To preview Maryland’s game on Saturday at Temple, The Post caught up with Owls defensive coordinator Chuck Heater to talk Terrapins, Perry Hills and mental toughness. Here is a selection from the conversation.
Thanks for taking the time, Coach. Last season, your team had its way with the Terps in a 38-7 win at College Park. Reviewing film from that game this week, what did you see, and what is your team expecting differently from Maryland?
I think our kids really came out and played really hard. I’m not sure what was going on with respect to Maryland, but I know we had success and got going. Our offense really ran the ball well. All of a sudden they’re and they start to get off their game plan. All those dynamics go into the game.
But that was that day, and this is a new year, a new day, and we know we’re going to face a team that’s very energized and an attitude of really coming at you.
Our edge has to be we need to go compete e very week, we’re in a new, much tougher league [the Big East], so we’re fighting for our lives, try to find a way to win each week. Whatever your edge is, that’s what you find. We’re a tough team, a team that trains hard and tough. In a competitive environment, if that’s who you are, then you’ll play at your best.
That toughness and edge, is that an identity your team consciously strives for?
Our head football coach [Steve Addazio] is an offensive line coach, and that probably speaks to it right there. A line coach is all about the toughness. It’s arguably the toughest position to coach and play. So his whole mind-set is the mental toughness. Not that everybody doesn’t believe that, because they do. But his point of reference with the offense line play, that’s the mantra we try to follow. Football has all these collisions and is just so tough mentally and physically. The more of those guys who follow that mental toughness, the more success you have. It rewards guys who are competitive and tough, and we feel we have those guys.
It’s a message and it’s a persona that our head coach presents every day. He challenges guys both mentally and physically in a very competitive atmosphere on the practice field, and guys are held accountable in all arenas. We think through that, we’ve developed a team that can compete in that arena that’s so tough, in a game that can be won in a very small margin.
When you look at Maryland’s offense this time around, what do you see?
A lot of unknown. Obviously, a year ago, they felt pretty good about their offense coming into our game. They had just played Miami, had a lot of confidence, then whatever happened that day happened. Now I think they’re searching for ways to be productive on offense. It wasn’t the cards they had dealt themselves, certainly. For us it’s the unknown, what are they going to do to create more offense than I’m sure they were happy with a week ago.
They talk about him being a state wrestling champion. Is that a true statement? Yes? In some circles that’s about as high as it gets. That tells you all you need to know about the guy. Wrestling is tough and competitive, and I think because of that DNA he’ll get better every week. He’s not weak mentally, and he’s going to compete. It’s a game that rewards guys who are tough mentally, so I suspect he’ll get better every week, and he’ll be better Week 2 than he does Week 1, because that’s seemingly who he is.
During the weekly Big East teleconference, Coach Steve Addazio praised Maryland’s receivers. What have you seen from them on film, and how is your team preparing for them?
Those are difference makers. A lot of coaches would like to have that group of guys. Obviously they’re going to get the balls in the hands of those guys any way they can because they’re guys who can make plays and can make people miss. It’s a group of guys who can come at you a lot of different ways. That’s a quality, quality position for them, quality running backs and an outstanding tight end. I’m sure they’ll try to find some ways to get balls to those guys, because that’s the nature of their offense, to get the balls to the guys in the space.
(Bonus!) What is the team’s mentality entering Saturday, on the heels of a season-opening 41-10 rout of Villanova, in Temple’s first game back with the Big East?
We realize we have a great challenge with what we’re doing here. We’re jumping up in the leagues. We feel like we can compete with everybody, that the field won’t be uneven on every Saturday, but we recognize we’re not good enough to go out there and play with less of an edge than the team we’re playing, less energy and less attitude than the team we’re playing.
We’ve got to prepare our players to play really hard and improve. We all have great respect from this team, and some of the teams we play. They’re all, on paper, better than what we are. You could make that case. That’s what you have, and our guys have to understand that they have to play with an edge and a certain approach to the game and find a way to have one point more than the other team. That’s all. We’re just fighting, scratching and clawing because of who we are and where we are.