RUSTON – Louisiana Tech head coach Skip Holtz, senior cornerback Zach Hannibal and graduate offensive lineman Donavaughn Campbell spoke with the media Tuesday in advance of the 2020 season and conference opener at Southern Miss on Saturday, Sept. 19, at 6:30 p.m. (CT), at M.M. Roberts Stadium in Hattiesburg, Miss.
Head Coach Skip Holtz
On playing at Southern Miss:
"We're really excited for the opportunity to play this week. This week seems like game week. Last week, with everything that we were dealing with with the remnants of Hurricane Laura that came through here and all of the side effects that went with that with some of the positive tests, it seemed like we were sitting on a two-legged chair trying to balance it and keeping our fingers crossed for the next wave of testing we were going to go through to see what we were going to have. This one is all about large masses of players that are being plugged back in. It's almost like an adrenaline shot into the program right now. We've had such small numbers and really haven't had the opportunity to put on pads since last Saturday (Sept. 5) when we had a really spirited practice out there, and then that's when things started to unravel. We're excited about this week and about getting out there, getting in practice and getting to play the game. There's a lot of excitement with not only playing but having the opportunity to start with a conference game, on the road for six of the last seven years, to have it be Southern Miss and the Rivalry in Dixie. We're just excited about having the opportunity to play in this game that has such a great history and tradition to it. Both of us being in Conference USA, knowing this is a year-in and year-out. We talked about this seven years ago when we got into Conference USA about how great it will be to have conference rivalry games with the geographic locations of schools like Southern Miss, UAB and North Texas. We're really excited to have the opportunity to play this game. A week ago was hard for everybody. Having to take a game away from this team that was very excited about playing. I know everybody felt awful about it. But, when you look at some of the norms that we will be going through with the COVID testing, the COVID protocols, all of the contact tracing and everything that goes into it, I don't think it's going to be the last game of the season that that happens to. Hopefully, it doesn't happen to us. I'm really proud of this team and the job that they've done. We had that spike right after the hurricane, but shutting things down and getting our arms around it, the players have done a really good job and the test results have shown from it. I really like where we are right now and the number of players with two tests left to go. We had one this morning and we have one again on Thursday morning before we travel. Right now, I'm really excited about talking football and getting on the grass and getting away from whether or not we're going to have enough players to play the game."
On changes to the game plan for Southern Miss after Scotty Walden was named the interim head coach for the Golden Eagles:
"I know there's going to be changes, obviously, when somebody else takes over. They have about two and a half weeks since they last played. They have a game under their belt. A lot of that nervous energy is gone. They have a new head coach who I'm sure is going to put his own wrinkles onto the offensive and the defensive sides. It's an opening game. You don't know what you can expect. They don't know what they're going to get from us as we have new offensive and defensive coordinators and how have things changed for us. For both teams, it's going to be an opening game. The only difference is a little bit of those preseason nervous energies are gone for them where they already have one game under their belt. Structurally, they'll probably do some things different offensively with him being involved. I think he will go back to what he did as a head coach before. We'll be prepared for what they do, and as much as anything, we have a great opportunity to evaluate personnel and the position that they're trying to put them in. But, there will definitely be changes and you have to adjust. That's what opening games are all about is going out and trying to eliminate mistakes and get your players in a position on the field where they feel comfortable and they can go out and execute. There will be some wrinkles, but I don't expect it to be whole sale changes. If they come out and run the triple option, it might catch us off guard for a little bit, but if they do that, we're going to have to adjust."
On the process of the players getting refocused coming from last week into this week:
"One of the things we talk about all the time is control what we can control. There's a lot of things that were outside of our control in having the opportunity to play. Really, what it boiled down to, was the health and safety of your players. It wasn't even who was out, it was the numbers that were out. When you are one deep at a couple positions and you haven't had the typical offseason training of April, May, June, July, August and a full fall camp, to ask a player to go out there and play a full 80 plays without a backup is just not realistic. So, we had to control what we could control. The results were what they were. Everybody was disappointed. We talked to them on the practice field on Tuesday night and told them the outcome and what was going to transpire. What we also talked about was the highs and lows of this season and how crazy it's going to be and all the new norms we're having to get used to. We talk about how being able to be successful is about handling adversity. This is our first real adversity. How are we going to handle it? Are we going to walk into the locker room, throw our helmet, kick our dog and go home upset with what's going on? Or do you control what you can control? That is our approach. The way we hit the reset button and get ready to go. They had the opportunity to get into the weight room and lift and run last week. We really weren't able to go out and have full practices, but I was really encouraged by the spirit, the attitude and the mentality they came back with Sunday. It was like, 'Okay, here we go again. Let's restart this thing. Let's get ready to go. It's Sunday. We're off Monday. Then Tuesday, Wednesday let's do out game routine. And then let's get ready to play.' As much as I saw a lot of hurt and down guys who were like, 'Man, coach, I really wanted to play.' They were disappointed. I also saw the team really come back to life on Sunday when we came back and started getting back to work. They were excited and ready to have this opportunity to play. They're not going to take that. We're not going to dwell on it. We're not going to drag it with us for the next 11 weeks. It happened. It's over. It's like the next play. They talk about a great defensive back is one with a poor memory. If you get beat on a play, next play. You have to go play the next one. That's the mindset this team's had, and that starts with leadership like you heard today with having guys like Donavaughn and Zach get up here and talk and their maturity. When you look at the captains that this team chose, the maturity and the leadership that they bring in Kody Russey, Milton Williams, Trey Baldwin, Justin Henderson and Cee Jay Powell. We've got a really great core of leaders. We have a great core of seniors who aren't going to let our team sit around and have pity parties for ourselves and miss an opportunity to go play a great football team and have an opportunity to compete in 2020."