Here’s the full transcript from the U of L quartet’s time at the podium on Thursday:
Head Coach Scott Satterfield
Q. Payton Wilson grew up watching games at Duke. Maybe you did as well. You have three trips back to your home state this year. What are your thoughts about the schedule, all the travel back and forth between Louisville and North Carolina?
SCOTT SATTERFIELD: It’s exciting for me. I grew up right there in Durham, grew up selling — playing for Hillendale, which is right beside Duke University, my rec league team. When we were little, on Saturday game days, we had to sell 10 programs to get in the game free.
I remember my mom working the concession stand in Wallace Wade for our organization. I never played or coached inside of Wallace Wade. Getting to go back this year. Exciting. Right there in Durham. Should have a lot of family and friends in that game. We get to go to Raleigh and Winston-Salem. Those three trips back to North Carolina, where I was born, grew up, it’s going to be awesome for me personally.
But also for our team, it’s exciting. Two years ago we made a trip to Winston-Salem and Raleigh, as well. Both good games for us. Yeah, it’s not a bad trip at all. We’re excited about it.
Q. What can you say about the offense moving forward? On your coaching staff there’s been some shifting. What can you say about running the offense and what we can expect this year?
SCOTT SATTERFIELD: Yeah, we got a new offensive line coach, new running back coach come in. But we’re running our same offense. We’re going to be doing the same thing. The way we do things is a collaborative effort within our coaching staff, trying to get the ball in the hands of the best players is the bottom line.
We sit down as a staff and go over the game plan. Everybody’s on board with everything that we’re doing. I’ll be calling the plays on Saturday, but utilizing a lot of help from our coaching staff. We’ll be a similar offense as we’ve been in the past. We’re going to run the football, do a lot of play-action, be able to utilize the running ability of Cunningham at the quarterback position. Dynamic player.
Marshon Ford, who is here today as well, is a guy who has been as an H back for us, tight end side. He’ll be in a more expanded role as now a little bit after receiver as well. We’ll be able to utilize him to do that. We did lose two great players last year to the draft with Tutu Atwell and Dez Fitzpatrick, and we also lost a running back to free agency.
There are some new faces that are going to be in the offense this year, but I’m very excited about the guys we are bringing back, the guys that can play. They’ll be producing at a high level. Just some of the guys we don’t really know, they’re not household names yet, but hopefully they will be at the end of the season.
Q. In your third season as you evaluate your program, are you able to compare 2020 over 2019 given everything that we all experienced last year?
SCOTT SATTERFIELD: It would be difficult to do that. It would be like comparing apples and oranges. It’s not the same.
You don’t have the three and a half months, four months, we didn’t have our guys around. Are we playing, are we not playing? We’re just trying to get through the season once we decided to play. Still we had a productive year as far as the yardage goes, offense, defense, things that we were able to do.
The one stat was the turnover margin which is not where it needed to be. We lost several close games. It’s kind of hard to compare. Both seasons, games came down to the wire. In 2019 we were able to win some of those games, go on to win eight, go to a bowl game. Last year we did not win some of those close games. I think that’s probably the biggest difference. What do you point to? A couple of factors. Obviously turnover margin is one of those factors.
Now this year, a lot of positives going into this year. Defense is continuing to get better. Offensively guys have a great grasp of what we’re doing on offense. We have a lot of talented players that are going to be able to play.
Offensive line I think is the most depth we’ve ever had since we’ve been there, at least eight guys that can go in and play at a high level. I’m excited about what we’re able to come this year and what we’ll be able to play in this league.
Q. You did lose a lot of speed in Tutu Atwell, Javian Hawkins, Dez. Can Tyler Harrell help fill the speed quotient? Do you see some other great speed on the team? You were fifth in total offense, but 90 in scoring offense. How do you get more points for your offensive production?
SCOTT SATTERFIELD: I think one of the differences was last year was the big plays. We didn’t have offensively. We were driving the ball, had some yards, but not those big plays. Even Tutu last year didn’t have as many big plays down the field for whatever reason.
We got to be able to get more of the big plays, the plays where you’re going the distance, not just a 40-yard play, with you ones that go all the way to the end zone. We got to be able to do that.
Tyler Harrell is a fast player, fastest player I’ve ever timed in my career, and I’ve had a lot of fast ones over that time. He’s 195 pounds. Not like he’s tiny. I think he’ll be one of the guys that will be able to knock the top off the defense, to hit some of those home run plays, some of those big plays.
Hassan Hall is a guy who didn’t have as good of a year as he did two years ago. He’s back to his form. I think he’s another big play guy. He can run. Number three in the country in kickoff returns in 2019. He’ll be this year a guy that can be that type of player as well.
Outside you also have Watkins, who is a really good, talented player. A freshman last year from Louisville that I think will end up being a great player for us, as well. Shai Werts, the transfer that we got from Georgia Southern played quarterback, now is playing at receiver for us, another guy that can really run. Excited about what he’s going to be able to do as well.
Cooley is a guy we just signed from the Raleigh area, running back that I think he is extremely fast. He’ll be a talented guy in the backfield as well, the home run threat type guy, even though he’ll be a true freshman.
