K-State Holds Weekly Football Press Conference Prior to Trip to WVU – K-StateSports.com

MANHATTAN, Kan. – Kansas State assistant head coach Van Malone and select players met with members of the media via Zoom on Tuesday as the Wildcats prepare to travel to Morgantown, W.Va. to face West Virginia on Saturday. A complete transcript of Malone’s press conference – which was also streamed live on Big 12 Now on ESPN+ – and players are posted below. The Wildcats and Mountaineers kick at 11 a.m. (CT) on Saturday inside Milan Puskar Stadium.

VAN MALONE, ASSISTANT HEAD COACH
Opening Statement…
“It’s always good to win a rivalry game. That was great for our kids and our kids in the program and kids from Kansas. Our team played really hard, and like I said, it was a great win. One thing that Coach has stressed – and we have stressed as a staff – is the importance in understanding that every win is a great win. Every week, we need to prepare ourselves to be able to celebrate in the locker room. Pay the price on Sunday and Monday and throughout the week and continue to stack the days. I feel like offensively, defensively and on special teams we continue to get better week after week. In the Big 12, we’re going to have to keep doing that. We’re playing a lot of young guys defensively and offensively. As you put more young guys out on the field, they have a chance to make mistakes. But the great thing is that we’re not seeing as many mistakes as we had in week one. That’s refreshing as a staff, so we’re going to have to continue this progression. This week will be important because we’ll face a tough opponent at (their) home. Those guys have played extremely hard throughout the season. They’ve lost some close games. They’re playing some young guys as well. It will be a big challenge for us as we roll into this week.”
 
On the big plays made by the defense…
“Coaches always say you get what you emphasize. We’ve talked about attacking the ball in the air. We’ve talked about creating turnovers throughout the season, and that’s something that, since we’ve been here, it’s something as a staff that we’ve continued to stress and emphasize. So, it’s good to see when guys go get the football, but the ability to get it into the end zone is another step. It’s exciting to see defensive backs like AJ (Parker) and Justin (Gardner) and those guys have the opportunity to score with the football because that’s something on defense that we stress. It’s our position and our job to get the ball back to the offense and to put it in scoring position as best as we can. Not a lot of defensive guys have that ability, so we’re excited when we have the opportunity to put it in the end zone as defensive backs.” 
 
On the emphasis put on special teams…
“Each one of our coaches has an assignment on special teams, and everyone is involved. I think the players see that and recognize it. With special teams, you have one chance to be special. We have some units out there, specifically the punt return unit, and make big plays for our team. As we go through the season, seeing that these games are going to continue to be close, we feel like that’s our edge is us making plays on special teams to give our team an opportunity to win.”
 
On guys like Byron Pringle and Tyler Lockett taking care of business in the NFL…
“They all dream of one day playing in the NFL. If they can see that the path can lead from Kansas State to the NFL, I think that’s encouraging not only for recruits but for current players. It’s great to see guys that have sat in the same seats that you sit in who are performing and having success in the NFL. Our guys get into it and are proud, so I think it’s a great thing all around for our program.”
 
On the differences he’s seen from school to school in terms of special teams…
“I’ve been blessed to be on quite a few staffs that have put emphasis on special teams. But here at Kansas State, the fact that we’ve had so much success over the years on special teams, it’s a little bit different. Other staff recognizes the importance that special teams is a third of the game. Our players take great pride in it. They understand it. Our coaches, as well, understand the great responsibility and great history of special teams here at K-State. It kind of feeds off itself. Our coaches and players take a great deal of pride in being successful in special teams. As we’ve seen throughout this season, it’s a big part of the game and has allowed us to be successful so far.”
 
On Stanton Weber‘s work with special teams…
“Stanton does the behind-the-scenes work. He’s a former player who’s been on this team and a part of the success on special teams. We couldn’t do many of the things we do without Stanton’s work behind the scenes. He does a great job of digging out tips, helping us as coaches to find things to give to our players, coming up with a plan and critiquing opponents and scouting opponents. That’s been a big-time importance for us as we’ve gone throughout the season.” 
 
