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DIVISION I FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP: JACKSONVILLE STATE VS NORTH DAKOTA STATE

January 8, 2016

Chris Klieman Nick DeLuca Joe Haeg CJ Smith Carson Wentz

Frisco, Texas

THE MODERATOR: We'll have an overview from coach, then we'll direct questions to the student-athletes, then back to coach after we dismiss the student-athletes.

COACH KLIEMAN: Well, we're excited to be back here. Obviously it was a lot of adversity, but a lot of really good football by the guys as well to handle that adversity. We're always talking about attacking the adversity you face. We faced that right off the bat of the season loosing a tough game at Montana.

We came in the locker room and told the guys to not let this game define you. We talked about attacking the process. We talk about that a lot. Attacking the process, winning the play, having the opportunity that if you win every play, to win a game.

Real excited we're able to come here for a fifth straight time. In the same respect we keep talking about to our guys, this is the 2015 Bison, not the '11, '12, '13 or '14 Bison. It's about this young group of men that are going to go out there and play against an exceptional Jacksonville State team that we have a tremendous amount of respect for. They're very explosive on offense and lights out on defense. We're excited about the challenge for tomorrow at 11:00.

Also excited to announce that Carson Wentz is going to start at quarterback tomorrow. Something we've been kind of going back and forth. Obviously I know the first thing you guys are going to ask me is what made you decide or when did you decide. You know me too well that Carson has practiced a lot more than you guys ever realized he practiced.

I'm excited because we have two exceptional quarterbacks ready to play a football game in Easton Stick, who I told when I met with him this week, as well as Carson and Easton are really good friends, we wouldn't be in this position without Easton Stick. No way we would be here without the tremendous ability of what Easton has done.

Throughout the process of getting Carson enough snaps and ready to play, we came to the conclusion that he's going to be the guy that takes the first snap under center.

With that I'll open it up for questions.

THE MODERATOR: We'll direct questions to the players first, please.

Q. Carson, describe this whole process and whether you felt healthy enough and ready to go.
CARSON WENTZ: It's been a long, frustrating process, to say the least. Lots of doctors' appointments, things I didn't want to hear for a long time. About two weeks ago, I really started progressing quite a bit, started practicing almost full go, kind of getting my feet wet with practice. Through some scout, seven on, did some things, kind of progressed my way.

This week has been a whirlwind realizing I'm going to get a chance to start one more time.

A lot of emotions. I'm excited to get one more opportunity with these guys.

Q. Carson, I know you're focused on this game. How have you reacted to the national attention you're getting as far as your prospects for the NFL?
CARSON WENTZ: I mean, it's cool and it is what it is. I'm not the only one on this squad getting that attention either. We have a lot of guys with abilities, whether it's seniors or underclassmen. We're just focused at the task at hand which is tomorrow.

Q. Joe, what does it feel like that Carson is going to start this game, a fellow senior?
JOE HAEG: It's awesome. Obviously he's been going up against a lot of adversity. Just knowing Carson, the competitor he is, it's obviously really exciting for us. We love that Carson came back. We love that we'll be able to protect him. Just happy to play this game, get out there Saturday and play.

Q. Carson, when were you medically cleared? How long has it been since you've been really full speed like you think you should be?
CARSON WENTZ: A little over two weeks is when I was full speed. I kind of pushed the envelope a little bit. The CT scan this Monday revealed that I was fully cleared.

Q. Carson, now that you are in this position, what can you say about the job that Easton did all season to get you guys here?
CARSON WENTZ: Can't say enough. Admire him, best friends. He's done a tremendous job. I owe him so much.

I remember when I got hurt, he kind of looked at me and laughed, It's going to be my job to get you back healthy again. He did an unbelievable job and I owe him a lot.

Q. Have you seen a lot of live bullets in practice? Seven-on-seven or were you in pads a lot?
CARSON WENTZ: Yeah, no, I've been facing pretty much live everything. Obviously quarterback is in red in practice, not getting hit. That's helped a lot. I've been seeing live reps for two weeks or so now.

Q. Carson, curious if you have an opinion on the Dallas Cowboys? They might be looking for a quarterback in the draft.
CARSON WENTZ: I'm focused on the game. Thanks (laughter).

Q. Carson, what sort of advice did you get from Randy Hedberg, some other people who have been mentors to you, about those future opportunities, but having this last moment?
CARSON WENTZ: I've gotten advice both ways from all sorts of people. I'm a competitor. I've been through way too much with this program and this university to not push the envelope, like I mentioned earlier, and do everything I could to get back out there. I'm very fortunate enough that I will get that opportunity again tomorrow.

Q. CJ and Nick, without giving away too much of the game plan, we heard a lot about Jacksonville State's offense. If you say we have to stop 'this' to be successful, what is the 'this'?
CJ SMITH: 'This' is always the run. That's what we always emphasis. The D-line, that's what we emphasize every day every year. That's the one thing we do with every team, stop the run first.

