Almost a month to the day after it first took the field to kick off preparations for the 2017 season, the University of Charleston wrapped up a successful stretch of practices with its annual spring game on Thursday night.
After a draft that split the roster into two teams for the game, the Gold was able to cap spring practice with a 17-6 victory over the Maroon team.
“Everybody played really hard tonight and that’s what we wanted to see,” UC coach Pat Kirkland said. “We wanted them to have fun and reward them for a good spring.”
There were a couple of big offensive plays — Mason Olzewski connected with Brent Hankins for a 40-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter and Blaine Stewart kept the Maroon team from getting shut out by hitting D’Andre Brooks, who took it to the house for a 52-yard score in the final minutes of the game — but the defense found a way to consistently make stops and get off the field quickly.
Coming off a tough 2016 season in which the Golden Eagles struggled to make stops at times, Kirkland and his staff entered the spring hoping to see how the defense could progress with a number of big contributors back. The group didn’t disappoint during those 15 practices and showed why on Thursday.
“Our linebackers played really well tonight and I was proud of our guys in the secondary,” Kirkland said. “We have a lot of faith in the guys we have back this season and it was good to see those groups play well to end on a high note.”
One of the biggest advantages that came with the spring game was giving the players a chance to get back into playing in a game-like atmosphere and react to certain scenarios that they would run into if it was a regular game. They had to find ways to convert on third down or bounce back after a bad drive and try to gain some momentum.
It’s the kind of situations that will begin to pay off more and an experience that could prove to be valuable once August rolls around.
“We want to put these guys in game situations like this as much as we can right now because we’re young and we have to be able to get as many of those kind of reps as possible,” Kirkland said. “We can’t do that in the summer as much because August camp is so short, so we wanted to make sure we did that a lot this spring where we were game-oriented and put them in those scenarios.”
One of the several players competing for a starting job this season, quarterback Olszewski got the Gold team started off on the right foot Thursday night. The redshirt junior completed 5 of 7 passes for 109 yards and a touchdown. Former George Washington standout NuNu Miller opened the game with a 2-yard touchdown run to cap the first drive of the game for the Gold team in its 14-point opening quarter.
Gerron Fryer intercepted a late Anthony Fontana pass to give the defense its only turnover of the game.
“You only get 15 practices over a 29-day stretch in the spring, and I thought we took advantage of every chance to step on that field and get better that we got,” Kirkland said. “It was great to see these guys come out and play hard today. The effort was there all spring, we have a good mentality. Now it’s on us to stay focused in the weight room and get back into game mode.”
The spring game served as a nice final chance to get out on the field after battling with each other for the last few weeks. Now the focus is ready to shift toward the regular season on the horizon.
With that, the Golden Eagles are encouraged from what they saw this spring — but they understand that it means nothing unless that work carries over the rest of the offseason.
“We were close a lot last year, but we know that isn’t good enough,” Kirkland said. “We need guys who are going to come out and embrace this challenge. That’s what they did in the spring. They competed on every rep and took some serious steps in the right direction.”