Following is a partial transcript of Bates Assistant Sports Information Director Aaron Morse's interview with first-year Bates head football coach Malik Hall, recorded for this week's "Bates Bobcast" podcast.
Q: Tell us about the secondary? To start on the defensive side of the ball, you've got the likes of Joe Frake back there, Devin Clyburn, Jon Lindgren, Coy Candelario; these guys all have a ton of experience, don't they?
Coach Hall: Yeah, I think that's one of the blessings about our defense right now. Our secondary is very experienced. The chemistry those guys play with has been a pleasant surprise. One of the glaring things that happens in a game that's so glaring is the deep ball, and everyone knows who got scored on. That is just the way, the life of a DB. They have embraced it on a level that I have been very pleased with, understanding our coverage concepts. And because those guys have game experience, stuff we can work with, they've come to it much faster and inundated themselves with the coverages and the checks and supports faster than what we would've imagined. I credit that to the experience of being on the game field and playing together for two years.
Frake is our emotional leader, no question. Our biggest challenge between Frake and myself is the defense to keep us emotionally aligned of the goal. Because I think myself, I see him get all emotional, I don't want to get emotional, and it's a good thing until it's not. The next piece is Devin, with his size and being able to just cover up the vertical ball by being 6-2½. Knowing that he will still have challenges, but you can't teach 6-2. Coy [Candelario], who's been as savvy as they come, very athletic, very dynamic, again a ton of game experience, he's a senior. And then Lindgren, who's a dual-sport athlete, baseball player, he has a unique way of tracking the ball when it's in the air and that's carried over from baseball. So I'm extremely pleased with this secondary, they understand there's a ton of pressure on them. Joe, who's the emotional leader and vocal leader, he's embracing being that piece in that puzzle and everyone else embraces it along with him. It's just a pleasure to coach those guys right now and certainly a blessing that they've been able to come along fast.
Q: It is a 3-4 defense this year, which is a little different than in years past. Who are some guys who stood out in the linebacking corps?
Coach Hall: You know, excuse the nicknames but [David] Campbell, aka Soup, he's had a great camp this year. We've done some things in the rush game where he can become a defensive end on the fly, we've gotten a lot of looks at our freshman Magic Mike, Mike Bulman, he's come on fast. [Liam Greene], who's the upperclassman, who's also I think a sophomore is playing extremely well. Inside linebacker Chase Fulton has done a great job along with [Peter] Daley. It's very difficult because they are the quarterback for our front seven, and in some scenarios they have to quarterback the entire defense. Whether it's getting us in or out of an audible, making sure the secondary is on their page, as well as the D-line, it's going to be linebacker by committee because we want to be able to play extremely hard. That gap we want to be able to cover with effort, attitude which I think is the cornerstone of our program as well.
Q: Senior-laden defensive line. You've got Walter Washington, Tyler Harrington, you've got [Connor] DeSantis, who is 340 pounds at the nose, that's got to be great for you to see that experience out front.
Coach Hall: Oh no question. DeSantis, a.k.a. the Goose, he's a big man, he plays as strong as he is big. W2, Walter Washington, he is tax season, he's collecting every day. For him to lead as he leads, you talk about leading by example. He's the class president, on his Instagram he's singing a capella like every other post. I think that's his leadership on and off the field, you know, even speaking at the convocation after [President Clayton Spencer]. When you see a football player doing the array of things that he's doing, that's leadership by example. And Harrington, who's one of if not our best player on the team, senior, track star, we are led by our defensive front. Everyone says "it starts out front, it starts up front." It truly starts at the front for us, because they're that dynamic and they have the most depth with Shane Collins, [Ramon] Ruiz, Calvin Johnston, Chidubem Umeh, those guys as a corps, as seven to eight guys who we can roll through a game to take some of that pressure off of the immediate three. And again it's about emptying the tank, giving maximum effort. That effort, if you empty out the tank you should need someone to come get you. There's no way you should play 75, 80 snaps at maximum effort and not get tired. They've truly embraced the leadership role and they lead by example on and off the field.
Q: Let's move over to offense. That's the most dramatic change, probably, this year, breaking down a new type of offense, we've seen the option for a number of years here but now it's the air raid offense. For those who don't know, that basically means throw it all over the field, right?
Coach Hall: Throw it all over the field until you can't. Alright listen, our tight ends, when you think air raid you normally think "spread, spread," and we certainly are. But our tight ends have become the cornerstone of our offense, partly because of their versatility. You know, [Kyle] Flaherty who's trimmed down from a year ago, who's also a captain, he's playing the tight end H-back role, Matt Golden who as well has bulked up, who played a little quarterback, a little tailback, halfback last year, he's giving us some great versatility lining him up in space. And [Isaiah] Saunders, who's a long frame, who can push the coverage vertically, those guys have been awesome to watch. Watching them develop in this offense when a year ago I think maybe four or five passes were thrown their way. So it's been awesome to see that. Our receiver, Parker Smith, I think has come a long way. Again, when you're not throwing a ball but 12 to 15 times a game (as in previous season), I think there's a learning curve. I think the receivers are in that learning curve, knowing the depth (they need) to get to a route, knowing how to get in and out of their route is huge. I think that they've adopted a system. We've still got a lot of work to do, but we've been pleased with our freshmen, more specifically Jackson Hayes. He's just been awesome. You look at him and you kind of worry because he's not that big, but talk about a guy that knows how to feel coverage. Find an open space, knows how to get in and out of routes. He can push the coverage, knock the top off of it, and has some legitimate hands. The best part about him is because of his size he also knows how not to take a tough hit, which is important for him.
Q: As a coach there must be no better feeling than realizing that you have first-years ready to contribute right away.