Q. Year three for you now, specifically talking about the defense, you made a jump every year. What do you expect out of this group this season? Do you feel like you’re as close to what you wanted depth-wise defensively since you got here?
SCOTT SATTERFIELD: Yeah, we’re gaining on the depth part of that. I think some of those positions we have some great depth, at others we’re still trying to build it.
I think the two things that we want to be able to do defensively this year, better than what we did last year, although we have come a long way in the last two years defensively, number one is create more pressure on the quarterback. We have not been able to create enough pressure and create enough sacks. I think that will help our defense. I think when we do, that that’s going to help our number two thing, which is creating more turnovers.
Those two things I think will be a next step for our defense to be able to become one of the top defenses in the country. I think we are headed in that direction with our defensive line that we have. We signed five D-linemen last year. Sometimes you hit on it, sometimes you don’t. We hit on these five. These guys can play, these freshmen that we brought in, and some will play right now for us.
YaYa Diaby is another guy who I think is going to have a year where he’ll be known in the ACC. He’s going to be one of those type players as a defensive end position for us.
I’m excited about where the defense is headed, what we’ll be able to do this year.
Q. You brought up Malik Cunningham a little bit earlier. Where have you seen the most improvement from him? What quarterback are we getting this season?
SCOTT SATTERFIELD: Yeah, well, Malik over the past two years has been a very productive quarterback. 55 touchdowns responsible for in two seasons. Two years ago was one of the highest QBRs in Louisville history. He’s an extremely accurate passer. When he gets a clean pocket, he’s hard to beat.
The thing that he’s got to get better at obviously is taking care of the football. Not all the turnovers were his fault last year. There were some other circumstances with that. But the thing that he’s been able to do this past off-season, get in the film room, study the film a lot more, understand where his strengths are, how to expand on that, take those negatives that he had and try to get rid of those things.
The thing bit, I’ve told a couple guys today, any time you got a quarterback that’s able to extend plays like he is, there’s a fine line there where you have to say, The defense has this one, let me throw the ball away, as opposed to I can always make the play. There’s a fine line there.
That comes through experience. He has to understand when he can and can’t make those type of plays. He’s capable of being one of the best quarterbacks in the country this year, I believe that. He has a lot of guys around him that will help make that happen. With the depth we have up front, we’ll be better protected for us. Open up more running lanes for us, which in return will help the passing game. He can have an outstanding season for us.
I think obviously when he plays well, then so the Cardinals will play well as a team and we’ll be able to win some games with that.
Q. As you continue to grow and evolve as a coach, do you find your perspective on recruiting changes? Are you recruiting differently now than you may have in other stops? Is there a personality you can assign to the way you recruit?
SCOTT SATTERFIELD: Well, we certainly haven’t changed the type of player we want to recruit. I think it starts with that. Obviously you want outstanding football players. You want some of the best players in the country. I also want to get the high-character player. You want to get the smart player, the guys that are going to do things right off the field because we know that translates on the field.
If you’re that high-character person, you’re showing up on time for class, you’re showing up time for your job, that translates on the football field, where as a coach only has to tell you one or two times, Here is what we need you to do, those guys are able to do it. I’ve also seen players that don’t do things right off the field. You have to tell them over and over and over on the field.
We’re trying to recruit the high-character player, the player that cares around people around him. When we get in the locker room, that’s the type of player you want to play for and coach. So much of it is not just the football piece, it’s the person that they are.
I think when that happens, you have that kind of character, you go through adversity like we all go through, you’re going to be able to fight through it and come out the other side as a winner. That’s what we’re looking for.
Q. How do you approach pre-season rankings as a team or individual accolades that may come before the first ball is snapped?
SCOTT SATTERFIELD: We really don’t talk about it much. Whether you’re picked to win it all or you’re picked to finish last in your division, pre-season it really doesn’t matter. You got to just do the best you can, stay in the moment day-to-day. I find that pre-season polls are often of what you did the previous year. I’ve been a part of teams where we were picked No. 1. Our first year at Louisville we won eight games, won a big bowl game.
It’s how you approach each and every week, every day. That’s what we focus on. We stay in the moment, we tried to do the best we can with that.
Inside Linebacker CJ Avery
Q. Describe the decision-making process when evaluating whether or not to return.
C.J. AVERY: Well, it was just between me and my family. I decided that it was a better chance for me to come back, better my future, then just end my career here at University of Louisville on the right note.
Q. Since Scott Satterfield took over this program, how have you seen this defense change? What does this defense look like compared to the last few years?
C.J. AVERY: I just think this defense trust each other, better well-rounded defense at each position. We have new guys at the safety position, but I think they’ll come up and step up big in their roles. Cornerback position we look great. Front seven, we continue to get better each year. This defense just turned it around completely.
Q. Only two ACC teams that are playing this year were better defensively than you were in terms of scoring defense. What makes this Louisville defense so hard to score against?
C.J. AVERY: I think it’s just the passing game. Our corners and our safeties, linebackers as well, we do a great job of coverage and tightening up the coverage.
