March 13, 2013
Cullowhee, N.C. - Greeted by cooler, late fall-like temperatures, the Western Carolina Catamount football team opened spring practice on Wednesday at E.J. Whitmire Stadium / Bob Waters Field. It is the second year for head coach Mark Speir and his staff to work through a spring with the squad, opening this year's drills 366 days removed from the first on-field appearance for Speir.
Wednesday's opening practice included 17 periods of varying lengths in helmets only. After concluding team meetings, the squad hit the field just after 5:30 pm for a little over two hours with sessions including individual position, unit and team drills.
The practice featured the debut of three new coaches for WCU including defensive coordinator Shawn Quinn, running backs coach De'Rail Sims and defensive line assistant, Dennis Thomas - (all featured in the spring practice photo gallery).
The Catamount football team is coming off three weeks of early morning winter gym workouts, nicknamed "Purple Dawn" by the coaching staff. The early morning strength and conditioning sessions were held between the Ramsey Center gyms and the turf at Whitmire Stadium / Waters Field.
"I was really pleased with our progression through `Purple Dawn' this winter," said Speir. "Looking back at last year's workouts, our focus was on installing our vision and work habits. This year, our big emphasis was building upon that while adding attention to detail. Last year, we were excited about the guys working hard. This year, it's been more about precision of doing the drills, the techniques and fundamentals of exercises. We are focused on taking it to the next level."
"Our new strength & conditioning staff - Evan Barr and Nick White - have done a tremendous job of getting our conditioning and levels of strength to where we are entering spring ball. We're a healthy, well-conditioned football team," Speir said. "We have been working hard and executing drills. I feel that will carry over into our 15 days in spring drills."
Western Carolina opened those NCAA-regulated 15 spring practices Wednesday evening. The team will have one more helmet-only practice on Friday before adding shoulder pads in the third practice on Saturday morning. WCU is slated to hold its first fully-padded practice on Monday, March 18.
All WCU spring football practices are open to the public. It is respectfully requested that spectators observe from the stadium seating area and avoid being either on the field or sidelines.
Speir views the spring as an opportunity to make big steps forward in progressing as a football team both on and off the field. With the new coaching staff last spring, most of the time was spent installing the new systems and schematics both offensively and defensively.
"Coming out of the spring, our number one priority is that we are a fundamentally sound football team," said Speir. "In reviewing ourselves after last season, we weren't as fundamentally sound as we should have been. This spring, every day when we come off the field, two questions for my staff will be - did we give great effort, and did we get better fundamentally as a team. If we do those two things, we can't help but be a better football team. The way we work - doing the little things right both on and off the field - we can't help but be a better team this fall."
Speir stressed competition making the players, the units and the team better. That competition began in `Purple Dawn' and will continue through spring practices and into the fall camp. Speir said every morning session ended with an offense vs. defense competition.
"I love the way Coach (Shawn) Quinn and the defensive staff had the defensive side of the ball competing. Every morning you could see more and more confidence on that side of the ball," Speir said.
He added that "nobody can get satisfied or complacent" because of the level of competition and hunger of the players wanting to get time on the field.
Quinn brings a 4-3 defensive scheme to Cullowhee, a little variation of the 4-2-5 system the Catamounts have employed each of the past five seasons under both Matt Pawlowski and Curtis Walker. WCU must improve upon its defensive numbers from a season ago which ranked 119th out of 121 NCAA FCS teams
"I'm really excited about what Coach Quinn brings as a teacher and his attention to detail. He's bringing a system that is very easy to learn and is user friendly. We want our players not having to think, but just react and play fast. We're excited about where our defense is headed."
Offensively this spring, Speir looks to expand the offense while also taking an "inventory" of athletes to put players in the best positions to be successful, "more effectively utilizing our personnel."
"The offensive staff did a great job of self-study and in evaluating what we did a season ago. We're at a point where we have some competition at positions that is going to hopefully create improvement on that side of the ball.
With competition across the offensive end of the field during the spring, the one spotlight that will continue to shine the brightest is on the quarterback position. Speir noted that Troy Mitchell is penciled in as the starter entering drills, but expects fierce competition for the job between he, Eddie Sullivan, Jawan Simmons and Jonah Duggan.
"Obviously going into the spring after the end of last season, Troy Mitchell is the starter. Eddie is hungry and is not satisfied with being the No. 2. We look forward to a great battle for the guy that's going to be handed the reins of our offense," said Speir.
Although Speir doesn't anticipate many special teams drills during the spring, he did indicate that the constant theme of competition will be prevalent among the specialists. WCU is looking for players to step up and seize the starting placekicker, holder and long snapper roles. Kickers Clark Sechrest and Richard Sigmon handled the bulk of the kicking duties a season ago and are expected to be challenged this spring.
WCU will practice on average three days a week, holding six practices prior to the school's spring break which begins March 23 through March 31. In April, the team will practice eight times ahead of the annual Spring Game event on Saturday, April 20 in Cullowhee.
Upcoming Catamount Football Spring Practice Schedule:
(schedule subject to time/date change)
Practice #1 - Wednesday, March 13: Helmets Only, 5:30-7:30 pm
Practice #2 - Friday, March 15: Helmets Only, 5:30-7:30 pm
Practice #3 - Saturday, March 16: Shells, 10:30 am - 12:30 pm
Practice #4 - Monday, March 18: Full Pads, 5:30-7:30 pm
Practice #5 - Wednesday, March 20: Shells, 5:30-7:30 pm
Practice #6 - Friday, March 22: Full, 3:00-5:00 pm
Practice #7 - Wednesday, April 3: Full, 5:30-7:30 pm
Practice #8 - Thursday, April 4: Shells, 5:00-7:00 pm
Practice #9 - Saturday, April 6: Full, scrimmage - 10:00 am - Noon
Practice #10 - Wednesday, April 10: Full, 5:30-7:30 pm
Practice #11 - Friday, April 12: Full, scrimmage - 3:00-5:00 pm
Practice #12 - Monday, April 15: Shells, 5:30-7:30 pm
Practice #13 - Wednesday, April 17: Full, 5:30-7:30 pm
Practice #14 - Friday, April 19: Helmet only, 3:00-4:15 pm
Practice #15 - Saturday, April 20: Full, scrimmage - Spring Game, 1:00 pm