Coach Hall: No coach would go in on the record and say "Hey, we need to play a lot of freshmen." And I think it's semi-disrespectful to all the guys who are still in the program, I think you've got to let the maturation process take place. You don't want to force the issue. We certainly believe that our upperclassmen will be the reason we get it done. If you can find a freshman that can come in and play, knowing they have not had a college experience, the college weight room, new living arrangements, new roommate, no mom and dad to govern them? There are a lot of variables that inevitably keep freshmen off the field, but Hayes has done an incredible job managing it all, and he's not the only freshman but he's just the one freshman who I think has really come on early and often.
Q: Speaking of the guys who came out early and often last year, Brendan Costa, your quarterback, Jaason Lopez, one of the running backs you have on the roster, they both contributed last year as first-years. Now they're sophomores, what do you see from those guys? I know you called Brendan a little Doug Flutie.
Coach Hall: Yeah man, Little Doug. And he's embraced it. Surprisingly, he knew who Doug Flutie was. And why wouldn't he, he's a short quarterback with an arm on him, and he can run and he's from New England. I would've probably been more down on him if he didn't know who Doug Flutie was, but he certainly did. He has been the bright spot of our offense, because he's learned a new offense, he's embraced the offense and [Offensive Coordinator Custavious] Patterson and the coaching. And not only that, he's corralled all of our offensive guys when it's not going well, you can hear him being vocal, "Come on guys let's turn the tempo up, let's go faster." To be the kind of kid he is off the field and to see how he's embraced our offense on the field, none of it comes as a surprise, though it certainly feels good knowing that you've got a guy that has your back like you have his back. I think that player-coach relationship at times doesn't get the credit it deserves. I think the quarterback never gets the credit he deserves. Him understanding that part and knowing that the weight falls on him, and being able to hand it, is a testament to how he's leading before criticism happens and before praise happens. So I'm proud of him in that regard.
The next piece, if you add Lopez into the fold, with his ability to run the ball, I think we're very dynamic. You add Liam (Spillane), who's a big back who played linebacker last year, (Zach) Doyon, who's also a big back, I think the three tailback situation can be very explosive, knowing we've had some young guys come along who can press the perimeter with speed, Caleb (Bolden) and Garrett Evans, they both have the ability to turn the corner. But because we have some upperclassmen at tailback, it'll be interesting to see if we can get them some live reps in a game. But we certainly have a good evaluation on those guys and know that they have the skill set we're looking for.
Q: Last but not least, the guys up front. The offensive line is often thought of as a unit. Is blocking for the air raid offense going to be different for them than in the option? How are they similar or different?
Coach Hall: The big cats up front, I think have worked extremely hard in making the transition from a veer triple-option offense to kick-sliding half the time. I think it's a very difficult transition, but Coach [Skip] Capone and Coach [Andrew] Berggren have been working hand in hand to kind of get the concepts down. It's a work in progress but it's been awesome. Yanni [Falaras], who's led the way as a senior, to Julien [Nicholas], who's a very athletic underclassman, to [Matt] Flanagan, who's come back to the team and is massively tall and big… none of those guys have done anything but work, work, work, and then, water break. They work through the water break sometimes. It's never going to come out like the way you draw it up on the board, because the board is not attacking you, the board doesn't have a scheme. When you put theory to test, that's when you find out how good you really are. And what a test to have this weekend (against Amherst)! I'm sure those guys are excited, anxious and nervous, and I think all of that is a good thing, and it keeps you prepared and ready.
Q: Special teams sometimes get overlooked, but you have a great punter in Justin Foley if you need him. That has to give you a lot of confidence, right?
Coach Hall: Foley is Iceman back there, man. You call a punt and he just booms it. Like, 'Alright guy, I got it. You're ready to go.' When you're talking about personality, he's not missing any of that, because he's been like the comedy relief in the locker room, I've been told. I always seem to catch the residual laughter after something he's done or said. Our offense also understands that punting is an offensive play, so it's OK to punt the ball. When you have a weapon as good as (this) punter, it's certainly OK to punt the ball. He's been steady Eddie, with the understanding that that's something we're not looking to do so much this season.
Q: So you've been holding some kicker tryouts?
Coach Hall: Yeah, that rumor got out fast! Listen, we have a kicker right now, Karim (Darwiche), he does a great job. He wants to transition his role into that receiver role. Which he's done great at in this offseason. As we get closer to live action, you kind of want to say, 'If you get an injury, we're a kicker short.' Because he plays wideout and he's developing as a wideout, I thought it would be critical that I talk to the soccer coach [Tyler Sheikh], to see if he had any guys he would recommend, and he was awesome about it. Two minutes after we talked, I got emails from three guys. All three of them came to try out, and if rules allow it, we'll take all three of them. Because I believe that everyone needs family and they need culture, and that's the two things we can create here, famliy and culture.
Q: Any more thoughts on your first game as a head coach, coming up this Saturday?
Coach Hall: I'm excited, man. It's a great day to be a Bobcat, you know? [Late former Bates head coach] Web Harrison coined that phrase, 'It's a great day to be a Bobcat,' because of all the opportunities you have in front of you. And we doubled down on that phrase with our 'Good is the enemy of great.' So I'm excited to see how guys handle 'good,' and I'm also excited to play in memory of Web Harrison. You're talking about a guy who died the day I was officially hired. And to be in front of alums that played for him the day after his death (at the annual Bates football golf outing). We want to dedicate the season in his honor and memory, and it's always going to be a great day to be a Bobcat, but even more than that, what a great year to be a Bobcat, knowing he's watching from above, and it's my hope that everything we do, he can smile on and say, 'Good.' With a little extra push from his family, supporters and explayers, how can you not get behind this season? So I'm extremely excited, can't wait to unveil what we'll look like: new unis, new offense, new defense, new head coach, new football.