Friday nights mean high school football in the fall, but this Friday night it will be the Stetson Hatters who will take to the field at Spec Martin Memorial Stadium for their Spring Game.
The game is scheduled to kickoff at 6 p.m. and will serve as a lead-in to the Stetson baseball game as the Hatters take on Yale at 7:30 p.m. across the street at Melching Field. Admission to the football spring game is free.
The football Hatters are heading toward the end of spring practice, and will use Friday night as a showcase of how much the team has developed since the end of the historic 2013 season. While spring practice has been about improvement, it has not been without hurdles.
“It’s bee a little frustrating because we have had quite a few injuries,” Hatters coach Roger Hughes said. “I think we have a better understanding of schemes. I think we are stronger – we are faster and we are certainly heavier – and that was our goal. We had spring practice early this year to make sure we have an adequate amount of time to hit the weight room hard.”
A total of 26 players will miss the spring game due to a variety of injuries. That leaves just 37 players on the White team and 38 on the Green team for Friday night. The hardest hit group has been the defensive line, which is down to seven healthy bodies.
“We are probably going to have to put those guys in red jerseys and have them play on both teams,” Hughes said.
In addition to the five defensive linemen who will miss the scrimmage, the running back spot has been hit hard with six players sitting out. The squad will also be missing five linebackers, four receivers, four defensive backs, an offensive lineman and a long snapper.
Hughes said the most important thing on Friday will be for the players who do play to have a good time, but to remember this is the last chance for the coaching staff to evaluate their play before fall camp.
“We have three major scrimmages in the spring and our kids know that every one of those is a major evaluation opportunity,” Hughes said. “We are limited in numbers to 120, so these evaluations go a long way toward determining who gets invited to camp, and who will have to wait until school starts.”
As for the actual play of the game, it will be almost just like a regular game. The exceptions will be on special teams where there will only be two kickoffs (one to start each half) and all punts will be fair caught.
“We have a couple of practices after the spring game where our focus will be on special teams,” Hughes said. “We’ll also start looking forward to the first two games with Warner and Florida Tech. We are already scouting them and we’re going to get a heavy dose of each team in those last two practices.”
With the Stetson coaching staff down three members right now, Hughes said that he and defensive coordinator Brian Young will sit back a little and let the other assistants run the scrimmage.
“Those coaches had a draft when we got back from spring break,” Hughes said. “We are going to give those other guys a chance to call the plays and run the schemes. I’ll be helping out with the offense a little bit with the help of Patrick Fogarty, who has been out because of his shoulder surgery.”
Hughes said that running spring practice without a full staff has been somewhat of a challenge, but it has given some on the staff and opportunity to work with players at positions they normally wouldn’t work with.
“I am very proud of this coaching staff and very thankful that they sucked it up and found ways to coach more than one position,” Hughes said. “Brian has never coached the defensive line backer, but this has given him a chance to get down in there and understand more about the problems that occur in there.
“Those guys all welcomed the challenge and welcomed the opportunity to get better. I think that any time you go through adversity as a group and you come through it in good shape, the bonding of the group builds.”
Hughes said he is on the verge of adding a new tight ends coach to replace Eric Kornhauser, who is moving to coach running backs. The team has been without defensive line coach Dennis Danielson since December due to a health issue. His return will be determined by his physicians at some point in the near future.
Hughes said he hopes to have the opening for an offensive line coach filled before the staff hits the road in mid-April for the spring recruiting period.
While on the subject of recruiting, Hughes said they are almost done, but are still looking for a couple more players.
“Overall, I am pleased,” Hughes said. “I think we have addressed some needs. Our focus was on big guys – linebacker, offensive and defensive line – and I think that is where the strength of this recruiting class is. There are still a couple of kids out there that we’d like to get.”
For every player who commits to attend Stetson in the fall, there is one less spot for the players who are working to make the cut for the start of training camp. That puts an extra emphasis on this scrimmage.
“For every kid we bring in, it puts pressure on the kids we have here for his opportunity to come back,” Hughes said. “The kids who are here now know that and welcome that challenge.”