The Stetson football took on two new foes Wednesday afternoon in preparation for the 2014 season – full pads and the afternoon heat.
It may have been expected for the extra gear and higher temperatures to take a toll on the young team, but upbeat music early in practice and some enthusiastic drills at the end helped the Hatters take on the challenge with no problem.
“We didn’t really do any tackling or cutting, we really just wanted to get them used to the pads,” head coach Roger Hughes said. “This was our first afternoon practice as well. We’ll learn more tomorrow when we have our first two-a-day, and that will tell us a lot about how our kids come back from adversity. We’ll know even more when we get to the scrimmage phase and actually start cutting and tackling.”
The Hatters are scheduled to be on the practice field at 8:30 a.m. and again at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday. The team will have another afternoon practice on Friday before the first scrimmage on Saturday at 2 p.m.
One area of concern for the coaching staff entering the fall is the defensive line, where only sophomore Davion Belk, who started 10 games in 2013, returns as a primary starter. Three others who saw significant playing time on the defensive line last year have left the program and a fourth, Jack Howerton, has moved across the ball to offensive line.
Those departures give other players a chance to step up, including some of the freshmen who have just joined the program.
“Obviously, we are looking for some big kids who can run,” Hughes said. “Unfortunately, that is the same thing every other team in the country is looking for. We are also looking for consistency. We are looking for guys who can get into the right gaps. We have to make sure that we are doing all that we can to keep those offensive linemen off the linebackers. Those two groups, the defensive line and the linebackers, have to work together to stop that.”
While there is certainly an emphasis on finding the right players to lineup next to Belk, the coaches, including new defensive line coach Charles Huff, are still focused on teaching.
“We are really not at an evaluation stage right now, we are just putting in new things and teaching,” Hughes said. “We are trying to see what they can do with everything pointed toward that first scrimmage. That is when the evaluation process will start. We are a little young there, so there are going to be mistakes, but we have to find guys who can handle our scheme and we’ll go from there as far as getting ready.”
Having a veteran coach, like Huff, on hand to focus on the defensive line is something Hughes is happy about.
“His experience is one thing,” Hughes said. “He has played at all different levels, including the NFL, so he has an understanding of the type of work ethic it takes and the type of motivation it takes. He has a good understanding of the competition level we have to play at, so he knows how hard to push his guys to get them to the level they have to be at to be competitive.”
Hughes said he has been impressed by all of the new coaches on his staff.
“It doesn’t stop with Coach Huff,” Hughes said. “I think the quality of our staff has continued to improve as people learn more about us. We have been able to attract people of the caliber of Coach Huff and Coach Tim Holt and Coach Matt Diniak and all the others. It is a process where everyone on our staff has gotten better by bringing in guys with experience.”
The Hatters travel to face Warner University in Lakeland on August 30 in the 2014 season-opener. The home-opener is scheduled for the following week, against Florida Tech, at 7 p.m. on Sept. 6.
Season tickets for Stetson’s six home games at Spec Martin Memorial Stadium, “The Best Little Stadium in College Football”, are available for as little as $90 through the Stetson Athletics Ticket Office. The office is located inside the Edmunds Center on Pennsylvania Avenue and is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m.
Season tickets can also be purchased by calling 386-738-HATS (4287) or by visiting www.GoHatters.com/tix.