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Football: Q&A with UL linebackers Mark Risher and Brent Burkhalter

Mark Risher and Brent Burkhalter figure to be in major roles for UL’s 2007 defensive unit at the linebacker slots. Risher, a senior from Lafayette, enters his fifth year coming off an injury-plagued junior season, while Baton Rouge product Burkhalter is coming off two solid seasons as a freshman and sophomore.

Football is a huge part of both of their lives, and not just during their time on the field. In a wide-ranging conversation during UL’s Fan Day activities on Sunday, both talked about the Cajuns’ coaching changes, how they deal with the demands of football and college life, and their plans for the future.

Q – You both went through a change in position coaches and your defensive coordinator in December when Brent Pry was released. How did that affect you?

MR As a person I’ll miss Coach Pry forever. He was here my first four years, and he treated all the linebackers like they were his sons. It was very difficult to see him go and the process take place. You don’t realize how much it affects you until it happens. It was hard to hear him call us and tell us the news, because in some way you feel responsible as a player.

But the head coach had to make a judgment call and we respect that. That’s the way the game’s evolved.

BB – It was difficult. Coach Pry had been around me since my junior year in high school. He got me here, he was my position coach and he was the defensive coordinator. He was a well liked guy and a guy we miss a lot. But what’s happened since then’s better for him, and hopefully it’ll be a good change for us too. Coach (Kevin) Fouquier brings a lot of good things to the table.

Q – The defense has obviously changed since the coaching shuffle. What are the biggest differences there?

BB – We’re really being more aggressive and getting after the quarterback more. We’re trying to make more plays on the offense and not sit back and wait for them to screw up. We’re flying around the ball a lot, and we’re getting after each other to keep doing that. It’s like it doesn’t matter that you don’t know exactly what to do, but you better be running to the ball.

MR – Tackles for losses are going to be big for us. Our pass rush and working with our hands we’ve really worked on, but mostly we’re a lot more aggressive. As a defense, we’re holding each other accountable for the things we do. When we watch video, we point out mistakes and we point out times when the effort’s not there. We’ll always find something to improve on.

BB – Coach Fouquier has a very aggressive style. He wants to get after the offense. If you pressure them, most college quarterbacks are going to make mistakes.

MR – The tempo is at its highest point since I’ve been here. Before, we never really had accountability during practice. It just wasn’t stressed as much. When he (Fouquier) was at FIU, all three linebackers were among the top in the nation in tackles for losses. Doing some of those things is only going to make us better as players.

Q – Coach Bustle has talked about this being the toughest camp since he’s been here. How hard has it been?

MR – This is my last one, so it’s kind of like you want it to be over and you don’t want it to be over. Coach brought all the seniors together this week and told us this season will go by faster than you think.

BB – Some of us have talked about how we can’t wait until school starts (end of preseason camp), and I never thought I’d be saying that. We’re all hurting. It’s a tough time now, but you need this to succeed through the season.

Q – With what you’re going through now and all during the season, do you think the average person in the street realizes how much time and effort goes into playing college football?

BB – There’s no way to know what we do unless you’ve done it. The hard work, the commitment, especially at a linebacker, the pain, the injuries you go through. As cliché as it sounds, nobody would understand unless they’ve played college football.

MR – I don’t think they know what it all includes. If you’re watching football with somebody that hasn’t played and doesn’t understand, you realize how much people don’t know what goes into it. That’s why I really respect the ex-players … they’re the one that have been through it and know what’s required to do this.

With what we go through and to still have a personal life, a family and your faith, we definitely have a full plate.

BB – Just the time you spend here takes away from your studies. And when you leave here you’re exhausted, you don’t feel like doing the things you need to do just because of the time commitment. This team seems to be able to handle it. We had the best team GPA ever last year so we’re doing a pretty good job of handling it.

Q What do you plan to be doing 10 years from now?

MR – I hope I’ve got a nice job somewhere in the business world. I’d love to meet up with all the guys I played with and go to some football games. Some of the best times we’ve had has been just sitting around the cafeteria, laughing with all the guys. These are the guys I’m going to hang with the rest of my life, and I hope I look back 10 or 20 years from now and remember that and hopefully it’ll put a smile on my face. And I want to teach my sons the game.

BB – I hope to be in school for another 10 years since I’m trying to get into medical school, unless I can somehow get the chance to play more football. I’d like to go into the medical field because I enjoy that, but it’s going to be nice to be able to get out and go to football games and watch the games. I haven’t been able to do that since eighth grade. Mostly, enjoy the nice life that everybody hopes for, raising your kids.

Q – Both of you mentioned children in the future. What will you tell them about when you played, and what will you tell them if they want to be college athletes?

MR – I’d tell them the same thing my dad said to me, to have fun with it. It’s a game. If you’re not going to have fun it’s not going to be worth it. He played for Coach (Dick) McCloskey at Hanson, and he became the person he is because of the discipline football brings.

I’ll tell them if you’re going to play in college it’s going to be double the work you put into it before. I’ll give them the option. College football’s great and if that’s what you want I’ll help, but it’s definitely not for everyone.

BB – I have a little brother that’s eight years younger than I am, and he’s already talking about playing. I’m glad football’s his favorite sport, but I’m already letting him know not to be pressured into it.

I’ll make sure to let my kids know that if they want to play football, baseball, whatever, I’ll be there to support them. I’ll tell them about all the great times I had and share those with them, and just let them know as much work as it was, it was worth it.

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Brad Kemp/bkemp@theadvertiser.com

UL linebackers Mark Risher (4) and Brent Burkhalter (43) have high hopes for the 2007 football season.