Cullowhee, N.C. - Western Carolina football completed its first preseason practice in full pads on Saturday afternoon, working through a 13-period session that lasted just over two hours under sunny and hot conditions on the turf at E.J. Whitmire Stadium / Bob Waters Field.
Hitting picked-up for the first fully-padded practice that experienced the hottest temperatures of this preseason. The practice included individual position and unit drills including a lengthy team install session with three special teams periods on field goal, punt, and punt return.
"Overall, I thought that it was a good day today for us, a very productive day," said Catamount head coach Mark Speir following the afternoon practice. "I thought we did a pretty good job for the majority of the day of stopping the run on defense, which is something that plagued us last year. So, that was good to see -- our guys flying around and attacking the run like they did. Offensively, both running back and receiver-wise, I thought our guys ran hard. One guy wasn't bring `em down, it was taking gang tackling -- and that's as big as anything because we're going to run hard, fast, and physical."
Speir again hit upon the consistency factor for his squad -- from play to play, from drill-to-drill, rep-to-rep, "consistently being good."
"As I told the team today, we've got the talent that we need -- it's just learning to go be consistent, execute, play fast at a high level and a sustained level. That's our challenge next week as you get into the grind of preseason, that's when good football teams step up," said Speir.
All seven quarterbacks in camp again split reps on Saturday afternoon with four seeing more time in the backfield during competitive drills. Returning starter Tyrie Adams continued to see a good number of reps, with returning back-up Wes Holcombe typically the next QB up in rotation. Transfer Ray Smith and Nolan Beasley, both of whom went through spring drills with the squad, shared reps with freshmen Will Jones, D.J. Thorpe, and Tucker Woolum.
Five different running backs continued to split reps equally on Saturday behind senior all-purpose back Detrez Newsome. Senior reserve RB James Foushee, junior Corey Holloway, and rookie backs Donnavan Spencer and Caleb Ferguson each took rotations in the backfield adjacent the Catamount QBs.
In a perimeter passing drill, nine different players hauled in passes including Spencer out of the backfield who shifted away from the defenders up the sideline, and eight different wide receivers. Holcombe delivered a strike over the middle to WR Darius Means with Smith connecting with WR Daquan Patten on a scoring pass over the middle. Senior DB Keion Crossen stepped up with a pass break-up during the perimeter passing game drill.
Four quarterbacks took the bulk of the reps during Saturday's 7-on-7 skelly drills, connecting with 10 different receivers. Adams connected on nine completions, followed by Holcombe with six, Jones with two, and Ray Smith finding his target on his lone snap in the drill.
Redshirt senior WR Steffon Hill paced the unit with three receptions during skelly including a long touchdown reception over the top with wide receivers Patten, Tyler Mitchell, Brad Swann, and tight ends Randall Emerson and Owen Cosenke each catching two passes apiece.
Defensively, freshman DB Quintin Thames broke up a pair of passes with classmate Trevor Childers and Bobby Gibbs also deflecting passes for incompletions. Sophomore DB John Brannon came away with the lone interception of the drill while the secondary did record four coverage sacks with the play blown dead in the backfield.
Just a handful of Catamounts were limited in Saturday's practice as WCU remained relatively healthy entering the session and seemed to come through the practice in similar fashion.
Western Carolina pauses for its annual Media / Photo Day on Sunday afternoon before moving to morning practices starting Monday.
"We're looking forward to getting into a routine schedule that the players and the coaches, everyone knows what to expect every day. It's like an NFL camp now," Speir added. "I love the way our schedule is set up because it's giving our coaches plenty of time to prepare in between meetings and practice, and we're giving our players more rest time."
All of WCU's preseason football practices are 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 the sidelines for safety. Also, practice times are subject to change.
2017 Catamount Football -- Opening Week of Fall Practice Schedule:
Sunday, Aug. 6 -- Media / Team Photo Day, 3:30-6:00 pm; Practice #6, Evening Walk-Thru
Monday, Aug. 7 -- Practice #7 -- 9:15 -- 11:15 am (full)
Tuesday, Aug. 8 -- Practice #8 -- 9:15 -- 11:15 am (full)
Wednesday, Aug. 9 -- Practice #9 -- 9:15 am -- 11:15 am (shells)
Thursday, Aug. 10 -- Practice #10 -- 9:15 am -- 11:15 am (full)
Friday, Aug. 11 -- Practice #11 -- 9:15 am -- 11:15 am (shells)
Saturday, Aug. 12 -- Practice #12 -- Scrimmage, 2:00 -- 4:00 pm (full)
* Practice times are subject to change
Last week, College Sports Madness (collegesportsmadness.com) listed Catamount redshirt junior punter Ian Berryman on its 2017 Preseason FCS Football All-America first team. It is the fourth preseason honor for the Marietta, Ga., native. He was joined on the first team by The Citadel's DB Kailik Williams with Wofford OL Roo Daniels the only other Southern Conference honoree, earning third team plaudits.
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 single-game sales for the 2017 single-game tickets opening on Tuesday, Aug. 8.
Important Upcoming Dates in Catamount Football:
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).