JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (Nov. 21, 2016) – ETSU football wrapped up its 2016 season by holding its end of the year press luncheon on Monday inside the Ward Room from the MSHA Athletic Center.
Head coach Carl Torbush, junior defensive back Daren Ardis (Bradenton, Fla.) and sophomore quarterback Austin Herink (Cleveland, Tenn.) met the media to recap Saturday’s 15-14 win over #18 Samford and give their final thoughts on the 2016 campaign.
Below are comments from Coach Torbush, Ardis and Herink.
HEAD COACH CARL TORBUSH
ON ENDING THE SEASON WITH A WIN
I've been coaching for a long time, and the feeling at the end of the season is a lot better heading into the off-season with a win than a loss. I always preach the importance of winning your final game, so we can take the positive momentum into the off-season, spring practice, recruiting and get ready for next year.
Samford is a really well coached team and they have a lot of talent on their team. I am really glad they got into the playoffs, because they have had a great season.
Last year we finished 2-9 and this year we went 5-6, so we've obviously doubled the win productivity, and everybody will be expecting more wins next year and so do we. The main thing we want to do is make sure that we can compete week in and week out. I think we'll be able to do that. Our guys have learned on the run. We've developed leadership on the run. We've developed depth on the run. We've developed physical size and maturity on the run. We've had to do a lot of things moving forward.
I know it's been tough developing that foundation, but because of the foundation we've built, now we have a bunch of guys coming back year in, year out. That's one of the most exciting things about this football team and where we're headed as a football program.
When you look at our season, we started out with a great win against Kennesaw State and then followed that up with a win over Western Carolina at Bristol Motor Speedway to open conference play. Then we hit a few bumps in conference play, but those games helped us mature and get better as the year went on. Then to finish up the season beating No. 18 Samford – who came in playing for everything – was a big win for us. To see us get to where we are, especially after that spurt in the middle of the season where we lost to some really good football teams by some large margins, and see our team fight back says a lot about our character.
In my opinion, we played our best overall and consistent football the last three games of season. That's what you want to do. Now we return 18 of our 21 starters, and most of those are going to be back for at least two years, so that's really encouraging for our program.
ON THE OVERALL GROWTH OF THE PROGRAM
I think the win over Samford shows how far this program's come in a year. I think it comes with a year of growth and maturity, because it’s a lot different being 17 years old to 19 and 19 to 21. Obviously, we spotted in a couple of guys at key positions that we felt would need some more maturity and experience. Therefore, we had guys like Paul Hunter and Ryan Powers come in and help us get better at certain positions that we needed to get better quickly to give our whole football team a chance to win.
When we are building this house, the first thing we have to do is build the foundation. I feel like even though it crumbled a little bit early last year, it's now starting to harden and it’s getting better. I'm not sure that anybody can throw much more to these young men that's already been thrown at them, which gives them a chance to deal with adversity week in and week out. These guys didn’t have juniors and seniors to tell them how to act when getting beat by 45 points. These guys had to deal with all the difficult moments through each other. Because of that, as they get older, they will be able to teach and show our newcomers the reasons we do things a certain way.
I give a lot of credit to Al Johnson, our strength coach. Our players love him. He's tough on them. He works them, but they believe in what he's doing. I think that's one of the reasons that we've gotten as good as we have, as quick as we have.
I'm so proud of our players for what they've done and what they have gone through this year, because all of it wasn't perfect. All of it wasn't pretty. We had some ups and downs. Had some frustrations and some turmoil, but all said and done, the strength that was developed by this football team is second-to-none, and there's no doubt, because that, we have some great leaders on this football team. I think they stepped forward and because of that this team will continue to improve.
ON THE STADIUM BEING BUILT
As good as the stadium looks from the road or from the practice field, once you get inside the construction site, you really appreciate and respect it a lot more. It's an exciting feeling for our players to know that’s where they will be playing their football games next season. That first game will be another historical event. Just like playing at Bristol Motor Speedway or our first SoCon game in 13 years. It will be an exciting day for our program, university and community.
ON OUR FUTURE OPPONENTS
Scott Carter has done a wonderful job with our schedule. Having the chance to play at Tennessee, Georgia, Vanderbilt and Appalachian State, along with the SoCon schedule, speaks for itself. There are a lot of good things going on right now with our program.
ON THE SOCON GETTING FOUR TEAMS IN THE FCS PLAYOFFS
It’s great to see four teams from the SoCon get into the playoffs because that has never been done before. I have said it time and time again. To me the SoCon is to FCS football, as the SEC is to FBS football.
I think all four teams have a chance to be very, very successful. I'm going to be a SoCon fan, and our players will, too. We need the league to be successful, because the better they play, the better it makes us look as well.