On the players from other areas being here since summer conditioning…
“Most of our team has been in the area. The ones who chose to stay in the area during the lockdown, they hung in here. We couldn’t meet with them or see them, but then there were others who did go home. We’re just happy to have them back and locked in for the rest of the season.”
 
On the coaches needing to help younger guys hang in there during this tough season…
“I think that question would be true for our entire team. This has been a different season. Week to week, and day to day even, there are challenges our players face in terms of the COVID testing continually and then the close contacts. There’s a certain sense that you’re always on edge because you just don’t know what tomorrow will bring. I think our players and our coaches and our support staff have done a great job of circling the wagons in that way. Dealing with issues that have surrounded with anxiety and being supportive of each other. We have a team that works hard on and off the field. We have a team that’s locked in on doing the things to prepare to be successful, so the time we were away, these guys were working. If I couldn’t lift Coach (Chris) Dawson’s weights, I had to lift milk cartons. If I couldn’t run on the football field, I had to go to the park. We did a good job, I think as a staff, of staying connected to them. They did a good job of remaining connected to each other. So, I don’t think we had as many issues as you would think, but there was and still is a level of anxiety that our players have to deal with. It’s been good to see them week to week lock into what’s going on on the football field. It’s been a next-man-up mentality. With all that’s going on, I’m proud of where our team has grown to be.”
 
On if it has been tougher for kids who have had to quarantine whose families are further away…
“There have been a couple of guys who have had to follow down that path. There’s a high level of anxiety and even depression when you have to isolate yourself from your teammates. I think our support staff have done a great job of staying connected to those players however we can in terms of Zoom and in terms of getting on the phone checking on guys just to make sure they’re ok. Our guys have withstood quite a bit in that way, and I’m talking to the players who have had to isolate for whatever reason. Guys here in Manhattan who didn’t grow up in Kansas who grew up in Georgia and Texas and other different places around the country, I think we’ve done a great job as a team of embracing those players and supporting them throughout whatever difficulties they’ve had to go through.”
 
On his responsibilities with a different title this year…
“I’ve had the opportunity to be and coach at a lot of different places. As an assistant coach, you don’t get to see many of the things a head coach has to deal with. I think the head coach does that on purpose so you can focus on the details and details of your job, your specific group. I’ve had the opportunity to see some of the things Coach Klieman deals with on a day-to-day basis as a head coach. That’s why I keep my hair cut short so that you don’t see the gray hairs as they grow. It’s been a lot of fun because having the opportunity to meet with players, having the opportunity to help him coordinate and plan for the things that are the big picture things for our team. That has been a great learning process for me. I thank him all the time for giving me this opportunity because it has been a great learning process. I say it all the time – I think our coaches say it, and our players say it: It’s my job to make Coach Klieman the best coach in the country. I think the rest of the staff feels the same way. I would say the same thing about Joe Klanderman. It’s my job to help him be the best defensive coordinator he can be. Our players, as they have great care and concern for all our coaches, but especially Coach Klieman specifically, they say the same thing. They do what they do so that everyone will know that we have the best coach in the country.”
 
On if Van Malone would like to be a head coach someday…
“Of course, and he will.”
 
On the interception-return touchdown by Justin Gardner
“I normally can predict the future. It was a play where we had Justin off in zone coverage. We stress in zone coverage that you have the ability to see a lot of things, which you don’t when we’re playing man to man. Justin was off in zone coverage and was able to see the play develop. When you’re in that position and get to see the play develop, it’s important that, as a defensive back especially, you take advantage of the opportunity to make a play. He saw it develop. He saw the running back start to ease out of the backfield to set up a screen play. At that point, he understands that there’s an offensive lineman coming out to block him to ensure the back escapes freely, so he knew he had to beat the block of that offensive lineman. From there, it’s about catching the ball and taking the 15 steps he had to take to get to the end zone. It’s a measure of Justin’s improvement in the defense, understanding the play and taking a good look at his keys, and then attacking the opportunity to intercept the ball.”  
 
