By: Kane McGuire (La. Tech Athletics)
RUSTON, La.(La. Tech Athletics) – “Awesome. Awesome. Awesome.”
The first three words spoken by Louisiana Tech head coach Skip Holtz after the Bulldog football squad went through a spirited two-hour practice on day one of fall camp.
It marked the first time in 225 days — since the ‘Dogs shutout the Miami (Fla.) Hurricanes in the Independence Bowl for their sixth-straight bowl victory – that the entire team was back together again on the gridiron.
“How great it is to get on the grass, to get everybody out on the field,” said Holtz who enters his eighth season at the helm. “The one thing that I love about this game is the team concept that goes along with it, but for over the last six months it’s been an individual sport. Nobody could be here. You had to go lift on your own and run on your own.
“It became an ‘I’ game and now, how great it is to realize after months of training that there’s 100 guys out here together. I’m really excited to see their energy level, to see the way they have worked to get to this point as we have been separated and away from each other.”
While the question remains who will replace three-year starter J’Mar Smith at quarterback, there are plenty of familiar offensive weapons that return.
At running back, the two-headed monster of Justin Henderson and Israel Tucker will carry the bulk of the load while at wide receiver, numerous players like Adrian Hardy, Isaiah Graham, Cee Jay Powell, Griffin Hebert, Smoke Harris and more look to provide big plays.
They certainly flashed that big-play ability in the first practice.
“Offensively, wow,” said Holtz. “Flashes at receiver, flashes at running back and the quarterbacks took care of the ball today. Day one, the way they went out and executed. Today, the offense is going to go home excited.”
One of those players who was really excited to be back on the grass was Hebert.
“It was amazing [to be on the field] because it’s been so hard these past few months,” said redshirt junior Hebert who had a team-leading six receiving touchdowns last season. “To finally have the guys all in one place together, it was amazing. It’s really a brotherhood and you miss each other. It makes you appreciate the people around you.”
While the offense goes home excited today, Holtz said the defense will be watching film until midnight.
“Lot of good on both sides,” added Holtz. “Tomorrow, the defense will be the ones excited and the offense will watch film until midnight. I leave the field every day saying, ‘Wow, I’m excited by our offense, but that’s our defense and we’ve got to get better.’ And vice versa.”
The defense returns only two starters, defensive ends Milton Williams and Willie Baker, while losing seven guys in the secondary.
“We have a lot of new faces after losing guys in the secondary,” said redshirt junior safety Jaiden Cole. “When somebody makes a play out there, we’re trying to get hype for the young guys to make them feel welcome and show them we’re together in this. I’m confident in the team and am trying to form a bond with the guys around me.”
Along with the new players and some new coaching staff, there were some other noticeable things that were new to fall camp like masks, full shields on helmets and player distancing on the sidelines.
“I don’t want a player saying that we’re not doing everything within our power to protect our players and to protect our program to have this opportunity,” said Holtz on overseeing COVID-19 protocols. “I want to go the extra mile. We’re going to constantly coach it, harp on it, teach it and do everything we can.
“My heart beat today for the first time in six months. My heart beat today. I didn’t need an alarm this morning. I want to do everything we can to keep this going.”
LA Tech will return to the practice fields for day two of fall camp on Saturday.
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