The talk came early in camp.
Towson State football coach Gordy Combs wanted to make sure that his quarterback, New Jersey native Ryan Waltz, wasn't trying to be someone else -- namely former Tiger Dan Crowley, the most prolific college passer in state history.
Filling those shoes, Combs told the redshirt freshman, wasn't what the coaching staff expected of him. Not yet.
"I told him he's got to let the other 10 guys around him help," said Combs, who is 21-9 in three seasons. "He can't take it all on himself."
Soothing words, but they don't relieve the pressure on Waltz, who traveled with the team last year and would have played had Crowley been injured.
"I still feel it," he said. "I'm only a freshman, and I feel like I do have to fill his shoes because he was here last year and did so well."
In four years, Crowley threw for 8,900 yards and 81 touchdowns, and set 15 school passing records.
He has moved on to the Baltimore Stallions of the Canadian Football League. And Waltz has moved into the hot seat, especially after sophomore Matt Romans quit the team last week. He was the only tested quarterback on the roster.
"Ryan's got a great arm and he throws the ball well," said center David Snyder, who joins right tackle Robbie Bundy as the only offensive starters returning from last year. "As long as he maintains his confidence and we protect him, I think he'll be fine.
"Everybody tries to sit down with him and talk to him about a lot of things, let him know we're behind him and boost him up whenever we can. A young guy like that has a tendency to get down when something goes wrong or he makes a bad read. We try to tell him it's going to happen. The same thing happened to Dan when he was a freshman."
Said Waltz: "I'm going to make mistakes. I expect that. But I just have to keep my head up. I can run the ball well and I have a strong arm. That always helps. And I know the offense."
Crowley's favorite target at Towson was Mark Orlando, who established school career records with 178 receptions, 3,460 yards, 31 touchdowns and 19.4 yards per catch. They're teammates now with the Stallions, leaving Waltz without a starting receiver from last year.
Juniors Shawn Ward and Amadi Eze are back to claim the vacancies at split end and flanker, respectively. Both run the 40-yard -- in less than 4.5 seconds, and both saw plenty of action last year, combining for 34 receptions and eight touchdowns (seven by Ward).
Together, they will try to make up for the loss of Orlando and fellow starter Andrew Fields, who caught 23 passes for 329 yards and four touchdowns last year.
"I really haven't felt any pressure," Ward said, "except for maybe when I first got into camp and it was like, 'Mark's not here anymore. We've got to step up.' And that's what we said to each other. We have to step it up. We had to actually tell people what to do this year. We understand that now and we've accepted it."
This hasn't been a typical camp for the Tigers. This is their first year without scholarship players, and they have joined the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference-Intercollegiate Football Conference, which doesn't allow spring practices.
"It's been a very slow camp in terms of introducing things," Combs said.
It livened up with the addition of former Randallstown High and University of Maryland running back Larry Washington, whose final year of eligibility will be spent in Towson's backfield. He allows Combs to bring along slowly some younger players who would have been rushed into duty as the Tigers tried to replace Brian McCarty, the school's all-time leading scorer. And he relieves some of the burden on Waltz.
On defense, the Tigers will switch to a 4-3 alignment. Returning to the line are Tim Moran, who is being moved from end to nose guard, and John Bardak, sidelined most of last year with a broken leg. All three linebackers and everyone in the secondary -- where three sophomores and a junior college transfer probably will start -- were reserves last season.
The Tigers are young, but as Combs stresses, they have some experience. "It's not as if our entire offense and defense hasn't been on the field," Combs said.
Said Ward: "Since we're young, we have a lot of enthusiasm. We want to win and we don't want to let down. It's going to be a fun year. We may be a little shaky when we first come out, but I think we'll be OK."
TOWSON STATE AT A GLANCE
Coach: Gordy Combs (three years, 21-9)
Last year: 8-2
Conference: Eastern Collegiate Athletic
Radio: WTMD (89.7 FM)
Stadium: Minnegan (5,000)
Top returning players: QB Ryan Waltz, WR Shawn Ward, WR Amadi Eze, RT Robbie Bundy, C David Snyder, LB John Spencer, NG Tim Moran, DE John Bardak, CB Mike Kelly, FS Khalid McLeod, K George Perdikakis.
Top newcomers: RB Larry Washington, CB Brad Freeman, DL Antonio Robbins.
Strengths: Ward and Eze are quality receivers; Waltz has potential to be another in long line of excellent Towson quarterbacks; backfield has been upgraded with arrival of Washington; schedule has been downgraded.
Weaknesses: Bundy and Snyder are only returning offensive starters; team is very young, most notably in an untested secondary.
Strongest opponent: Butler, which is ranked 25th among Division I-AA schools by Sports Illustrated and boasts running back Arnold Mickens, who last year broke the NCAA Division I-AA single-season rushing record with 2,255 yards.
Key game: Butler, because it's a strong opponent and this will be Towson's season-opener. "We should have an indication at 4 p.m. [today] what kind of football team we have," Combs said.