On the progression of Justin Gardner and Ekow Boye-Doe
“I always say they work extremely hard. They’ve worked themselves into this position. As their coach, I’m excited. I’m not only excited for them. Yes, they play probably the most, but there’s other guys in that room – from Tee Denson to Cam Key to Kiondre Thomas – those guys work just as hard. Those guys, in my opinion, are coming together as a group. Ekow and Justin happen to be the guys out on the field and happen to really be doing a good job of making plays. I’m excited about the fact that when we put others in the game, the drop off of play is very minimal. I’m excited for that, for now and for into the future.”
 
On West Virginia starting quarterback Jarret Doege against K-State last year…
“Him coming into the game last year was a difference. The thing that’s really impressive about him is he’s a competitive kid as you watch him. Into this season, he’s definitely improved and that is the thing that makes them go. He has a pretty good arm. He’s active with his feet and doesn’t get sacked much. He’ll be a challenge for us, but speaking to last year, it did throw us a little bit. At this point, from what we’ve seen so far, he’ll be an extreme challenge for us.”
 
On what stands out about West Virginia’s offense…
“They have really good offensive linemen. They play together well as a group. The running backs, both guys that play a lot right now, are powerful and strong runners. They have good speed. You’ve seen them have a few breakaway runs. We’ll have to do a good job of wrapping up and tackling those guys well. The receiving corps will probably be amongst the best we’ll play, but you say that week after week in the Big 12. They have guys who are explosive. They use them in different places on the field, but when they get the ball in their hands, you have to do a good job of defending the perimeter well as well as vertically defending them because they have the ability to stretch the field. From the skill position standpoint, it will be a challenge for us. Defensively, those are the things we’ll continue to harp on to our players as we go throughout the week.”
 
On Justin Gardner’s recruitment…
“To do the things we want to do defensively, you need to have good corners. You have to have guys with the ability to play man to man, and honestly that starts with length and speed. Those are the things that immediately drew us to Justin is the fact that he’s a taller corner and the fact that he has pretty good athletic ability and can run. Those are the things that you see just in the numbers, but then when you have the opportunity to be around him and see what makes him tick, understand how hard he works to be the best player he can be, you’re even more intrigued. He doesn’t talk a lot. In recruiting when you deal with players who will tell you that they’re the best thing since sliced bread, sometimes that can be a turnoff but sometimes it can be intriguing and inviting for a coach even. That’s not who he is or who he’s been. He’s a kid who goes to work every day, who plays hard and is a good teammate. Those are the things we really needed in that room. I’m excited to have him here. I’m looking forward to watching him continue to progress in this defense and progress as a player.”
 
On the 50-yard, game-winning touchdown by West Virginia last year…
“You have to let the past be the past. That’s what my players would tell me. As we look back to make sure we don’t commit the same errors or make the same mistakes, I think we have a much more mature football team and a much more mature secondary. That was part of the learning process. You would hope that you don’t learn things and lose a game in the process, but when you move a year ahead later, you’re excited to have the opportunity to learn from certain things on the field. No, it won’t be on loop. Besides, we have a lot of other mistakes we need to get corrected, but I think that play was definitely one that we’ve learned from.”
 
On if AJ Parker will be available this weekend…
“He is continuing to progress. We got good news the other day, so we are with the medical staff just continuing to keep him going through the process. It kills him to miss a rep. We look for us to continue to get good news. He’s progressing and getting better day after day, so we’ll just see on Saturday.”
 
NOAH JOHNSON, SENIOR OFFENSIVE LINEMAN
On the difference between the o-line’s play in the first and second half against Kansas…
“We played a lot better in the second half. We stopped hurting ourselves, and I think that was the tone of the entire offense in general in the first half. We had penalties, were missing assignments and then we were still up going into halftime. Then at halftime, Coach (Conor) Riley just challenged us to keep finishing and just play our game and to play to the level that we are capable of playing at. In the second half, that is what we did. We went out there and started coming off the ball and sustaining blocks and opening it up for the offense. It was nice to see.”
 
