Tuesday’s football practice, which marked the beginning of the last week of the spring schedule, saw the team’s focus shift toward Saturday’s annual Red-White Spring Game.
The team practiced as a whole until about 10 a.m., when the Red and White rosters split. The Red team remained on Jimmy Feix Field to finish up practice, while the White team headed over to the practice field.
Head Coach Willie Taggart said there’s a lot of excitement in the program for the Spring Game, with the players understanding that Saturday represents their last shot to impress before fall camp.
“Those things that we put in this spring, we should know by now like the back of our hands,” Taggart said. “We want guys to be able to know this so that come summertime, when we’re not allowed to be with them, they can go out and do it on their own.”
A draft was held Saturday when coaches picked their Spring Game teams. Defensive coordinator Clint Bowen will be in charge of the Red team, while quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford will man the White squad.
“Our guys have been working hard,” Taggart said. “We haven’t had a lot of things to cheer and have fun about around here, so it’s time for us to do something right now. I thought this was a good opportunity to do that with this draft, and the guys took it and ran with it.”
For some highlights of both rosters, click here.
While the goal of every practice is for the entire team to improve, Taggart was adamant about one thing Tuesday — there will be a decisive winner of the Spring Game.
“It’s still competitive. It’s competitive among the coaching staff, too, and that’s the way I want it,” he said. “You’ve got to win. Coaches, you need to get your team right. We’re not about losing anymore around here. I didn’t bring these coaches here to lose, so someone’s got to win.”
Taggart said that the team’s attitude has begun to move in the right direction, but that he’s still waiting for some players to “take ownership of the team.” In fact, Taggart said he can tell that a lot of them still have “Freddy Soft” on their shoulder telling them to slack off.
You’re probably just as confused as the media were after that comment. Taggart, when asked to clarify, said that the “Freddy Soft” reference related to an old saying his former coach Jack Harbaugh used, which meant that players had a little voice in their head telling them to not give it their all.
“Freddy Soft talks to all of us, now,” Taggart said. “Especially when we get tired out here – ‘Oh, I wouldn’t run real hard if I were you.’ Kick that guy off your shoulder, do what we ask you to do and fight through it. Freddy’s a little guy, but he’s powerful, and we need to get him off our shoulders.”
According to Taggart, it didn’t take long for the spirit of competition to take over after Saturday’s draft.
Of course, that spirit is also being fueled by some incentives. Tight end Jack Doyle received a week off from breakfast check for being the No. 1 player in the draft, and Taggart said the Most Valuable Player of the Spring Game will get the same reward.
In addition, the tradition of winners receiving steaks for dinner while the losers get hot dogs will remain.
The Daily News’ Nick Baumgardner pointed out that Taggart has said many times that he’s “not interested in bus riders and steak eaters,” but Taggart was quick to respond.
“I like them when they’re working,” he said. “If they’re not working, they can’t get steak. They get hot dogs. They get some burnt hot dogs, too.”
Sanford said his White team is going to take a workman-like approach to the game and worry about the prize later.
“I like to consider myself a blue-collar guy, so I’m going to start out with a hot dog before my steak,” Sanford said. “I think our whole team’s going to be that way – we like burnt hot dogs. We’re a blue-collar type operation, and we’ll polish off that steak when it’s time.”
Bowen said that he’ll have a hard time not coaching both defensive units at times and that a dream result would be a 3-0 win for his Red team.
Bowen was asked if he would take the game as a chance to be an offensive guy for a day, a question he used for a quick needle toward the other side of the ball.
“I say it all the time, coaching offense – there’s no challenge to that,” Bowen said, laughing. “You can run out on the field, take a knee three times, punt, and really nothing bad happen. With defense you can’t do that. One mistake is a big one. I don’t want to coach the offense, that’s too easy.”
The Hilltoppers have remained relatively healthy throughout spring practice, but there will be a couple of notable absences from the Spring Game.
Freshman quarterback Kawaun Jakes will still be unable to go due to an ankle sprain suffered playing pickup basketball, and sophomore defensive lineman Rammell Lewis will miss the game because of an injured knee.
Taggart said that Lewis’ injury wasn’t serious and that he would be ready to go for fall camp.
Although it’s not necessarily related to injury, it seems worth noting that the Red squad is practicing without a quarterback on roster this week — at least for the portion of practice open to the public. There are two quarterbacks on the roster, but Tyler Bruce has to leave early for class and Courtney Dalcourt is still nursing a knee injury.
The Red-White game is slated to begin at 6 p.m. Saturday and is open to the public.