Cullowhee, N.C. - Under heavy overcast skies yet unseasonably mild conditions at the outset, the Western Carolina Catamount football team opened its annual spring drills on Tuesday on the turf at E.J. Whitmire Stadium / Bob Waters Field. The mid-February opening of the NCAA-mandated 15 off-season team practice sessions is among the earliest for WCU, and was met with great enthusiasm and excitement.
"I thought it was a great first day. We got a lot done; the weather was unbelievable -- feels like spring -- but I felt that on both sides of the ball, there was a lot of focus," said WCU head coach Mark Speir following Tuesday's session. "(The players) were very intent on learning, especially on defense. They got a lot thrown at them today. Our offense did a lot of motions, formation adjustments, and for day one, I thought our defense was very poised and found a way to make a lot of plays."
Speir added, "On offense, I thought we put in a lot of stuff as well as far as some motions and formations that we haven't run before. So, from the get-go on both sides of the ball, I thought it was a very productive day."
All told, the Catamounts worked through a 13 period, two-hour practice that included a lot of individual position and unit work, and finished with the typical conditioning in a "Finish Strong" session for Speir's squad. There was a lot of teaching and learning taking place on the turf, especially on the defensive side of the football under first-year defensive coordinator, John Wiley. The cagey veteran coach stressed intensity and getting to the football during each rep on Tuesday.
Offensively, sixth-year offensive coordinator Brad Glenn and his staff continued the same rallying cry they've used since day one -- tempo. Each drill and each repetition was prodded by the same mantra of getting to the line of scrimmage and executing plays with great tempo.
Three quarterbacks rotated in the backfield for the Catamounts including returning starter Tyrie Adams and freshman back-ups Nolan Beasley and Hunter Watson.
Perhaps the most exciting part of Tuesday's first practice was a spirited 7-on-7 skill position drill. WCU's QB's combined to complete a combined 13 passes including 10 by Adams, spreading the football around to eight different receivers including two tight ends and a running back. All-conference wide receiver Terryon Robinson was the recipient of three passes with classmates Brad Swan Jr. and Jacob Robinson both catching two passes.
The defensive unit wasn't without its highlights during the drill as the secondary and linebackers combined for several pass break-ups with John Brannon coming away with an interception and a second pass break-up. Returning corner Keion Crossen almost picked off a pass, posting a PBU, while Mitchell Chancey and D'Andre Belton combined to bat a pass away to prevent a completion.
Roughly seven players were held out of Tuesday's opening day of spring drills, mostly for precautionary purposes following off-season surgeries or lingering injuries from the 2016 season. Those players worked continually with the athletic performance staff on strength and conditioning exercises during the two-our session.
Western Carolina continues its spring practice on Thursday with a second helmet-only session. The team will put on the shoulder pads for the first time on Friday afternoon before conducting its first practice in full pads this Saturday in Cullowhee.
Season tickets for all five home dates in 2017 are on-sale now through the WCU Athletics Ticket Office and online at CatamountSports.com. Returning season ticket holders must renew their season tickets by mid-June, 2017. Fans can call the ticket office toll free at (800) 34-GOWCU or (828) 227-2401.
Fans can keep track of Catamount football and spring practice through the Catamount Athletics social media outlets on Facebook (fb.com/catamountsports), Instagram (wcu_catamounts), and Twitter (@catamounts), as well as video updates on the department's YouTube channel (CatamountSports).
Upcoming 2017 Catamount Football Spring Practice Schedule:
(schedule subject to time/date changes)
Practice #2: Thursday, Feb. 16 (helmets only) -- 4:30 -- 6:30 pm
Practice #3: Friday, Feb. 17 (shells) -- 4:00 -- 6:00 pm
Practice #4: Saturday, Feb. 18 (full pads) -- 1:30 -- 3:30 pm
Practice #5: Tuesday, Feb. 21 (full pads) -- 4:30 -- 6:30 pm
Practice #6: Thursday, Feb. 23 (shells) -- 4:30 -- 6:30 pm
Practice #7: Saturday, Feb. 25 (full pads - scrimmage) -- 1:30 -- 3:30 pm
Practice #8: Tuesday, Feb. 28 (shells) -- 4:30 -- 6:30 pm
Practice #9: Thursday, March 2 (full pads) -- 4:30 -- 6:30 pm
WCU Spring Break -- March 4-12
Practice #10: Tuesday, March 14 (full pads) -- 4:30 -- 6:30 pm
Practice #11: Thursday, March 16 (shells) -- 4:30 -- 6:30 pm
Practice #12: Saturday, March 18 - Spring Game, presented by Wells Fargo (full pads) -- 1:30 pm
Practice #13: Tuesday, March 21 (full pads) -- 4:30 -- 6:30 pm
Practice #14: Thursday, March 23 (shells) -- 4:30 -- 6:30 pm
Practice #15: Friday, March 24 (helmets) -- 4:00 -- 6:00 pm