ON JJ JERMAN’S GAME-WINNING FIELD GOAL
JJ is a very mature person. He believes in himself and he believes in his teammates. I said it before, if it's inside that 40-yard line, I feel pretty comfortable he's got a chance to make it more times than not. Our overall unit was solid from the snapper (Adam Mullins) – who's done a really good job of snapping all year – to Nick Sexton being the holder. That'll tighten you up, too. When you have to snap the ball with two seconds to go and make sure it's a good snap, so they don't have a chance to block the kick. Then Nick did a great job with the hold so JJ could make the kick.
From snap to hold to kick, it all has to be there. Our offensive line and everybody on the extra-point team did their best job. Last week we had a few blocked. Coach Losey did a great job of getting those guys tightened up on what they needed to do.
ON NOT HAVING MANY FUMBLES THIS SEASON
I'd like to we had a magic potion for that, but we don't. I think our players are very aware that turnovers will get you beat. We didn't turn the ball over very much all year long, and that's one reason we were able to win five games.
SOPHOMORE QUARTERBACK AUSTIN HERINK
ON THE WIN OVER SAMFORD AND HEADING INTO THE OFF-SEASON WITH SOME MOMENTUM
I think it's great. This is the second year in a row we've been able to win our final game, and it does provide a spark for the off-season program and spring practice. I think it gives us a lot of confidence, because we beat a really good team and program. We still need to put in the hard work and get better as a team, but this will give us a lot of confidence. We will take that into the off-season and continue to build our program.
ON THAT LAST DRIVE, HOW MUCH DID THE LAST DRIVE AT MERCER HELP IN THAT SITUATION?
It took me all the way back to last year when we played Emory and Henry. We got the ball in a similar situation and didn't move anywhere. After that game, I thought the next time we get in that situation; we'll be better for that. We did that a few times this year. We had crucial drives at Kennesaw and Western Carolina. We moved down the field late in the game at Mercer, and I thought we were going to get another win there, but it didn't turn out that way. However, all those experiences really paid off on Saturday night, because we have been put in those situations before. We are now battle-tested in terms of late-game situations and that helps. I think that's starting to show the experience that we're building.
ON ENDING THE SEASON 5-6 THAN 4-7
None of us came here to be a 5-6 team, so while we made great strides this year, we still have a long way to go. I think we will deal with that the way we've dealt with everything else – take it under the chin and keep pushing forward. Like coach said, we've dealt with a lot of adversity. We haven't had many seniors until these four guys this season. We had to build this thing on the run and I think we've done a good job of that. We will continue using our experience that we have gained and continue to use that to get better as a program.
ON KNOWING THE NEXT GAME TO BE PLAYED WILL BE INSIDE THE NEW STADIUM
It's really cool to know that our next game will be played in our new stadium. I think we've all been anticipating this, and to see how much progress they've made is already exciting. The stadium will help us as a program. To see it going up and coming together is exciting.
JUNIOR DEFENSIVE BACK DAREN ARDIS
ON ENDING THE SEASON WITH A WIN OVER SAMFORD
It feels great ending the season with a win. Samford is a really good football team. Our goal was to go out and play to our highest potential. We did just that. To go into the off-season with a win is going to make us better as we start preparing for next season.
ON THE DEFENSIVE EFFORT ON SATURDAY AND GETTING THE WIN FOR THE SENIORS
We knew Samford had the top receivers in the SoCon, so as secondary, we wanted to show that we could shut these guys down and be one of the top groups in the country. As far as playing for the seniors, that was their last time playing at ETSU, so we wanted to get those guys a win for their last game as Buccaneers.
PLAYING AGAINST YOUR FORMER HIGH SCHOOL TEAMMATE KELVIN MCKNIGHT
Kelvin and I played together at Manatee High School. We won a state championship and had a lot of good times there. On Saturday, we spoke on the field just going back and forth, jawing at each other. It was fun going against him. I'll definitely have some bragging rights going back home.
ON OVERCOMING ADVERSITY THROUGHOUT THE SEASON
We took a couple hard losses this year and last year, so there's nothing more that could really hurt us as a team. We have been through a lot of difficult times, but that has made us better and more prepared as a football program.
ON GETTING HURT AT VMI BUT BEING ABLE TO COME BACK AND FINISH THE SEASON STRONG
I pulled my quad at VMI, and since that injury, I immediately started rehabbing it so I could get back on the field and help my team. It meant a lot to know that I could help the team get these wins. It was hard sitting on the sideline. I wanted to be out there so bad, but I couldn’t because I was hurt. It felt great to get healthy and get back on the field to help contribute to these wins.
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