Cullowhee, N.C. – Under partly cloudy skies and slightly warmer than normal temperatures for late-January, the Western Carolina football team returned to practice on Friday morning on the turf at E.J. Whitmire Stadium / Bob Waters Field. The nine-period session lasted right at 90 minutes as the squad worked out in helmets only.
“What a beautiful day we had here in Western North Carolina. All the guys came out this morning in sweatshirts but just about five minutes into practice, they were peeling them off,” said WCU head coach Mark Speir following his squad’s first practice of the spring preseason. “I thought that we had an excellent first practice. The guys had a lot of energy, a lot of focus and it was genuine.”
Speir added, “I saw a lot of great coaching, teammates coaching each other. Our coaches are doing a great job of really focusing on the details, the techniques and the fundamentals on both sides of the ball. But the true test will be can we have that same feeling after practice No. 10 and practice No. 20.”
Speir stressed the importance of continuing to develop depth in the time of COVID. He also talked about the importance of slowly ramping-up training to be game-ready in late February.
“Our guys did a really good job over the holiday break and getting back here a week and a half early to start training. But, this still isn’t the normal deal,” Speir said. “You typically have a whole summer and then the month of August that leads up to the season – but we play in less than a month. So, we’ve got to be very smart as coaches on how we practice, starting small and build up the intensity ahead of our first game week.
With most all the active roster participating in Friday’s spirited practice, six different quarterbacks split reps including returners Will Jones and freshmen Kason Lincke and Cade Snotherly, each who saw action during the fall portion of the schedule. That trio was joined by the three newcomers in transfer Marcelo Rodriguez, who was in camp during the fall semester, graduate transfer Ryan Glover from Penn and junior college transfer Carlos Davis from East Mississippi Community College in the rotation as all shared snaps with various groupings.
A chunk of Friday’s practice was spent in individual position work and team unit install between the offense and defense with just one real competitive session in the 7-on-7 “skelly” work for the position players.
Several Catamount newcomers made big plays on offense during 7-on-7. Redshirt junior WR Raekwon Heath made a leaping grab on a back-shoulder throw by Davis while Glover delivered a bullet that was snared by redshirt senior Daqan Patten. Glover also dropped-in a completion to converted WR Reggie Jones while Lincke had completions to both Patten and a touchdown strike to Jones.
Without a pass rush, the defensive secondary and linebackers managed numerous whistle stops signifying coverage sacks. Linebacker Dejon DeCruz was also involved in breaking-up a pass over the middle for the spirited defensive squad.
Preseason practice continues Saturday with a second, helmet-only practice before the squad puts on shoulder pads for the first time on Sunday. In compliance with ongoing COVID protocols and with the on-going construction to the façade of the Ramsey Center, each of WCU’s preseason practices is closed to the public.
WCU’s 2021 spring season consists of an eight-game, conference-only regular season followed by a 16-team NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) playoff that begins on April 24. The Catamounts open the schedule in 29 days at chromatic-rival, Furman, on Sat., Feb. 20 with kickoff at Paladin Stadium set for 2:00 p.m.
Keep track of everything related to Catamount Football and WCU Athletics through its social media outlets on Facebook (FB.com/CatamountSports), and Twitter (@Catamounts, @CatamountsFB).