New season, new roster: Lance Leipold’s hopes for the Bulls

UB’s football coach talks with The Spectrum before season starts with Thursday’s big game.

liepold

Lance Leipold has been UB’s head football coach since 2015, and last year he led the Bulls to a record-breaking 10-4 season. 

This year, the 2018 Mid-American Conference Coach of the Year is ready for even more success. In February, Leipold signed a contract keeping him in Buffalo through the 2023 season, and now he has a new fieldhouse to work with.

Unlike their award-winning coach, many players on last year’s football team will not be returning. Fourteen of last year’s starters have moved on from the team, including starting quarterback Tyree Jackson. 

But Leipold is excited to work with this year’s squad and said fans should keep an eye out for some new recruits.

The season kicks off Thursday when the Bulls face Robert Morris at UB Stadium. We caught up with Leipold before the big day and talked Jaret Patterson, the impact of the Murchie Family Fieldhouse and Tyree Jackson’s experience in the pros.

The Spectrum: Are there any new recruits or transfer players that you’re particularly excited about?

Leipold: We got so many new guys. … I really like our receiving corner. Everybody brings something new to the table, some have been in and out based on health. Daniel Lee, one of our junior college wide receivers. Carlton Todd, another one from Iowa Central. Daniel’s from Cisco College in Texas. Bernard Porter is a junior college transfer but has three years of eligibility. So those are the older new receivers. Then we have Trevor Wilson [who] was early enroll league and got the spring practices underneath him. And Javien Cuff is a freshman from Vero, Florida: Vero Beach area. Marlon Johnson was a late addition to our class this summer. He’s about 6’4” and gives us some length at the receiver spot. All those guys are in a good position to play. Now with the new red-shirt rules that the NCAA incorporated last year we can play them four games and still save it. There may be guys that still fall under that but at this moment, don’t be surprised if all those guys that I just mentioned end up on the field Thursday night. 

TS: Jaret Patterson had a great freshman season for you last year. Did you anticipate that he would be one of your stronger offensive players at this point in the offseason last year?

L: At this point last year, Jaret was what we call a grey-shirt. He graduated and didn’t enroll his first semester. James [Patterson] and Jaret were in a group of about four young men and they came in that next January. So, going through spring practice, Jaret and James both showed the ability to help our football team. To what degree, we didn’t know. … I think at this point, standing in front of this group last year, probably not. But, did we know that he had great balance, quickness, ability to make someone miss him in space? Yes we did. But, never would we think that he would put up the numbers that he did. 

TS: Has the new Murchie Family Fieldhouse been particularly helpful for your offseason training?

L: Yeah, we [got] it in late spring, and it really helped us. Where we are really going to see its full effects are probably later this season and as we approach the second semester. But even just excitement and attitude of our players. For us to have a facility like that, and for them to want to get in there and work on their own is something that definitely can help this program and is already something that can help us in recruiting.

TS: With the success of Jaret Patterson –– and your whole running back line-up –– along with the current vacancy at the quarterback position, do you think this year’s offense will take more of a run-first approach?

L: We are an R.P.O. team. A lot of the time it’s going to be a run-pass option. It’s going to still be what’s been given to us. But, yeah you got a thousand-yard rusher and another guy who was at eight hundred yards–you want to make sure you’re going to give them the touches that they need for us to be effective. Probably a boring answer is that every year we are going to do what it takes for us to move the ball and win games, whatever our personnel allows us to do.

TS: Have there been any players who have been working particularly hard and have developed a lot since last season?

L: When you ask that I will always leave somebody out, but Zac Lefebvre is a young man who really worked extremely hard. I look at some of our upperclassman: Kadofi Wright, Tyrone Hill. Those three guys, who are red-shirt juniors, you can see them really evolving themselves into the leaders that they can be. All our returning linemen have done a great job. Devon Russell has worked really hard to rehab himself back into a position to help us. Antonio Nunn, not only just working hard but is really becoming a leader in that receiver role and I think he’s done a great job because we have so many new faces in that position.

TS: You lost a lot of guys to transfers and even the NFL this offseason. Do you have any plans to help retain talent during the transfer portal?

L: There are a lot of things that you need to look at when the transfer portal plays out. The transfer rules are somewhat evolving and we have to see how that plays out. We always look for ways to improve our football team, but many times what you go through with transfers, sometimes you have younger players that are still developing that can help your team equally or more. So, we’ve always looked at all options and we have graduate transfers in our program. We have four-year transfers in our program. We have junior college transfers in our program.

TS: Do you think Tyree Jackson made the right call to leave UB and enter the NFL? Or do you think he could have benefited from one more year with the Bulls?

L: You know, we wanted Tyree to stay. But him and I talk. We still talk. Tyree made the decisions that he thought were best for him. Hindsight is 20/20 for everyone. We all wish he would have been drafted.

TS: With all the players that you lost in the offseason this past year, I’ve heard people anticipate that this season will be a sort of incubation period or like a rebuilding process. I am wondering how do you respond to that?

L: I can see why people would think that. And probably there is some justification for that. You know, like I’ve said, I think maybe as expectations continue to grow and people look at statistically what is left of the program, that’s a fair statement at this point. But, as I’ve said before, maintaining success is achieved by keeping young men motivated and challenged to get better each and every day. And that’s our responsibility and I think this group is really receptive to that. And I’m excited. I really have enjoyed our fall camp. I think the way that we’ve modified our schedule some and what we’re doing, this group is coachable and accepting of it, and they take it [well] when you point out something that they’re not doing correctly. And like I’ve said, it’s going to be a challenging month in the non-conference and then when we head into the season. But that’s what makes the Mid-American Conference what it is. It’s because of the competitiveness within and the balance within the league. It’s going to be a challenge and we are embracing that.

Julian Roberts-Grmela is an assistant features editor and can be reached at julian.grmela@ubspectrum.com.