On what it is like to play for Conor Riley
“It’s fun. It’s a different experience from my past coaches. He is a super emotional guy. He loves us. He gets fired up at times, but that is what you need in a football coach, and an offensive line coach. You need a guy who’s got passion and who cares. He does a great job of making sure we are prepared every week, for not only what the defensive personnel are going against but also really teaching us the schemes they’re running so we know what keys to look for in pressures and different fronts. It’s awesome to play for him, and he makes all of us a lot better.”
 
On settling into being a captain…
“Yeah, and it’s still something where I have to keep playing better. I have not yet played to the level that I want to play at. Last year not playing, it was frustrating but also it was kind of a blessing in disguise because I got to learn behind Adam Holtorf and really get more comfortable playing center and learning our offense. It’s still a thing where every game I’m feeling more comfortable just in game scenarios, and I’m just going to keep working and getting better.”
 
On the leadership ability of quarterback Will Howard
“Will does just as good a job as anyone. Obviously losing Skylar (Thompson) you lose so much. Skylar brought so much to our program, and he’s just an excellent teammate and an excellent leader. But, Will is doing a great job. I’ve said it before, but there has never been any moment where I felt that he was not too big for the moment he was in. He’s always been very poised, he’s always very vocal, and he does a great job of keeping everyone calm and keeping everyone focused on one play at a time. It’s just really impressive to see because I could not have done that when I was a true freshman at 18 years old; I don’t think there are a ton of people who could. Will is a great player and he’s only going to keep getting better. It’s awesome to see.”
 
On the growth in friendship he has found in playing with Will Howard
“Even from the moment Will got here I think everyone noticed how talented he was, how hard working he is and he’s a good dude. Once Skylar (Thompson) went down and Will stepped into the role, we really started spending more time with him as a whole offensive line just getting along with him and hanging out. He’s fun to play with. He’s always looking out for us and talking to us, telling us good job and stuff like that, and it’s nice to hear. Like I said, it’s still a thing where he’s going to keep getting better the more we play together. We are just going to keep growing together and keep working at it.”
 
On if Will Howard has mentioned this game meaning more to him since he’s playing closer to home…
“No, he hasn’t mentioned anything like that. I hadn’t really thought about that. It’ll be nice because I know his family has been coming to all of his games, and it will be nice to have some more people come and see him play. But, I know at the same time that Will is not going to change his preparation or his outlook on trying to show people his game. He’s playing for his teammates. He’s playing for our program, and that is what’s most important.”
 
On a specific moment when Will Howard showed his command…
“I’d say throughout fall camp, he made a ton of throws and he just made a lot of plays. So, we all knew how talented he was. Then, when he got into that Texas Tech game like I said, everything was smooth. There were no noticeable nerves, nothing noticeable of him not being ready. He was completely ready. As a guy who was a backup last year, I know how difficult it is to stay ready to come in for a starter. You have to, and Will handled that really well.”
 
D.J. RENDER, SENIOR WIDE RECEIVER
On moving from defensive back to wide receiver right before the start of the season…
“Well, it was honestly so crazy. Like you said, I definitely thought I was going to be playing defensive back this season, but a couple things happened with the receiver room, so we were really depleted a couple weeks before the game. Coach Klieman asked me if I would be willing to move back, and without hesitation I said yes. I just want to do anything and everything to help this team win and be successful. So, when he asked me that, I was all in.”
 
On re-learning how to play wide receiver…
“Honestly, it was just being committed to learning the playbook. Learning this playbook again and just being able to put my mind forward and focus really hard on that. It was fairly easy for me to learn the playbook again. Just having that mindset of, ‘Oh I have to catch the ball now, instead of defending somebody from not catching the ball.’ It was more of a mental thing trying to switch back from once being a receiver then switching to DB, and then going back to receiver again. So, it wasn’t much of a big transition physically it was more mental.”
 
On seeing the talent in Byron Pringle while at K-State…
“Most definitely. I learned so much from Byron Pringle. He inspired me in a lot of ways as a receiver. He taught me a lot of things while he was here. I would pick his brain with everything as far as a mental standpoint of the game as well as physical. He was a great teammate while he was here, and we still keep in touch.”
 
