Cullowhee, N.C. - Blustery and wintry conditions greeted the Catamount football team as it opened its 2018 spring drills on Monday afternoon on the turf at E.J. Whitmire Stadium / Bob Waters Field. Despite bright sunny skies, a gusting wind accompanied frigid temperatures as WCU held its first of consecutive helmet-only practices, working out for right at two hours in the first of 15 sessions slated for this spring.
Monday's practice session included 13 periods in a "tag-off" format with a focus on teaching, fundamentals, and overall effort.
"Today was a good first day -- I feel like we're off to a really good start to our spring," said WCU head football coach Mark Speir following his squad's spirited first spring practice. "I liked the energy the guys came out with. They were excited to get out here as I know our coaches were, too. I felt like both sides of the ball had a lot of retention and I thought the guys came out and executed very well."
"We're going to be very basic this spring. Through our first seven practices, the guys are going to be tired of hearing the same old calls because we're going to get good at our `bread and butter' plays and really teach the fundamentals and techniques. We're going to get good at who we are, and I thought today was a great start for that," Speir added.
Five quarterbacks split reps for the Catamounts on Monday including returning starter Tyrie Adams and returning freshmen Will Jones and D.J. Thorpe, who took redshirts last fall. Also seeing time in the offensive backfield was returner Nolan Beasley and true freshman Bubba Williamson, who joined the team in the spring semester from Kershaw, S.C.
"We're giving all of our quarterbacks a lot of reps this spring, especially those two redshirt freshmen in Will Jones and D.J. Thorpe. I thought both of them came out and had a good first day," Speir said.
On defense, the Catamounts look to replace eight starters from last season. The three returning starters included rising senior defensive backs Marvin Tillman and JerMichael White, and defensive lineman Nate Link.
"Defensively, we've got a lot of new faces, but I was excited about how they were flying around to the ball. We had two new coaches out here today in Coach (Tripp) Weaver and Coach (Dustin) Hood on the defensive side of the ball, and I thought they jumped right in and acted like they've been here for three or more years," Speir added.
Speir said the focal point for his football team this spring would be centered on fundamentals and execution. In so, he's limited both coordinators -- Brad Glenn on offense and John Wiley on defense -- to a limited number of formations, concepts, and play calls through the early part of spring drills. Then, through the latter portion of the 14 remaining sessions, will turn the two units loose.
"We don't have any magical calls as coaches -- our players are the magic," Speir explained. "We've got to get them to where they are very confident and they're very focused on what they're doing and then they can fly around and be physical. We've got to play fast, especially when you've got some young players like we do on defense. You can't bog down their minds with a bunch of calls. So, we're just preaching to them, `Guys -- you're the magic; go play hard, go play fast; go play physical.' To do that, you have to be very sound in your fundamentals and techniques.
Of the 82 players on the WCU spring roster, all but 10 were active for Monday's first practice session as most were limited for precautionary purposes following off-season surgeries.
Unless otherwise noted, each WCU spring football practice is 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 sidelines.
Western Carolina returns to the practice field on Wednesday afternoon with its second helmet-only session before putting on shoulder pads for the first time this off-season for Friday's session. Saturday's practice -- one of just two Saturday sessions scheduled for this spring -- is slated to be the Catamounts' first in full pads.
WCU's annual Spring Game, presented by Wells Fargo, is set for Saturday, April 7 with a 1:00 pm start at Whitmire Stadium / Waters Field. Gates will open at Noon in a day that includes pregame tailgating and a Catamount baseball game vs. SoCon-foe, UNCG, later in the day with a 4:00 pm first pitch.
Season tickets for all five home dates in 2018 are on-sale now through the WCU Athletics Ticket Office, located on the first floor of the Ramsey Center, and online at CatamountSports.com. Returning season ticket holders must renew their season tickets to secure the same seats by June 29, 2018. Fans can call the ticket office toll free at (800) 34-GOWCU or (828) 227-2401. General admission season tickets for adults begin at just $75 with additional Purple and Gold Reserved and options in the Western Builders Inc., Family Zone seating options also available.
Fans can keep track of everything related to Catamount football and WCU Athletics through its social media outlets on Facebook (fb.com/catamountsports) and Twitter (@catamounts), as well as video updates on the department's YouTube channel (CatamountSports).
Upcoming 2018 Catamount Football Spring Practice Schedule:
(schedule subject to time/date changes)
Practice #2: Wednesday, March 14 (helmets only) -- 4:15 -- 6:15 pm
Practice #3: Friday, March 16 (shells) -- 4:15 -- 6:15 pm
Practice #4: Saturday, March 17 (full pads) -- 2:00 - 4:00 pm
Practice #5: Monday, March 19 (full pads) -- 4:15 -- 6:15 pm
Practice #6: Wednesday, March 21 (shells) -- 4:15 -- 6:15 pm
Practice #7: Friday, March 23 (full pads) -- 4:15 -- 6:15 pm
Practice #8: Monday, March 26 (full pads) -- 4:15 -- 6:15 pm
Easter Break March 27 - April 1 -- No Practice
Practice #9: Monday, April 2 (full pads) -- 4:15 -- 6:15 pm
Practice #10: Wednesday, April 4 (full pads) -- 4:15 -- 6:15 pm
Practice #11: Friday, April 6 (shells) -- 4:15 -- 6:15 pm
Practice #12: Saturday, April 7 - Spring Game, presented by Wells Fargo (full pads) -- 1:00 pm
Practice #13: Monday, April 9 (shells) -- 4:15 -- 6:15 pm
Practice #14: Wednesday, April 11 (shells) -- 4:15 -- 6:15 pm
Practice #15: Friday, April 13 (helmets only) -- 4:15 -- 6:15 pm