The Stetson football team opened training camp for the 2014 season on Saturday with conditioning tests, and then came back on Sunday evening with their first full practice session.
Sunday’s spirited practice lasted three hours and gave the coaches returning to the staff and indication of just how far the program has come.
Head coach Roger Hughes said that he wasn’t all that pleased with the results of the conditioning tests on Saturday, but that the team responded well. He also said that the returning players have come a long way from where they were at this time one year ago.
“If you had asked me yesterday, I would have said that our conditioning was very poor,” Hughes said. “Part of that is because the freshmen didn’t know how to run the test, and that makes is look a lot worse than it really is.
“We had more than half that passed the test. Maybe just over a third didn’t pass, and about half of that number was freshmen. We were better than we were last year and, as a coach, you have to remember where we started from.”
Even with the improved physical condition of the team, there were a few early rough edges that had to be worked out early in Sunday’s session, especially for the defense.
Defensive coordinator Bryan Young said that he had cell phones go off twice during a pre-practice meeting and that another player forgot his playbook in the cafeteria. The result was the entire defense performing a sustained series of up-downs early in practice.
The Hatters have designed their early practices to give the new players some time early to get acclimated while allowing the returning players time at the end to work through fatigue. Hughes said the idea is to give those new players time so that the coaches can assess them.
“I really like the athleticism of the freshmen,” Hughes said. “It is hard to really assess what their value is going to be until they figure out what is going on. Right now they are thinking too much for their athleticism to take over. These first five to nine days we are going to get them acclimated to terminology and the schemes so that we can give them a chance to compete for a position.”
While the younger players get accustomed to life at Stetson, the older players came in ready to hit the ground running.
“The returning guys have been outstanding,” Hughes said. “We have been able to pick up right where we left off and that is one of the reasons that I think the tempo at practice was so good. We are not thinking, we are moving.
“As a team, I think we realize that we have a lot of work to do and tonight they came out and embraced the hard-hat, lunch-pail attitude and got after it. I feel a lot better tonight than I did last night, but I think it is going to be a series of baby steps as we go forward.”
In addition to welcoming a host of new players to the current roster of 117, the Hatters also have a handful of new coaches who are having to learn their way around for the first time.
“It has been a unique deal for us, but I am really pleased with the quality of the coaching staff that we have put together,” Hughes said. “What they may not have in experience with our offense and defense, they make up for in enthusiasm and energy. I am confident that we are going to get where we need to go.”
Three of the newest Stetson coaches have some significant college and professional coaching experience under their belts, but the two more recent additions to the staff – tight ends coach Jake Behrns and defensive backs coach Jake Iodence – are not much older than some of the players they will be coaching.
“There will be a lot of coaching the coaches this year, but we will get to shape them the way we want to,” Hughes said. “It also gives us coaches with experience here a refreshing look at things because if the new coaches are having a hard time with our play book and how much we are putting in, then maybe that is the reason the players are struggling. They will give us a good barometer to know how fast we need to be moving with things.”
Practices will continue this week with sessions on Monday and Tuesday at 7 p.m. and Wednesday at 2 p.m. prior to the first of three scheduled two-a-days on Thursday. All practice sessions are open to the public.
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 4:30 p.m.
Season tickets can also be purchased by calling 386-738-HATS (4287) or by visiting www.GoHatters.com/tix.