GREEN TOWNSHIP, Ohio – The state of Cincinnati has a new governor and his name is Luke Fickell.
On Thursday night, in front of an estimated 225 constituents at the 22nd annual Colerain Boosters Stag, the new University of Cincinnati head football coach spoke for nearly an hour.
Luke Fickell at Colerain stag https://t.co/xcWDStLY0q
— Mike Dyer (@MikeDyer) February 17, 2017
Fickell sat at the front table with Colerain football coach Tom Bolden (‘I’m his wingman tonight’) and soaked in the laughs and revelry with those seated around them dining on a meat-and-potatoes buffet dinner.
Fickell shook hands, signed autographs, posed for photos and converted one-liners like easy first downs.
He zinged former Colerain coach and Ohio State colleague Kerry Coombs, contained the blitz when asked about his reaction to FC Cincinnati using Nippert Stadium, deferred on Skyline or Gold Star and most importantly kept the attention of the young, middle-aged and old enjoying adult beverages at Receptions West.
“This is the lifeblood,” Fickell told WCPO.com before dinner. “This is an incredible town and an incredible community. If you don’t get to know them, how are you able to get them behind you and when you need their help how are they going to help you if they really don’t know who you are? I think this is essential and I think it’s enjoyable to be honest with you.”
It’s been a busy week for Fickell connecting with area high schools. On Tuesday night, he spoke at La Salle’s “Night of Champions” in Fairfield.
On Saturday, UC will host a number of high-profile area 2018 recruits including St. Xavier quarterback Chase Wolf, Fairfield defensive end Malik Vann and Colerain linebacker Daniel Bolden, who is Tom’s nephew.
“There’s no question he understands the importance of taking care of home from a recruiting standpoint,” La Salle Athletic Director Keith Pantling said. “I think the local high school coaches take pride in the emphasis he’s placed on recruiting local talent. It’s becoming a movement and hopefully snowballs into something really special as far as on-field success.”
Fickell, a Columbus St. Francis DeSales High School graduate, has attended some stags before but they aren’t as common in other parts of the state.
The former undefeated high school state wrestling champion spoke from the outset about how he gained traction with the seniors of the UC football team after a 6 a.m. workout before hitting the road to recruit during his first few days on the job. He had just three days to introduce his plan for leadership to the current players.
Fickell emphasized that UC had “bad leadership” last season and was not a bad team. It’s his job to make sure UC has players that are physically, emotionally and mentally ready, he said.
In turn, the players have to buy into the plan before taking the field Aug. 31 against Austin Peay and in Ann Arbor Sept. 9.
“We have to sell the vision for the guys we have,” Fickell said. “We can draw in the (high school players) but the UC players truly influence them.”
The Bearcats are focused on the ‘state of Cincinnati’ -- a 50-mile recruiting radius before reaching out to Ohio and beyond.
So it’s no surprise UC hosted two recruiting nights at Great American Ball Park in January to showcase the city first and foremost.
“That’s where we have to do our best work,” Fickell said. “We know these guys the best.”
Tom Bolden liked what he heard Thursday night. He and his son Kyle, a Colerain senior linebacker, were at Great American Ball Park for a recruiting visit before Kyle verbally committed.
On Thursday night, Tom Bolden made introductions and kept the conversation lively to those who greeted Fickell before the stag.
He gave Fickell a standing ovation after the Q-and-A session.
“He’s doing a great job meeting and greeting,” Bolden said. “He’s just a personable guy. He’s like us. He’s just a down-to-earth guy who exudes winning.”
Kyle Bolden and La Salle senior safety/running back Jarell White -- both of whom signed with the Bearcats earlier this month -- worked out at UC Thursday.
“They’re fired up and ready to go,” Tom Bolden said. “Kyle met with (defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman) getting the defensive playbook. He’s ready to roll.”
Fickell had the Colerain audience rolling at times Thursday night. His informal tone worked well with all age groups sitting at their table.
“I was impressed,” said Brian Wyatt of WeAreColerain.com. “He showed a better sense of humor than I expected.”
Fickell joked he was warned not to jest about Coombs, but received inevitable questions about how he planned to recruit against his former colleague at Ohio State. Coombs was recently named the Rivals.com recruiter of the year.
One question from the audience on the subject drew plenty of laughter as Fickell deadpanned his response.
“He wants to know if I have to compete against that little guy that used to be here,” Fickell joked as he repeated the question. “It will be a good competition. He is not allowed to go back to Colerain. If he gets there we get a phone call. We’re not going to take a backstage to anybody.”
But Fickell also gave serious insight about how he drove to Coombs’ home, looked his friend straight in the face and told the former Colerain coach how he committed he was to UC and Cincinnati.
Fickell said he didn’t understand how passionate the Colerain community was about football when Coombs used to recap the previous Friday’s game while the two were at Ohio State.
“I want to bring that same pride and passion to the University of Cincinnati,” Fickell said.
Fickell, 43, also spoke about his family and how he and his wife, Amy, manage to raise their six children. Amy and the children remain in the Columbus area for now until the move is completed. The family is looking to reside in Mason, Loveland or Indian Hill.
He said even if he receives four to five hours of sleep due to his job schedule, that is nothing compared to what Amy does to help raise the children.
The Fickell family can’t wait to set a foundation in the community.
“We could truly look at (Cincinnati) as a destination,” Fickell said. “That we could raise our family, our kids can go to high school and our kids can live in this community and we could look at this as not any type of stepping stone. That’s one of my big messages out there. I say the same thing to recruits. This is not some place you are going to come and rent. This is some place that is a destination. We want you to take pride in the things that we do.”