Cullowhee, N.C. - Under mostly sunny skies on Thursday afternoon, the Western Carolina football team held its third preseason practice on the turf at E.J. Whitmire Stadium / Bob Waters Field. Thursday's 12-period, two-hour session was held in helmets and shoulder pads -- or shells -- on what was the warmest of the first three days of the 2017 preseason.
"There was a lot of good things out here today; good runs, good blocks, good throws, good tackles. But I was a little disappointed in our intensity. I don't think that we brought the intensity I was expecting and we didn't bring the consistency we need," said WCU head coach Mark Speir following Thursday's session.
He added, "We've got high expectations for these guys. We fell a little short today, but I've got all the confidence that it'll pick up tomorrow. Most important thing now is that this practice is over; we'll learn from it and turn our attention to finishing strong with our (summer school) final exams. We'll do that and then get back to football tomorrow evening."
Spirits remained high on both sides of the football despite Speir's observation of lessened intensity from his expectations. With the addition of shoulder pads ahead of Saturday's first fully-padded practice, it was easy to see an increase of contact, though each session was held under "thud-up" and "tag-off" rules.
Highlights from Thursday's 7-on-7 session including eight different receivers catching passes from the four QBs that rotated reps. Redshirt junior quarterback Wes Holcombe dropped a pass between two defenders in tight coverage to freshman wide receiver Kenny Benton over the middle for the first of two catches by the Columbia, S.C., native.
Defensively, the combination of the defensive backs and linebackers worked a couple of "coverage sacks," as plays were blown dead before any receiver sprung free. Safety Marvin Tillman recorded a pair of pass break-ups, nearly coming up with an interception along the sideline on his second PBU. The defense did complete a pair of interceptions during the drill, though, as Shamon Elliott out-jumped the would-be receiver on the far sideline ahead of linebacker A.J. Newman who intercepted a pass in coverage.
Thursday's practice again concluded with a "Play Ball" scrimmage segment with both sides showing flashes. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Tyrie Adams broke free for a couple of long runs in the read option with Holcombe connecting with tight end Aubry Payne on a big gainer over the middle. Freshman QB Will Jones also found his tight end for a big gain as Owen Cosenke hauled in a strike, with Randall Emerson and Daquan Patten also catching passes offensively. On defense, Tillman again rose to the occasion, deflecting a pass away from Tyler Sexton to prevent a big gain, while linebacker Jacquez Williams recorded both a tackle for loss and a sack during the final period.
WCU remained mostly healthy through the first three practices with two players -- DB Devarius Cortner and LB Alan Harris -- nursing hamstring issues on Thursday and senior OL Tanner Poindexter held out for precautionary reasons due to hip soreness. Linebacker D'Andre Belton also missed Thursday's practice with an abdomen injury.
In other news today, 10 Catamounts were named preseason All-Southern Conference by College Sports Madness (collegesportsmadness.com). Three Catamounts landed on the first team, led by Detrez Newsome garnering plaudits both as a running back and kickoff returner. He was joined on the first team by redshirt senior wide receiver Terryon Robinson and redshirt junior punter Ian Berryman. Second team plaudits went to senior defensive back Keion Crossen and redshirt junior offensive lineman Nathan Dalton.
Five Catamounts were selected to the publication's third team including redshirt sophomore quarterback Tyrie Adams, sophomore tight end Aubry Payne, sophomore punt returner Connell Young, senior linebacker A.J. Newman, and junior safety Marvin Tillman.
Season tickets for all five home dates of Western Carolina's 2017 football season are on sale now through the WCU Athletics Ticket Office, located on the first floor of the Ramsey Center and online at CatamountSports.com. Fans can also call the ticket office toll free at (800) 34-GOWCU or (828) 227-2401. Single-game tickets for Catamount Club and current season ticket holders are currently on sale with general sales for the 2017 single-game tickets opening next Tuesday, Aug. 8.
2017 Catamount Football -- Opening Week of Fall Practice Schedule:
Friday, Aug. 4 - Practice #4 -- 4:20 pm -- 6:20 pm (shells)
Saturday, Aug. 5 - Practice #5 -- 3:15 pm -- 5:15 pm (full pads)
Sunday, Aug. 6 - No Practice -- Media / Team Photo Day, 3:30-6:00 pm
* Practice times are subject to change
Important Upcoming Dates in Catamount Football:
Friday, Aug. 4 - STATS FCS initial Buck Buchanan Award Watch List released
Saturday, Aug. 5 - First scheduled practice in full pads
Sunday, Aug. 6 - Western Carolina's on-campus Media / Photo Day
Tuesday, Aug. 8 - Single-game home football tickets on sale to general public
Friday, Aug. 18 - Western Carolina University Freshman Move-In Day
Saturday, Aug. 19 - Football Scrimmage No. 3 and "Meet the Cats" following practice
Monday, Aug. 21 - First day of fall classes; "Solar Eclipse Blackout Uniforms" Facebook LIVE event
Saturday, Sept. 2 - 2017 Catamount Football season-opener at Hawai'i -- 6 pm HT / Midnight ET
Friday, Sept. 8 - 13th annual Bob Waters Memorial Golf Tournament at The Maggie Valley Club
Saturday, Sept. 9 - 2017 Catamount Football home-opener vs. Davidson in Cullowhee, N.C.
Friday, Oct. 27 - "The Mutt" Catamount Football Golf Classic at the Laurel Ridge Country Club
Keep track of everything related to Catamount football and WCU Athletics through its social media outlets on Facebook (fb.com/catamountsports), Twitter (@catamounts, @WCU_FB), and Instagram (wcu_catamounts), as well as video updates on the department's YouTube channel (CatamountSports).