On if he’s been home since summer conditioning…
“Not at all, I haven’t been back in Atlanta since I think July.”
 
On how he’s holding up with being far from home in the midst of the pandemic…
“Well, I’m a fifth-year vet in the program. I’m not really homesick at all. I’m very used to being out here, and it was just a goal that our team had. We just wanted to be able to compete this season. All we want to do is just win, and that was our goal, and that is what my mind was made up on. So, I wasn’t really concerned with being homesick or not. It’s a blessing that I have parents that can come out here and travel for games and stuff like that. So, I don’t get to miss them too much, but it’s always a pleasure to see them when they come.”
 
On helping teammates who were isolated…
“Yeah, whenever a teammate is feeling down, I like to always reach out because I feel like I am a positive spark for our players and the team. So, if anybody is ever feeling down and they need someone to talk to, I always like them to feel that they can rely on me to give them that positive spark that they need.”
 
On his journey at Kansas State…
“It’s honestly been an amazing journey. I would not want it any other way. I’m just so thankful for Coach Klieman and his staff for coming in and embracing me as a person and a player. It made me a better person and a better player. All my thanks goes to them and my teammates that we have on the roster this season. It’s been a blessing to be able to play for Coach Klieman and his staff.”
 
On whether he ever thought of transferring and why he didn’t…
“My teammates, man. I just love my team so much. It’s ridiculous. I really met brothers for life here, and that was really the holding glue to allow me to stay here. Yeah, the thought has come in my mind. The first three seasons with the old staff, and maybe I would want to try somewhere else. But when Coach Klieman and his staff came in, I just felt that this was the place where I needed to be. It all worked itself out, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. I love K-State.”
 
On his connection with quarterback Will Howard
“Well, I try to work with Will any time before or after practice. I always like talking to him about what he’s seeing on the field, and I just want to be able to be his security blanket in certain situations and be able to just allow him to have confidence in me. So, I just want to be able to do anything and everything right so that when I’m out there, I’m able to execute and make plays for the team.”
 
On ending up in his journey playing meaningful plays…
“Yes, and all can say is that it is truly a blessing, and God is amazing. It’s amazing how it happened and just trust the process. And you know, you have to have an honest self-assessment when it comes to certain things. There were some things in the past that I was doing that were not allowing me to get on the field. But now, when I step back and look at what I need to do differently to allow myself to get on the field, I made that commitment for the team. It was my senior year, so I just wanted to have the best impact that I could with this team.”
 
On getting his first collegiate catch…
“It honestly felt great. I hadn’t felt that feeling since I was a senior in high school, literally my last reception in high school was November 10, 2015. Literally five years ago, so it felt so good. All I can say is that God is amazing, and I love Coach Klieman and his staff for giving me this opportunity.”
 
JUSTIN HUGHES, SENIOR LINEBACKER
On how he’s held up through the offseason…
“I think I’ve done a great job holding up. Me, particularly, I just stay at home, I come into football practice, go home and play the video games. That’s what I’ve been doing. That’s my little bubble, NBA bubble. I just get on Call of Duty and have a good day, night whatever.”
 
On if there family back home he has missed during this time…
“Oh, absolutely my family. The time, the whole pandemic thing when we found out we couldn’t come back to campus, it was a great time to just to reflect on who I was as a person. To be at home for a long, extended period of time, it was great being with my family and stuff. I do miss my mom, my dad, my cousins, my sister, my brother, but I do okay. I call them every other week, talk to them, let them know how I’m doing. So, I’ve been handling it pretty well.”
 
On what he tells himself to get him through this difficult time…
“‘You’ve been through worse.’ I’ve been through so much worse situations in my life and God has blessed me to make it through those situations. I know He wouldn’t put me through anything that I can’t handle. So, I just tell myself everyday that He’s built me for this. No matter what situation that comes near me, I’m able to step over it because I know who I am, and I know who God made me to be.”
 
