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Spring football practice got off to an early start at Stetson. Most teams will not have even started spring ball by the time the Hatters close spring drills on Friday afternoon at the new Athletics Training Center.

The Hatters will end spring drills with a 4:30 p.m. scrimmage, similar in nature to the Homecoming scrimmage last fall. The event is free and open to the public. The game will also be broadcast on radio by WSBB-AM 1230 and WTJV-AM 1490. Matt Musgrove will call the action in the scrimmage with help from several special guests.

The early start and end to spring practice was scheduled by head coach Roger Hughes with two main things in mind – getting done with drills before spring break, and giving the players plenty of time in the strength program between the end of spring practice and the start of fall training camp. 

“The strength program is one of the best ways to develop work-ethic and toughness,” Hughes said. “That is going to be our primary focus, and is part of the reason why we had spring practice so early. We want them to have two full lifting cycles before they report for practice on August 3. You are going to see the effects of the strength program at a much greater level by next fall.”

That does not mean the impact strength coach Brad Lokey and his staff are having is not already visible.

“While we haven’t had as much time as I would like in the weight room, clearly you can see the impact,” Hughes said. “We did some max lifts during the spring drills and we have seen some significant gains.”

The hope for Friday’s spring game is to see the work in the weight room, as well as the extra 13 practices the team has had, result in better play.

“Hopefully we will see progression,” Hughes said. “Hopefully we will see kids who are making better decision, who are reacting more rather than thinking more. Clearly, everyone who has come to see us this spring has said the offensive line looks so much more physical than it did in the fall. Of course they have gotten stronger, but they also know more about what they are doing.”

Spring practice has given the Hatters time to make adjustments from changes that were made following fall drills. Several players moved to new positions, two newcomers were added to the roster, and there has been separation on the depth chart at other positions.

Hughes singled out four players who moved to new positions for the spring. Devon Garnett moved from defensive back to receiver late in the fall, Mike Yonker moved from linebacker to fullback while Patrick Cone went the other direction and Marc Kagan moved from offensive line to defensive line.

While all are behind a little after making the switch, they are learning quickly.

Devon Garnett will be a great addition at receiver,” Hughes said. “Mike Yonker has clearly emerged as the big back in our offense and has shown a lot of promise there. Marc Kagan hasn’t yet shown what he can do on the defensive line because we just moved him a couple of weeks ago, but that is where the weight room comes into play. With Patrick Cone, I think linebacker is his position. He has been able to take advantage of the fact that we have had a couple of injuries at Mike and he has gotten a lot of reps.”

The two newest members of the Stetson roster are offensive lineman Stephen Benson and receiver Laionel Cintron. Benson is a native of Ft. Lauderdale who joined the program as a transfer. Cintron is a big freshman receiver from Warwick, Rhode Island.

“Stephen Benson is getting better,” Hughes said. “On the offensive line it just takes some time to get synergy with the other guys. Laionel Cintron, at wide receiver, has shown a lot of promise. He is a big bodied guy – at least 6-2 and 205 pounds. Had he been here for the fall, he would have been higher up the depth chart, but he has a lot of ability and I am interested to see how he plays in the game.”

Of course, there is always plenty of attention focused on the quarterback position, and Hughes wants to see someone step up there.

Ryan Tentler has ramped his game up to the point where he is clearly out front in the depth chart race, but we are still trying to solidify that second and third position,” Hughes said. “Jonathan Jerozal, Alex Marsh and Ian Leggett are all guys who are hanging around in the mix. Nick LaSala has shown great athleticism and has ripped off some great runs, but he got nicked up in practice last week. I am hoping that his ankle will be well enough that he can show us what he can do.”

Like the fall Homecoming scrimmage, the Spring Game will give the Hatters a taste of what game-day will be like in the fall. With an almost entirely freshman team, getting past the feeling of the unknown is crucial.

“We are hoping they can turn it on and really have a game-like atmosphere,” Hughes said. “I really don’t think we can simulate the speed of the game, and our eyes are going to really be opened during the first few weeks we play because, right now we are just going against each other. While we may seem to be fast, we may not be fast when compared to the teams we will be playing.

“If we come out injury free, if the kids rachet up the speed and intensity with which they are playing, I will be happy. We are trying to simulate, as best we can, that entire game-day atmosphere. The whole reason is so that, on that first night at Spec Martin Stadium, on August 31 at 7 p.m., we are not all googly-eyed when we start. We want them to all have the feeling that they have been there and done that.” 

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