Cullowhee, N.C. - For one of the few times during this year's spring drills, it felt like spring-time as Western Carolina resumed practice Monday afternoon on the turf at E.J. Whitmire Stadium / Bob Waters Field. WCU's ninth practice of the off-season was held in shells, working through a dozen sessions and lasting for right at two hours.
Following Monday's practice, the Catamounts will have two more sessions before Saturday's annual Spring Game, presented by Wells Fargo. WCU will workout in full pads on Wednesday before going in shells on Friday. All WCU football practices are open to the public, but it is respectfully requested that fans watch from the stadium seating for safety purposes.
"I thought that we had good energy, good retention -- and they looked excited to be back out here," said Speir of his team following his squad's first practice since the Easter break, which included six days away from the practice field. "We got in a lot of good work today. For the first time, we started adding things on both the offense and defense."
Speir again stated that prior to the break, he had his respective coaching staffs on either side of the football keep things simple -- no blitzes for the defense and just a handful of plays for the offense. The practices had been very basic with focus on fundamentals, effort, and technique.
"The rest of spring is going to be about adding," Speir explained. "The offense started adding things like empty sets, unbalanced formations -- running a lot of the same plays, just from a lot of different formations. Defensively, we blitzed today and added some things on that side, so we're starting to build upon it. I think by being very simple before Easter through our first eight practices, it has really helped the inexperience that we have on this team. But it's also helped the veterans because they feel like they've been coached the details -- instead of it being a 300-level course, we've been at the 400-level and I really think that is going to help us in the fall."
Speir concluded, "I'm really excited about where we are, and we're looking forward to coming out Wednesday with a fully-padded practice and then go hard again on Saturday with the Spring Game."
Though Speir talked about inexperience on the field, one of his more veteran players is wide receiver Jordan Mathis, who looks around the position room as one of the older players not only on the offense, but on the team in general.
"With prior springs, we've been very experienced on offense. But this year, we're inexperienced at wideout, me being the oldest guy in the room. The young guys continue to take it all in," said Mathis. "By starting out by not putting too many plays in the playbook, it's helped the younger guys learn. But they're picking up on it very well and I'm proud of them, and I'm excited to see what we've got going on this upcoming season."
On becoming a leader, Mathis said he hasn't had much choice but to tackle that role based on the youth movement within the Catamount offense.
"It came on to me no matter what, whether I was looking forward to it or not. But, it's a blessing to have these younger guys that are looking up to me. I thank God every day for the brothers that I've got around me because they keep me going. I'm going to keep pushing them both on-and-off the field and in life," said Mathis.
On the other side of the football, first-year outside linebacker coach Justin Hood is the second new coach on staff this spring. He along with defensive back coach Tripp Weaver came to Cullowhee just before the start of spring ball -- though Hood had a little bit larger of a learning curve as Weaver had worked with defensive coordinator John Wiley previously at East Carolina.
"Coach Wiley has a wealth of knowledge and I came in as the new guy with Coach Weaver having worked with him before, so he knew a little bit of the concepts. But it's been moving fast, and it's been good," said Hood after Monday's practice session. "Coach Wiley has done a great job in making sure that I understand things. And our guys have been out here working hard, competing every day. It's spring ball -- but our guys don't have that mentality. They've been out here competing, have been hungry and are grinding -- and that's great to see."
Hood stated that he felt his group on the defensive side of the football was ahead of where he thought they'd be coming into the spring which he said was exciting.
"We have some leadership in the position room; guys that didn't necessarily play last year, but the reality is that they know the mission at hand and they've been up to the challenge -- and that's encouraging to see," said Hood.
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 #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