Aug. 20, 2007
Cullowhee, N.C. - As classes at Western Carolina University began on Monday morning, the Catamount football coaching staff began to slowly shift its focus from the preseason drills to preparing its players for the 2007 season opener at Alabama. Heading the efforts are first-year Offensive Coordinator Doug Malone, and WCU veteran, Defensive Coordinator Don Powers.
Western has held 19 preseason practices and two scrimmages to date, with practice number 20 slated for Monday afternoon at E.J. Whitmire Stadium. One additional scrimmage - Wednesday's "Meet the Cats" night - will effectively conclude the preseason and focus will shift from within to looking at the Nick Saban-led Alabama Crimson Tide.
Malone, who was hired in late March to oversee the Catamount offense, has felt a familiarity with things that have transpired in Cullowhee over the past three weeks.
"This year's camp has not been much different than previous preseason situations I have been through; there's always a lot of teaching and learning with mistakes being made and corrected," said Malone, who coached the past eight seasons at Tennessee Tech. "We have spent a lot of time with fundamentals to build a solid base and implementing our new system. Our guys have really bought into this system and are having fun playing in it."
The new system, which includes a tempo-controlling, no-huddle look with a solid mixture of runs, screens and pass plays, is one that Malone has used since his days at Wingate. He is quick to point out that regardless of system, football comes down to one main thing:
"Even with all the smoke and mirrors in our new offense, it still comes down to the fundamentals and assignment football."
Reflecting on the preseason and most importantly the live game situations featured in the first two scrimmages, Malone commented that he has been pleased with the way his squad has performed.
"After two scrimmages, it is starting to clear itself as to who will get playing time. And, with one more scrimmage (Wednesday night's Meet the Cats), that is one additional opportunity for the guys to determine who will get a seat on the bus for Alabama."
In each scrimmage, different players have stepped up to make plays. For instance, sophomore Marquel Pittman made three catches for 95 yards in the first scrimmage, while junior Donald James hauled in eight passes for 62 yards and a score and senior Eddie Cohen had five catches for 61 yards in last Saturday's session. At the quarterback position, Todd Spitzer led the five signal callers by going 8-of-11 for 110 yards and leading two scoring drives, while sophomore Adam Hearns orchestrated a pair of drives for scores on 11-of-14 passing for 93 yards and a couple of touchdowns.
"Having different players putting up leading numbers is a product of the system," explained Malone. "There is enough variety in the play calling and in check downs that should allow several players to stand out. We need guys all over the field to make plays which will prevent the opposition from taking one go-to guy away from us."
On the other side of the ball, Powers begins his 17th season on the sidelines for the Purple and Gold. Much like Malone, preseason 2007 has been similar to years past.
"We've spent the preseason installing everything that you could use in a game plan with the understanding that some of it will not be revisited until two or three weeks into the season. I felt like our installation of packages and assignments went very well," said Powers.
"Looking back at our most recent scrimmage on Saturday, I felt we came together and played well as a defensive unit. We competed very hard for the ball; it was a fight every time it went up. We are not completely there just yet, but I can see the potential in our football team," he added. "I have also been impressed with our offense and offensive staff - they have been able to adjust to what we have thrown at them defensively this preseason."
Powers commented that he has seen strong competition across the defensive unit, especially at linebacker. He also felt that the newcomers to the program have had a "huge impact" through preseason camp.
"We have more potential in this year's freshmen and newcomers to help this football team this year than in all my previous years at Western. I've seen more athleticism from these freshmen and more improvement from our returning players this year," said Powers.
Regardless of which side of the ball one looks, the key component of success is leadership from the players. Western has a strong group of upperclassmen and seniors that have taken charge in improving the Catamount football program this year.
"The leadership exhibited by our upper classmen has been great. Our seniors have been vocal at times and have all stepped up and taken ownership. They stay after the younger guys to stay on top of their assignments and to do the things that will help us as a football team," said Malone.
Powers echoed those sentiments, "Looking at our football team as a whole, all of our seniors are doing a tremendous job in stepping in as leaders."
He added, "The best thing about our football team right now has been the competition at every position, especially on our defense. Whenever there is good competition, the intensity and practice levels are high. Also, everyone has had a great, team attitude; there is not an individual on this team that puts himself above the team. Both of those are signs of the team, defense included, headed in the right direction."
Western will hold its annual "Meet the Cats" scrimmage this Wednesday, Aug. 22 at E.J. Whitmire Stadium/Bob Waters Field beginning with an autograph/photo session at 6:00 pm. The final preseason scrimmage is scheduled to begin at 7:00 pm. The Stadium Store and concessions stand will be open with free pizza from Papa's Pizza to Go of Cullowhee (while supplies last).
Also, WWCU-FM, Power 90dot5 will be broadcasting live on-location as it opens season three of "In the Litterbox" - a weekly, interactive sports talk show that focuses on Western Carolina athletics - from 5:00 pm until 6:30 pm. Fans can also listen online at www.WWCUFM.com.