The Jacksonville State football team hit the practice field for the first time on Thursday and head coach John Grass liked what he saw.
The three-time defending Ohio Valley Conference champions worked out for two hours in the afternoon heat that saw the heat index climb into triple digits, but the reigning OVC Coach of the Year called the workout one of the best first days he's seen in his time at JSU.
(Hear from head coach John Grass in the featured video)
"I like what I saw," Grass said. "I've said it all along that I love this football team. I love the way they are blue collar and the way they go to work. It's a lot of fun to watch in action. I thought we had a good first day with a lot of bright spots. We just have to continue to build depth."
The Gamecocks reported a week earlier than normal, thanks to their nationally televised opener against Chattanooga in Montgomery on Aug. 26. The game, televised on ESPN at 5:30 p.m. CT, will be one week before the rest of FCS starts its season and allowed for an earlier report date.
They worked in shorts and helmets in Thursday's first practice, but Grass felt like he got a good gauge on what he can expect from his team as fall camp gets heated up.
"It was a really good first day," he said. "You don't want to say too much because we were in shorts and you don't play in shorts. There's not a lot of difference between a shorts day and a full pads day for us, so we really got after it and had a good, physical practice. I saw a lot of good things. The energy level was excellent. We just have to continue to do that when we fatigue a little bit with these back-to-back practices."
Thursday allowed Grass and his staff their first opportunity to see their incoming class in a practice setting with all of their veterans. The class that Grass has given high praise to numerous times did nothing to change the opinion he built during recruiting and during summer conditioning.
"They are a group of really talented guys," he added. "They are guys that I think can really help us this season and we won't have to redshirt them. There are several guys in this class that could do that after the things that we've seen from them all summer. It is a good class and they are really good kids."
Several of the newcomers spent most of the summer on campus with the veterans of the team, going through conditioning to get ready for Thursday in particular. Their head coach saw the benefits of those workouts in the first practice.
"For player development and player safety, you can't put a price tag on the work they are able to put in over the summer," Grass said. "We are in really good shape when we start fall camp, and what we do in the offseason helps the fatigue. I felt like we could've gone another hour today. They looked pretty fresh at the end of practice."
The Gamecocks will work out in helmets and shorts again on Friday afternoon in a practice that will be very similar to Thursday's first time out.
"We will be looking for more of the same," Grass said. "We want to see how they respond after coming back from today and being a little sore. They were off a few days before we started, so there will be some soreness there. We will be looking to see how we can push through that and maintain our energy level."
Season tickets for JSU's five-game home schedule, as well as tickets to the opener in Montgomery and the second game of the season at Georgia Tech in Atlanta are available now in the JSU Ticket Office. For more information or to purchase tickets, call (256) 782-8499 or visit www.JSUGamecockSports.com/Tickets.
(Courtesy: JSU Sports Information: www.jsugamecocksports.com)