I'm sure Nick would say the same thing.

NICK DeLUCA: Yeah, for sure. There's not one thing you can game plan for. This team has a lot of offensive weapons. Try to get them off schedule early and get on top of them.

Q. CJ and Nick, you heard coach, this year's team a little bit different obviously from last year's team. Looking to last year's team, do you see any similarities to Jacksonville State?
CJ SMITH: A little similar. I think Jacksonville State this year is more explosive than Illinois State was last year. We have our hands full, yeah.

NICK DeLUCA: Not much else on that, yeah.

THE MODERATOR: That was a ditto (smiling).

NICK DeLUCA: Yeah.

Q. Carson, being out of game action for two months, what is going to be the biggest adjustment getting back to game speed compared to practices?
CARSON WENTZ: Like I mentioned, I ended up throwing some scout team stuff, facing the speed of our defense a couple times. That helped tremendously.

Basically it's getting hit right away. For me it's almost got that first-game feel. It feels like I've been out for a whole year and it's kind of a short one-game season for me.

Q. CJ, talk to me a little bit about their receiver Barge, what challenges he and Jenkins pose to your defense.
CJ SMITH: They're both really good. 15, he's a really good receiver. He's really athletic. Barge, just seeing him on tape, he runs really good routes, probably the best routes I've seen by any receiver ran this year.

They take shots coming downfield, take a lot of them, just looking forward to the challenge.

Q. Carson, I think you said once the green helmets came out, you wanted to play. You made the vote you were going to play when the green helmets came back.
CARSON WENTZ: I remember when we first revealed we were wearing green helmets, I think that was the Western Illinois game. I was a little upset. I was excited for the guys, but bitter about not being able to wear them.

I told coach if I ever get a chance to play again, we're going to wear those. I've been in his ear the last three weeks, If I'm going, we're going to wear those, so he came through for me.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you, guys. Good luck tomorrow.

We'll continue with questions for coach.

Q. Coach, did you consider withholding your announcement on Carson and just let us find out tomorrow at 11:00?
COACH KLIEMAN: We did consider that. But I wanted to get Carson in front and let him have his day, let him visit. It is what it is. We have two capable quarterbacks ready to play, and we're excited about tomorrow.

Q. Coach, for those who haven't seen Carson play, how would you describe him as a quarterback?
COACH KLIEMAN: Big, strong-armed kid. Extremely athletic. Very smart at the line of scrimmage. Has all the attributes that a lot of people like. Exceptional leader. What he had given Easton is what Easton is as well. That's why I know the future's extremely bright for Easton, as well.

Q. Should we expect to see Easton on the field at all tomorrow?
COACH KLIEMAN: Well, he's ready to go. I'll tell you, he is ready to go. I visited with him. Coach Hedberg has, obviously Coach Polasek has.

When you practice for three weeks, everybody has had plenty of reps, so he's ready to roll.

Q. How tiring has this question been in the last two months?
COACH KLIEMAN: You know, it's been a little tiring. There's no question about that. I think everybody understands the realm of when he was cleared to truly throw was back -- or come back to practice and throw was I think the first playoff game with UNI. He was throwing. You guys realize, he was doing just what we said. He was throwing at that time.

Then each week he probably progressed a little bit more. Even to the point of the last doctor's appointment. Those were all planned out that he had had for months.

We knew if we could get through the semifinal game, there was a great chance that he would play or be able to play. We won the semifinal game, had a couple of days before Christmas that he and I visited. Then when he came back from Christmas, he's been kind of full go ever since.

That's the one thing you talk about, the live bullets and other things. Most of you guys that have seen our practices, we don't walk through many things. We go really hard. It doesn't matter if it's scout team against our first offense or a number of times, like we do, first defense against first offense.

Other than being hit, I'll be honest with you, Easton hasn't been hit since Richmond, not a lot of quarterbacks get hit in practice. He's had plenty of live repetitions as far as seven-on-seven, pass under pressure with guys like Shaetzy and Menard coming off the edge and stuff.

I don't foresee that being an issue at all.

Q. When did you make that decision that Carson would be the starter? What progressed from the semifinal game till now that makes you comfortable with that?
COACH KLIEMAN: Just when we came back from our Christmas, he started taking a bunch of snaps. Once again, because we have so many plays in a practice, he would take half, Easton would take half. Everything is great on Monday. Let's give him a few more on Tuesday.

There's a lot of plays in there that I knew as of the middle of last week that he was going to be ready to go, just watching him spin it around out there. You knew there was no ill effects from his hand or anything.

Not only that, but because you have so much time in these three weeks off, you do a lot of walk-throughs, you spend so much time with the guys, you know they're prepared. That's something that I wanted to make sure from a mental standpoint, he was prepared. He answered all those questions.

Q. Are you worried about a rust factor, that he hasn't played since October 17th?
COACH KLIEMAN: No, not at all. It's Carson Wentz. He'll be fine.