On D.J. Render’s move to offense…
“That’s funny that you ask because when they moved him from offense to defense, he was one of the first, like he was the first person to come to me and just be like, ‘J-Ball, can you help me with the playbook? J-Ball, can you help me with this learn?’ So I’ve always motivated D.J to be the best person and player he can be. No matter where you are on this field, you’re helping this team and you being a versatile player to be able to play special teams, offense, defense you should see that as a gift from the team, the coaches, and God to be able to be that athletic to do that and be such a pivotal piece that we need on whatever side of the ball he is. So, he came to me after they moved him back from defense to offense and told me, ‘Thank you for everything you’ve done.’ Just keep motivating him because he got down and out once they moved him back, and once he’s been able to play and show that he can actually get back out there a receiver and handling the pressure of going out there and catching balls and remembering the playbook and all those kinds of things, he thanked me. I’m proud of him, just to keep your head level and to keep your head, just stay the course.”
 
On what stands out about the West Virginia offense…
“The running back is a really good player. I would say he’s probably one of the best players on their team. Their defense is stout. They have a great front seven like they always do. Their DB’s are always physical. They are who we thought they would be, so we just have to come out and beat them at the physical game of football and come out and out-smart them. I think our coaches are doing a great job with our game plan, and we should come out there with a great scheme and go out there and do our job and it should be a great game.”
 
On seeing former teammates like Bryon Pringle have success in the NFL…
“Man, it’s crazy because you just see those guys and you remember all things that we’ve been through together and seeing them on that level to where they always wanted to be where their dreams are coming true. You just look how blessed they are, and you just want to continue to work so you can get to that level. You’re just happy for those guys. You remember all the summer workouts that we’ve been through together and those guys pushing me. Byron used to push me through workouts and push me to be the best person I can be. Hanging out with those guys in Aggieville after a game-winning Saturday. You just remember all the good times you had with those guys. You call them up and tell them that you’re proud of them and you just keep working and they tell you to do the same.”
 
On his evaluation of the K-State defense so far this season…
“Kansas State defense, gritty, never is going to give up no matter the situation, we’re going to go out and play. The d-Line is amazing right now. Those guys are getting to the quarterback faster than we can even get to our drops in pass coverage. The DB’s are playing outstanding now, and our run defense is doing really well. We just have to continue to push back and get some TFLs and do our job. The Kansas State defense is a force to be reckoned with this year.”
 
On the challenge of stopping West Virginia’s Leddie Brown…
“It’s a great challenge, but me and Eli (Sullivan) have been talking about it. That was the first thing, we had our captains meeting with Coach Klieman and he was like, ‘What do we have to do to beat West Virginia?’ He asked me personally, and I said we have to stop the run because their running back is a great player. If we come out there and slow him down, then we can start forcing some turnovers and get the ball back to our offense to score some points on the board. As you can see, we can put some points on the board as well as a defense. So, all we have to do is get ourselves in great positions and get some turnovers, and we’ll go out there and win the ballgame.”
 
On his progress throughout the season in terms of coming off his injury…
“It’s doing okay. I could do better. I hold myself to a high standard. Just getting that confidence back, I feel like I’m working towards that, and being halfway through the season I’m thinking I’m doing a great job. So, I just can’t be hard on myself. I try to be a perfectionist all the time, and I have to get to that level where I want to be. I’m working on that, and it’s getting better each game. So, I’m going to work on it this week at practice with things, making tackles, keeping the cup, doing those little things to actually be at full strength. I feel like I’m working towards getting that way.”
 
On the pride of having multiple players from Georgia on the team…
“I think the old coaching staff did a great job of recruit the area and getting me, Eli (Sullivan), Duke (Shelley) , Zube (Isaiah Zuber) and creating the gateway for those younger guys like T.J. (Smith), Tee (Denson), Khalid (Duke), to be able to see that, ‘Hey, these guys are going out there and being successful, so let me try and go out there and make statement for myself and be able to leave home, and leave far away from home and be successful at a successful program.’ So, I want to thank those guys for getting us up here so we can create a gateway for those younger guys that are here now.”
 
