Cullowhee, N.C. - After battling through sporadic rain showers the first two days this week, the Western Carolina Catamount football team was greeted by mostly sunny skies and seasonably-warm temperatures on Wednesday morning for the team's ninth practice this preseason. The Catamounts worked out for just over two hours in helmets and shoulder pads after back-to-back fully padded practices to open the second week of preseason.
"I was very pleased," said Speir on his squads focus and intensity in Wednesday's ninth practice session of preseason camp. "I thought that our guys came out with a great focus and a great intent about them. And that was great to see that we could take the full gear off, going just helmets and shoulder pads and still not lose our intensity."
The Catamounts continue to rotate three units on both sides of the football with a variety of players getting reps. Wednesday's practice included position, unit, and team drills with tag-off or thud-up finishes on tackles with Speir stating that today's practice was "all about third down."
"Just learning to play the sticks," Speir explained, referencing the downs markers. "As an offense, just honing in on the situation, knowing where the sticks are and what it takes to keep a drive alive. And for our defense, no matter what the play is, if the offense is short of the sticks then we did our job. Everything we did today was a third down -- and I thought that it was a good day; I thought that our defense was exceptional today -- I was really proud of their intensity level and how they executed."
"Overall, I've been pleased after nine practices. I think our focus has been there, I think we're in really good shape and our guys are bouncing around. We've just got to keep stringing together good practices -- consistency is our focus right now," Speir concluded.
Highlights from Wednesday's 7-on-7 skelly drills pitting the offensive skill players against the linebackers and defensive secondary included nine different receivers hauling in passes with three quarterbacks splitting the bulk of the reps.
Returning starter Tyrie Adams completed three passes for double-digit gains including a 20-yarder to tight end Tyler Sexton. Ray Smith likewise had three completions for double-digit yardage including two for touchdowns -- a 42-yard strike to Daquan Patten and a 20-yarder to tight end Owen Cosenke. Redshirt junior Wes Holcombe connected twice with Darius Means, while Connell Young caught a pair of passes during the segment.
Defensively, Shamon Elliott and JerMichael White both tallied pass break-ups with corners Terrance Wilson and Keion Crossen recording interceptions -- the latter of which would have resulted in a long return if it had come in a true game scenario.
Over the final two periods of Wednesday's practice, the offense and defense scrimmaged in third down and long situations with the defense flexing its muscle to close the ninth practice. The first couple of pass attempts were broken-up, one by the defensive line and another by Crossen on a near interception. Converted outside linebacker Tahjai Watt was credited with a sack. Later in the final period, JerMichael White posted another pass break-up from his safety position.
Offensive highlights during the final two periods included Cosenke catching a couple of passes from the tight end position while Tyler Sexton was targeted with three catches to conclude practice. Redshirt sophomore Jacob Robinson moved the chains on a highlight-reel leaping reception to close the next-to-last period of practice with Patten and Keshaun Abel also recording catches
WCU remains relatively healthy across the board, though there have been a couple of injuries that have sent players to the sidelines. Defensive back Jacob Finerty (leg), defensive lineman Zachary Greene (knee) and wide receiver Hunter Jacobs (collar bone) were each out of Wednesday's practice session.
Western Carolina returns to the practice field on Thursday morning in full pads in a session that Speir commented would focus on short-yardage and goal line scenarios. The first scrimmage for the team is scheduled for Saturday afternoon at E.J. Whitmire Stadium / Bob Waters Field.
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.
In Other News: Newsome Tagged in CFPA FCS National Performer of the Year Watch List
WCU senior all-purpose running back Detrez Newsome was listed on the 2017 preseason watch list for the College Football Performance Awards (CFPA) National Performer of the Year Trophy. It's the second preseason national watch list for Newsome who was also on the initial STATS FCS Walter Payton Award watch list for the top offensive player of the year.
Newsome was among 42 players nationally at the NCAA Division I FCS level to grace the initial list. He was one of four players from the Southern Conference on the list, joined by Chattanooga quarterback Alejandro Bennifield; The Citadel running back Cam Jackson; Samford quarterback Devlin Hodges
Both season and single-game 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. The 2017 home opener is Saturday, Sept. 9 with the "Blackout" at Whitmire Stadium / Waters Field against the Davidson Wildcats.
2017 Catamount Football -- Upcoming Fall Practice Schedule:
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
Important Upcoming Dates in Catamount Football:
Saturday, Aug. 12 -- Football Scrimmage No. 1 (2 pm)
Friday, Aug. 18 - Western Carolina University Freshman Move-In Day
Saturday, Aug. 19 - Football Scrimmage No. 3 (1 pm) and "Meet the Cats" following practice
Monday, Aug. 21 - First day of fall classes; "Solar Eclipse Blackout Uniforms" Facebook LIVE event presented by Stanberry Insurance
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. (BLACKOUT / Fireworks Night presented by Ingles and iHeartRadio partners 99.9 Kiss Country and Star 104.3 FM)
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).