Q. In this day and age of social media, how tough is it to keep that?
COACH KLIEMAN: It's extremely difficult. It's interesting. Our kids are pretty savvy and pretty smart. We didn't emphasize it to the team, Don't say anything, don't say anything. They know.

That's why a lot of the kids are in the program here for four and five years. The kids that are in the program like a Joe Haeg, will tell a young kid, This stays in here. Why you close the practice and stuff, why you want to make sure when you're in the bubble, nobody can get in there anyway. With closed practices, you can do a lot of things.

I wanted to make sure it wasn't a media circus for the guy, so he could do the work and get ready to play.

Q. How do you respond to people who say he's got a future NFL Draft, he might get hurt again?
COACH KLIEMAN: I would say he's been cleared by the doctors. He and I have talked extensively. He's ready to play.

If you're cleared and you're a competitor, which we know Carson is, you look at the guys that are up here, CJ Smith is a fifth-year senior, Carson Wentz, fifth-year senior, Joe Haeg, fifth-year senior. You want to play with your brothers one more time.

Once we won that semifinal game, in the back of my mind I thought, Okay, he's going to be ready to go because he wants to do this for all these guys he came in with.

Q. A no-brainer for you in this decision? Did you lose some sleep? How did you come to the final decision?
COACH KLIEMAN: I don't sleep a whole lot during this time of year anyway. My wife can tell you that.

When you say a 'no-brainer,' if he's healthy, yeah, there wasn't any question. It was just as a coaching staff, not just me, but Tim and Randy as well, seeing how he's throwing the ball, seeing how he was able to take his drops, seeing all the things he was doing.

I know one thing. How long has he been working out with Coach Kramer, since November 1st. Since November 1st, he's been doing patterns, all sorts of running. Every day that kid was out there, even when we knew he wasn't playing the whole month of November, he's in phenomenal shape. There's no doubt about that.

Q. When did you tell the team and what did you tell them, the final word?
COACH KLIEMAN: We didn't have a big production at our team meeting. They see it at practice. They see, Okay, he's with the ones right now, Easton is with the ones right now. They understand.

Let's be honest. Nick DeLuca and CJ Smith have their hands full trying to stop a phenomenal offense. Our offense, you see the way we practice. It just rolls as far as the amount of reps and plays we get in.

There doesn't need to be any big announcement.

Q. What is this night before like? Do you lose sleep?
COACH KLIEMAN: You don't sleep well any night before a football game normally.

But, no, we have a lot of things we have to get done still. We have a walk-through. It will be neat. We'll have upwards of 200 alums out there, former players. Not many schools can have that. They'll come out to practice and interact with our guys. Really special. We'll go back to the hotel, have dinner, have some meetings.

It's an early start. We'll get the guys off their feet probably by 8:00, 8:30, go through our final notes. We played an 11:00 game in the playoffs, so it wasn't that long ago we were doing this.

Q. Coach, your last practice of the season. I know it's been a long ride. Every senior class has their own unique personality, traits you remember them by. What are you going to remember this senior class by?
COACH KLIEMAN: Resolve. Biggest thing. Resolve through adversity. Because a lot of people wrote these guys off after Montana and said, Boy, we're not going to be very good, especially on defense. A lot of those guys improved. We were 4-2, sitting in the locker room. Didn't know we lost the starting quarterback for the season. Didn't know what Easton Stick was going to do. We knew his ability.

We had a real tough meeting Monday after that South Dakota game. Everybody bought in to say, Hey, we're going to make this run, we're going to rally around Easton Stick, we're going to make a run, concentrate on winning every day.

Hats off to these seniors for being phenomenal leaders. Their resolve through adversity this year, unlike any other, has been really special.

Q. Describe that last practice with all the alums and former players, how that tradition got started, what it means to the guys on the team now.
COACH KLIEMAN: We did it in 2011 when I was here as a secondary coach. I don't know if it happened prior to that. We had a lot of guys around in 2011. Each year probably more and more, just like more people in general have migrated south for this championship game over the five years.

It's neat because it's my chance to thank those people for laying an unbelievable foundation of Bison culture, the environment and standard that they set is second to none.

It gives those guys an opportunity to interact with our players. We'll let a player talk to them, one of our coaches talk to them. It's a pretty special moment that I'm just blessed to be a part of.

Q. Are you worried about your offense losing its rhythm now with Carson at quarterback?
COACH KLIEMAN: Yeah, there's obviously a little bit of concern on that. I'll take it back to the three-week layover. I worry about our defense tackling after three weeks. I worry about the contact, getting back crisp after three weeks. I would worry about our timing with our receivers and Easton or Carson after three weeks.

He mentioned it. It's kind of a first-game feel. It is for both teams. So when you're going into a first-game feel, you're going to have some miss-timing, whether it be Carson or Easton. We just feel Carson is ready to go.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you.

COACH KLIEMAN: Thank you. Appreciate it.

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