On the injury to TJ Smith
“Yeah absolutely. Me and Eli’s (Sullivan) locker are beside each other in the locker room. As soon as he found out, he came straight to us and asking us what he needs to do better, what he needs to do to immediately to make himself a better player as far as his rehab and stuff. I was proud of him just for keeping a level head. I was the same way asking Eli questions on how I can make myself better through this entire process. TJ is the kind of guy that is going to work hard no matter what. As you can see as he was doing out there on the field, he was working his way onto the field and doing a great job. So, I’m proud of him. I’m going to continue to keep his head in it no matter because right after surgery you tend to get down in the dumps because you can’t go anywhere, you can’t move really. It sucks because you are taking all kinds of pills, it sucks, but me and Eli are going to do a great job of keeping him together. Unlike me and Eli, we didn’t have multiple players to go to and to keep him in it, but now he has two guys from the same state that’s going to keep him in it and we’re going to make sure that he’s going to be taken care of.”
 
On TJ Smith’s aggressive play style…
“I knew once he first stepped on campus and we had our first seven-on-seven, he’s at seven-on doing all the things. Trying to compete every snap, every play going full speed. Once you see a young guy out there like that, it motivates you as an old guy to pick your stuff up because he’s shining so you want to pick your stuff up. You’re just happy for those guys who work hard and continually work every play, every snap, every down and go as hard as they can. It gets the sideline going because you’re able to see your brother able to shine and you’re happy for him.”
 
On if he needed to tell TJ Smith to tone down his aggressiveness in practice…
“No, I actually like it because when we go to seven-on-seven, we do this seven-on-seven with each other, Skylar (Thompson) is talking so much crap man, and I hate it. So, when TJ breaks up the ball, I’m yelling at Skylar like, ‘No you’re not going to get it.’ So I’m trying to get the defense as hyped as possible so we can go out there and shut the offense out so we can be like, ‘Man, we kicked y’all’s butt today.’ I like bragging rights, and I appreciate TJ for working so hard because I can’t stand when they win.”
 
ROSS ELDER, JUNIOR DEFENSIVE BACK
On D.J. Render’s receiver style compared to being defensive back…  
“D.J. is an athletic kid. You see him on special teams, and he is a very versatile guy. He was a receiver for three years and then tried out DB. He’s a guy who is always willing to do whatever you want for him. He’s a quick, shifty receiver, and he can catch the ball pretty well. He is definitely an asset to the offense, so it’s good to see him out there catching balls.”
 
On scoring points as a defense…
“We pride ourselves on being smart and outsmarting the other team. Coach (Joe) Klanderman puts us in the right spot. You see Justin Gardner, and that was just a smart play by him. He saw two offensive linemen pull to the back with that running back sneaking out, and he was just sitting there. You saw Wyatt (Hubert) almost picked it off as well. Our players are smart. We are in the right spot at the right time, but you have to give credit to Coach Klanderman for putting us in the right spot.”
 
On momentum after winning four games in a row…
“It’s awesome. You love winning games. We remember Arkansas State, and that’s a gut check for all of us. We keep that same mindset every week. We are an underdog again. As a defense, we want to keep it rolling, and we want to keep getting off the field three and out.”
 
On how he is playing and how he can improve…
“I’m getting more comfortable playing. It was my fourth game back there against KU. I’m just getting more comfortable within the game. I need to tackle better and more consistently and finish on the ball a little bit better. I can be a better communicator, but that just comes with experience.”
 
On the fun of special teams…
“It’s awesome man. We have a lot of players who buy into it like Brock Monty and Landry Weber. Stanton Weber, you have to give him credit for coming up with the schemes. He spends more time than anyone in the country on special teams. It’s really cool to see guys like Brock and Landry and everybody invest their time in special teams. It’s a third of the game and most teams don’t realize that, but here we do, and the coaches put the time into it. We take it very seriously. We have been scoring some touchdowns the past couple games, so it’s pretty big for us.”
 
On D.J. Render’s personality…
“You love to see it. He was in the DB room for the past year, so I was around him a lot. He’s always talking and cracking jokes. It’s always good to have someone like him in the locker room who uplifts every other person behind him. His personality is something else, but it’s awesome having him in the locker room. He’s always singing, people make fun of him all the time, but he’s always singing in the locker room.”

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