July 20, 2008

C-USA Notes: O'Leary not backing down

MORE C-USA MEDIA DAY: Fedora already having a ball at Southern Miss

MEMPHIS, Tenn. On Sunday, UCF coach George O'Leary maintained his vow not to speak to the Orlando Sentinel and wouldn't talk to any media at Conference USA's media day if a Sentinel reporter was present. O'Leary is upset with the newspaper's coverage of the offseason death of wide receiver Ereck Plancher.

"I just don't think it's right," he says.

O'Leary says he had a 90-minute meeting with Sentinel personnel shortly after Plancher's death. In the meeting, which also included UCF support and medical staffers, O'Leary says he answered all of the paper's questions but that none of the dialogue from the meeting has been reported.

A point of contention for O'Leary is that the paper quoted four players who wished to remain anonymous as saying the team was going through rigorous "mat drills" during Plancher's death and that coaches were on Plancher for not putting forth enough effort. O'Leary maintains his players were doing agility drills.

An autopsy showed Plancher, 19, was afflicted with sickle-cell trait, which can be exacerbated by intense physical workouts. O'Leary says there are other players on the UCF team who play with the affliction.

The bottom line: O'Leary isn't budging on his silence unless the paper apologizes for what he feels is unfair treatment and coverage. The Sentinel is the only daily newspaper with a full-time UCF beat writer.

The Unknown Quarterback

Never heard of UTEP QB Trevor Vittatoe? Shame on you. He's one of the best quarterbacks you've never heard of.

He ranked second nationally among freshman I-A quarterbacks in passing yards last season, with 3,101. Only Oklahoma's Sam Bradford (3,121) had more. And expect him to post similar, if not better numbers, this fall. It's a far cry from his days at Trinity High in Bedford, Texas.

"We had a 3,000-yard running back and a 1,200-yad fullback," Vittatoe said. "We threw about six passes a game."

But warmups were different.

"We threw all types of routes, all over the field," he says. "I didn't know why we didn't do it during the game."

While warming up for the Texas state high school championship game, Vittatoe caught the eye of UTEP offensive coordinator Eric Price, coach Mike Price's son who now is an assistant with the Kansas City Chiefs. It was enough to get him a scholarship offer.

"I visited there and (Division I-AA) Texas State," Vittatoe said. "I committed to Texas State, then visited UTEP and loved it and committed there."

C-USA Preseason Coaches Poll
1. Tulsa
2. Houston
4. Rice
5. SMU
6. Tulane
Offensive player of the year:
RB Damion Fletcher, Southern Miss
Defensive player of the year:
LB Gerald McRath, Southern Miss
Special teams player of the year:
PR Joe Burnett, UCF

No Hitting Allowed

Catching up with Tulsa coach Todd Graham and Marshall coach Mark Snyder in the lobby, each couldn't stress enough that his team wasn't going to have much contact in two-a-days.

"I am backing way off," Snyder said. "We had a bunch of injuries last year and can't afford to take any chances."

Marshall squad has a chance to enjoy a rebirth. Graham's Tulsa team? It is one of the favorites to win C-USA.

"People think we will struggle because we have a new quarterback," Graham said. "But I'm telling you, we'll be OK. And I think our receivers need to get more attention. I think Brennan Marion will be an NFL player. He can flat-out fly."

And keep an eye on sophomore FB Charles Clay, a big-timer who will be used all over the field.

Back on the Radar

June Jones has had a big impact at SMU in many ways, including the practice field.

"We didn't hit much in the spring," tailback DeMyron Martin said. "Coach Jones spent a lot of time just instructing us. I learned more than I had in almost any time in my career. And we finally have a coach with some celebrity and popularity. It has been great."

After taking Hawaii to a BCS bowl last season, Jones is trying to take the Mustangs to any bowl. It hasn't happened since 1984, a 27-20 Aloha Bowl victory over Notre Dame.

"This is good," Jones says. "I have been pleased. When I first got here and watched film, I was worried about our defensive line. But after seeing them in the spring, I think we'll be OK there.

"How is (QB) Justin Willis (who sat out spring drills because of discipline issues but since has been reinstated)? He's doing good. He's OK. We'll see how things go in camp."

MORE C-USA MEDIA DAY: Fedora already having a ball at Southern Miss

Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com.


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