Cullowhee, N.C. Lively and spirited. Intense and hot. Anticipated and energetic.
No matter what descriptive combination was used to describe it, the proverbial stove was turned up a few more degrees on Western Carolina's 2019 fall training camp Wednesday morning as the team put on full pads for the first time this preseason. The Catamounts worked out for just over two hours including a simulated halftime recovery period as fall camp continued on the turf at E.J. Whitmire Stadium / Bob Waters Field.
“We got a lot of plays in today. We were able to put that football down (on the ground) and all the meeting time, all the fundamentals and techniques, and all the install come together on this first full pad day,” said WCU head football coach Mark Speir. “It lets you see who you are; who's got it and who's got the gerbils running a little upstairs when you go live.”
WCU worked through its longest session of preseason camp spanning 16 periods. And despite the opening whistle coming the earliest it has this fall with the 9:45 am special teams drill, the Catamounts felt the radiant heat on the artificial surface from start to finish that included explosive sprint conditioning drills. Going in full pads, the squad also endured short-yardage and red-zone drills where more physicality is generally required.
Two more practices this week including a second in full pads on Thursday morning ahead of a session in shells on Friday all lead-up to Saturday's first scrimmage of fall camp. That first head-to-head competitive scrimmage is set for 2:30 pm on Saturday afternoon.
Looking ahead to the remainder of the week, Speir added, “We've got to put back-to-back practices together with consistency. I always say that when the excitement of preseason is over, that's when the true character of your football team comes out. We're not quite there in our practice schedule quite yet that'll be next week. But that's when the true character of this football team will show if we're going to be a 365tough' team.”
First Day in Full Pads Who Wants It More:
With the first day in full pads, the hitting and overall intensity ramp-up, but the age-old question remains which side of the football wants it more, offense or defense? And as expected, the answers vary depending upon who you ask but loyalties run deep on the gridiron.
“I'd say that the defense brought the energy today,” said junior defensive lineman Ricky Palao. “The first day in full pads is always exciting, guys come out with a whole lot of energy. We've been waiting for this moment since the last game last year and since the spring. Guys all came out here ready to hit.”
On the other side of the football, cagey veteran tailback Donnavan Spencer had to represent for the offense, though he did acknowledge the efforts of the opposition or the defense from Wednesday's practice.
“You know I've got to say that the offense wants it more,” Spencer said. “We just had to bring it today but, the defense did get after us today, so we've just got to get better.”
Secondary coach and defensive pass game coordinator Tripp Weaver had among the most diplomatic answer to the would-be divisive question.
“You know, at the end of the day, if they don't want it then they don't need to be on the field,” said Weaver. “Effort's not optional here. It's a privilege to coach these guys; it's a privilege to be able to play here and to be on this field. And on defense, if you don't run to the ball, that privilege will be taken away.”
Another preseason camp and yet still, no definitive answer!
Notes & Quotes:
- Single-game tickets for Western Carolina's six home dates in 2019 went on sale Wednesday morning just minutes before the team took to the turf for its fifth practice session ... Both season and single-game tickets remain on sale through the WCU Athletics Ticket Office on the first floor of the Ramsey Center, by phone at (800) 34-GOWCU, and online at CatamountSports.com;
- Four quarterbacks continued to split reps on Wednesday, each wearing the protected gold jersey ... redshirt senior Tyrie Adams and redshirt sophomore Will Jones both took snaps with the first team while Jones and redshirt freshman Bubba Williamson split the second-team snaps for the most part;
- Using a pair of QB Tyrie Adams runs and a third by RB Donnavan Spencer, the offensive unit collected a first down in the “Start Fast” period of Wednesday's fifth practice session;
- Skelly Notes: WCU's quarterbacks completed six passes to six different receivers in the 7-on-7 drills, each making one reception (TE Clayton Bardall; WR D.J. Thorpe; WR Nate Mullen; WR Kenny Benton; WR Tucker Woolum) TE Austin Phillips caught a touchdown pass in the red zone portion of the period ... DEFENSE: freshman DB Jabril Muhammad came up with an interception in the session while senior JerMichael White nearly picked one of the carpet on a short throw over the middle of the field;
- “Play Ball” (head-to-head, O-vs-D) Highlights the offense moved the ball but the defense ultimately recorded a stop ... Tyrie Adams hit Daquan Patten on a crucial third-down conversion early in the drive which was followed by two strong runs by freshman RB Syheam McQueen to move into the red zone ... DL Ricky Palao helped turn the tide with a tackle for loss on a big stick in the backfield ... a 39-yard field goal attempt appeared to be just wide to the left side ... Later in the period, A.J. Rogers intercepted a pass on a “freeze play” at the line of scrimmage
Tyler Carlton co-Offensive Coordinator & Wide Receivers Coach:
On the offense's progress over the first five practices
“I thought our guys came out with a great mindset today. As you get into this part of fall camp, it becomes that mental part where we talk about pushing through it and we talk about embracing it. Understanding that there's been a lot of stuff that's gone in on the installs, but biggest thing every day, can we get just one-percent better be 1-0 that day.”
“We're excited; the guys are getting a little bit better every day. And I think that we're progressing at a pace that's about where I expected us to be.”
Tripp Weaver Secondary Coach and Defensive Pass Game Coordinator:
On the progress of the defense over the first five practices
“Before coming into full pads today, we've just focused on our strain' to the ball. It doesn't matter what scheme you run, how many hats you've got in the box, eventually somebody's got to beat somebody. And if we can do that and run to the ball, we're going to be a good defense. So, the focus has been on how hard can we play football not what kind of football we play. I think up to this point in practice five, we've done a nice job.”
All of WCU's preseason football practices are open to the public. It is respectfully requested, though, that spectators observe from the stadium seating area and avoid being either on the field or the sidelines for safety. Practice times are subject to change.
2019 Catamount Football Preseason Practice Schedule:
Thurs., Aug. 8 Practice #6 9:45 11:45 am (full pads)
Fri., Aug. 9 Practice #7 9:45 11:45 am (shells)
Sat., Aug. 10 Practice #8 (scrimmage) 2:30 4:30 pm (full pads)
Preseason Facebook LIVE with Mark Speir, presented by Stanberry Insurance (5:00 6:00 pm)
Sun., Aug. 11 Victory Day 2:00 3:45 pm
Mon., Aug. 12 Practice #9 9:45 11:45 am (shells)
Tues., Aug. 13 Practice #10 9:45 11:45 am (full pads)
Wed., Aug. 14 Practice #11 9:45 11:45 am (shells)
Thurs., Aug. 15 Practice #12 9:45 11:45 am (full pads)
Fri., Aug. 16 No Practice WCU Freshman Move-In Day
Sat., Aug. 17 Practice #13 (scrimmage) 1:00 3:00 pm (full pads)
Sun., Aug. 18 Practice #14 1:45 3:15 pm (shells)
Mon., Aug. 19 No Practice First Day of Classes
* Practice times are subject to change
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), as well as video updates on the department's YouTube channel (CatamountSports).
Additional Important Upcoming Dates in Catamount Athletics / Catamount Football:
Fri., Aug. 16 Western Carolina University Freshman Move-In Day
Mon., Aug. 19 First day of classes for the fall semester
Fri., Aug. 30 15th Annual Bob Waters Memorial Golf Tournament at the Waynesville Inn Golf Resort & Spa
Sat., Aug. 31 2019 Catamount Football season and home-opener vs. Mercer; Purple Out! Postgame fireworks presented by Ingles, and iHeartMedia partners, 99.9 FM Kiss Country and Star 104.3