Jacksonville State's quest for a fifth-straight Ohio Valley Conference title officially started on Friday, when the Gamecocks hit the practice field for the first time to start fall camp.
The Gamecocks worked out in shorts and helmets for two hours on the team's practice fields on Friday afternoon, and the excitement of practice No. 1 had head coach John Grass' team ready to get started. The fifth-year head coach liked the enthusiasm and saw several positives, but he also saw room for improvement.
(Hear from head coach John Grass in the featured video)
"I saw a lot of people excited to go on the first day of practice," Grass said after the work out. "It's hard to tell whether the coaches or players are more excited, but it's always like that on the first day. You have to get through that first day. Everybody is amped up. The real test comes after about the third day of pads. You have to be able to continue that as camp goes on.
"I saw a lot of good things and I saw a lot of room for improvement. We have a long way to go, but I think we are headed in the right direction."
For most of the players that reported to fall camp on Thursday and started practice on Friday, it wasn't the first time working out together. The team spent much of the summer together doing conditioning, a time and process that Grass says is vital to making the start of camp as seamless as possible.
"It's huge to have them on campus for much of the summer," Grass added. "They can make it through a practice like today and it not bother them that bad because of the shape that we are already in. It also helps with the way we practice, which is about getting to game speed and being in game condition but staying healthy."
The 2018 Gamecocks return 14 starters from a team that won its fourth-straight OVC crown in in 2017, and Grass says those veterans are responsible for bringing what has been a highly touted crop of young players into the mix and getting the team ready to open the season in late August.
"I see a lot of leadership," Grass said. "And we need a lot of leadership, because we have a lot of young guys that are really talented, but they don't have the game experience yet. It's hard to replace that game experience, but we have some veterans that are doing a really good job of showing them the way."
Those young players are progressing quickly, but Grass knows that the rigors of fall camp will take their toll once the pads are on and it gets more physical.
"I see a freshman class that is mentally tough and hanging there pretty good so far," he said. "That's easy to say when you're running around out here in shorts. When we get in pads things will change. We're still not playing real football just yet, but I see a lot of positives and definitely a lot of things to correct."
JSU will practice in helmets again on Saturday before putting on shoulder pads for the first time on Sunday. Tuesday will mark the Gamecocks' first workout in full pads.
Courtesy: JSU Sports Information (www.jsugamecocksports.com)