Now all we got to do is bring pressure with that, we’ll create more turnovers. That will make us one of the top defenses for ongoing years.
Q. An overall look at Louisville going into 2021, where has this team improved the most coming out of the spring and how do you define what this team will be stepping forward?
C.J. AVERY: I think within our program we’ve improved the most with leadership. We have a lot more guys willing to be leaders and step up, make sure the team comes together and plays at one. That’s the key thing. If you don’t have any leaders on your team, it’s kind of hard to be a great team. That’s what we’ve improved the most.
Q. It is rare these days to find a five-year starter on a team. What is it you want to accomplish this year?
C.J. AVERY: I want to accomplish the ACC Championship with my brothers. Simple as that. We’re working hard. We’re just trying to get to that ACC Championship and turn this Louisville program around.
Q. Taking a look at your progress through the system, you’re in your master’s program, why is it important for you to have a master’s degree?
C.J. AVERY: I just think it’s extremely important to open up doors for yourself. I work my tail off my whole life. I tried to get everything I can out of the University of Louisville. I’m proud to say that I’m working towards that master’s degree to get me in doors that I never could have imagined I could get into.
Quarterback Malik Cunningham
Q. You heard Coach say where he feels your improvement has come. Looking back at the film, looking over these last couple seasons, what have you seen in your game? Where are the improvements?
MALIK CUNNINGHAM: Definitely the improvements going to be in turnover margin, try to keep those things down. Turnovers not something you can work on. I spend a lot of time in the film room, building the confidence in my receivers, those guys to make plays for me this year. So that’s what we’re going to do.
Q. Almost every school in the league this year has a returning quarterback. 13 out of 14. Think back to when you were a young quarterback. What are the advantages of being an experienced guy as opposed to when you’re trying to get used to college football, learn the system?
MALIK CUNNINGHAM: When you’re an experienced quarterback, you seen a lot of ball, been around a lot of coaches. I’ve been around two coaching staffs. I learned a lot from both coaching staffs, added to my game. The confidence you build when you’re an older guy. Having those young guys look up to you is always that a plus in that type of thing.
Q. Last year you had 600 more yards compared to 2019, but you did have seven more interceptions last year compared to 2019. What have you done in the off-season to try to get one number to go the right way and the other number to go the other way?
MALIK CUNNINGHAM: Turnover is not something you can work on. Like I say, I’ve been spending a lot of time in the film room learning from my mistakes, trying to capitalize on those things, turn those things around.
Q. You watch your film from last year. You had a couple of really long strikes. Would you rather air it out or do you like the shorter passes better?
MALIK CUNNINGHAM: I definitely would love to air it out (smiling).
Q. Hoping to see that smile.
MALIK CUNNINGHAM: (Laughter).
Q. What is the biggest difference for you this year to when you look back to 2019 when you were fighting for the spot?
MALIK CUNNINGHAM: Difference now until then, I know I have a role on this team. I had a role back then, but the role is bigger now. Being the leader of the offense, leader of the team. Those guys look up to me, know I have to come through for those guys when we need it most.
Not just be there when everything is high and good, got to be there for the lows. They have to have somebody to look up to and I’m that guy.
Q. What is it like practicing against C.J.?
MALIK CUNNINGHAM: He’s a very experienced guy. Me and C.J., actually came in together. Good seeing him on the other side of the ball, looking you dead in the eye, knowing he might know what you’re about to do. It’s good going against him. He brings a lot to me, and I know I bring a lot to him, as well.
Tight End Marshon Ford
Q. Your unique story of being a walk-on, elevating to where you are right now representing your team, what can you say about your specific road to get here, what you would say to walk-ons in general that there is that open opportunity and dreams can be realized?
MARSHON FORD: You’re always counted out as a walk-on. You always got to take advantage of your opportunities, like each and every way.
For me, I was blessed to be able to get an opportunity from Coach Sat. I tried to take advantage of it, and I did. He rewarded me with a scholarship. Ever since then I’ve been humble and grateful that I was able to get that scholarship.
Q. You open the season against Ole Miss on television, the kickoff in Atlanta. How exciting is that?
MARSHON FORD: It’s a great opportunity. This is actually my second time playing in Atlanta, but my first time playing in Mercedes Benz Stadium. I am very, very happy we get to do that. We get to showcase the work that we put in each day and out, yeah.
Q. You’ve been at Louisville since 2017. You’re the old man in the bunch. What are you teaching the younger kids these days?
MARSHON FORD: Take advantage of your opportunities. That’s what I get. As a tight end, you really don’t see the ball that much, unless you are in Coach Satterfield’s offense. When you get a chance, make the play. Each day and out, make that play. You might not know if you get the ball or you get the chance again. Take advantage of your opportunities.
Q. Can you speak a little bit more to being a tight end. You’ve played that position since high school. What is it about it that you like? What fits your eye?
MARSHON FORD: I like the contact. I like to hit people. I like to do the dirty work. The dirty work is always unseen. That’s the type of guy I am.
Q. You like hitting or catching better?
MARSHON FORD: I like both really (laughter).