila. At some point, I'm going to pass them off to somebody. Whether that's just academically, whether that's athletically, whatever it is, and I want to know that the people that I send them with are going to take care of them. Not baby them, but they're going to instill the values and continue on what I've started. That's what it is for me, and you can't do that until you know somebody. I try to get to know guys as well as I can. Get in touch with them, their parents, but it's a relationship based deal. To me, that's what it will always be. That's what it's always about. When you got a lot of good schools, a lot of good programs, they've offered you a scholarship, where you're going to end up going, why you're going to go where you go, and we have what we have, we don't have what we don't have. I've been at Division II, Division III. I've coached high school ball, I've coached FCS, I've coached Group of Five, independent, it don't matter. At the end of the day, good people are good people, and bad people are bad people. It doesn't matter where you are, where you live, what you do, I'm gonna find good people. I'm gonna bring them into the room. I'm gonna develop them to go do what they want to do with their careers. They're gonna be great people, and they're gonna be a part of my family. We're gonna have them over at the house where my kids are coming in just about every practice, they all go over and say hi to them, so that's a huge deal to me -those relationships. From an area standpoint, I've got a little piece of Kentucky, I've got Western PA, Pittsburgh, I've got Central PA kind of where I'm from, State College Area over in Harrisburg, I've got the Midlands in the low country in South Carolina, some areas I'm familiar with and where I'm from. I've got Augusta to Savannah, that area in Georgia. I think that's about it from an area standpoint, but this this staff does a great job and we recruit as a group. It's not just this guy or this guy, it's area, position it's trying to create more than just one relationship. I actually got a I got a Zoom meeting with a kid as soon as we get off.

Outside Linebacker Nick Okeke

(On what spring ball has been like, and how it feels to be almost finished with it)

It went by fast, definitely. It's been fun getting out there with my teammates, just getting back and getting the pads back on. It's been a good feeling. But it definitely has been going by fast.

(On where the defense has taken a step forward)

Ownership, accountability, everybody doing their job. Just being fundamentally sound in what you have to do, and making your plays. I feel like that's one thing we got way better at. Energy, enthusiasm, wanting to be a great defense, wanting to make all the plays and wanting to be out there. Wanting to be a part of something. That's what we got pretty good at.

(On how much him and Yasir Abdullah have helped each other out this spring)

Me and Yasir work out together, we train together, we study film together. That's my dog right there. Anything I'm doing, he's doing. Anything he's doing, I'm doing. We push each other too, it's always a competition. We do everything together, we've been pushing each other this whole spring.

(On how his game has grown)

It's definitely grown, Mentally, I know my position so well. I feel like I can play different spots on defense, like play inside linebacker, play to the field or play 'Dog'. I feel I can play any position they need me to.

(On if they have performed better generating negative plays)

We're performing pretty well at that. It's all about really flying to the ball, running to the ball, and being around the ball as playmakers. You run to the ball, good things are gonna happen. We emphasize running to the ball, and I feel like we've generated more turnovers like picks and forced fumbles. Shoot, we had a couple picks today. Just running to the ball, that's really what's been the difference maker in us getting turnovers.

(On his offseason plan to generate more muscle)

That definitely was an effort for me. I wanted to get bigger, stronger, I want to look the part. Be more NFL next level ready. Just worked on my body, my conditioning, my push ups and sit ups. That was pretty much all I've been working on. To get stronger this offseason, and mentally growing my game just knowing the defense.

(On their confidence level coming off of last season)

I see it, and I feel it. It's like coach said, act as if. You want to be that dude, that act like you're that dude. I feel it, I feel it with everybody. From the ones to fours, we got to feel that, we got to actually be that, it's not a thing we can just talk about. You got to act as if you are that dude, or we are that defense.

(On how they relay that message to the younger guys without being cocky but maintaining confidence)

I just relay to younger guys, I tell them, you know that feeling when you were in high school, and you were getting recruited. You were that guy at your school. You got to be cocky, you got to play with that confidence. That confidence where you feel like I can't be beat, the I can't be beat mentality. You don't want to lose at nothing. Coach tells us we don't want to lose in anything, whether it's this rep, the next rep, I'm gonna come back and beat you to the next rep. It's not gonna be a thing where we lose and we stay down. You got to get back up.

(On who has improved the most during the spring)

The competition, first off, is definitely high energy, serious high level competition. We got some guys that are ready to take the next step of going to the NFL, so it's a lot of high level ball being played, high level mental battles, physical as well. Guys who have stepped up and are shining out there, I see Monty Montgomery and CJ Avery. Montgomery, he's been doing a phenomenal job as far as anything and everything. He's been over the top as far as what we expect out of him, so he's been doing a real good job.

(On the growth he's seen from the young guys)

They're growing and they're growing tremendously. Mentally wise, they're always in their playbook knowing their role. Plays are being made by some of these young guys, and you can tell. If you just get in that playbook, and you know what you're doing, then you have that 'act as if' mentality. You can act like, 'okay, I'm gonna make this play'. These young guys are very impressive.

(On any others that are standing out)

Marvin Dallas, he had a really good day today. Kam Wilson, as far as I saw, he has made tremendous leaps as far as like mentally-wise getting into the playbook. Zay Peterson as well, he's been making some really nice plays. As far as the whole defense, I've seen the corners make some nice plays, today they had some interceptions. Ashton Gilotte, very good young D-lineman. I feel like he's gonna be a real good player. There's a lot of young guys making some plays. Greedy Vance is making some plays, making a lot of noise today. A lot of young guys are making a lot of good plays, and it's nice to see.

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