Training begins for football

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    By Christopher Ashton

    After nearly a four-month layoff and a rough off-season, head coach Gary Crowton and company returned to the practice field Monday, March 15, 2004 for the first day of spring football practice.

    Since the season-ending 3-0 defeat at the hands of Utah, Cougar players have had plenty of time on their hands to prepare for the next few weeks of practice. Spring ball will come to an end on April 10, following the Blue vs. White inter-squad game, to be played at LaVell Edwards Stadium. The time for the game will be announced closer to that date.

    Junior wide receiver Chris Hale gave his take on the opportunity to return to the practice field.

    “I think a lot of people are really excited to do it, especially after a season like we had this last year,” Hale said. “We just kind of want a chance to get out and show people that we can play.”

    For coaches, spring practice gives them the opportunity to evaluate the talent that they brought in during winter semester. And for junior college transfers, this will be their first opportunity to get their nose in a Gary Crowton or Bronco Mendenhall playbook and learn their new assignments.

    Among the junior college transfers, look for quarterback Jason Beck, offensive lineman Nick Longshore, wide receivers Michael Morris and Todd Watkins and defensive lineman Vince Feula to compete for significant playing time.

    As practice begins, the coaches will be looking for new faces to fill key positions, and there are many of them to be filled.

    The offense is losing four senior starters; three from the offensive line and receiver Toby Christensen. In addition, wide receiver Dave Christensen has left the team due to injuries.

    In some cases the replacements will have to earn their spots in intense battles. The quarterback competition appears be a three-man race between newcomer Jason Beck, and returnees John Beck and Matt Berry.

    At running back, Marcus Whalen, Fahu Tahi and Curtis Brown make it a three-man battle for the starting role. At receiver, newcomer Michael Morris and speedster Todd Watkins will battle with returnees Jason Kukahiko, Rod Wilkerson and Chris Hale for receptions.

    On the other side of the ball, the defense, coming off a year in which they finished the season ranked No. 13 in total defense, also has many key positions with openings. Seven players, who got significant playing time last fall, are gone and that leaves a big void, in particular at the linebacker position where all three starters are moving on.

    K.C. Bills and Paul Walkenhorst appear to be the clear choices to fill two of the three linebacker spots, and with the NCAA granting Brandon Heaney a sixth year, he appears to be set to regain his starting position at cornerback.

    The Cougars open their season at home on Sept. 4 against last year”s national champion, USC. Other games to be played at LaVell Edwards Stadium include: Oct. 9 against UNLV, Oct. 16 against Wyoming, Oct. 30 against Notre Dame, Nov. 6 against San Diego State, and Nov. 13 against New Mexico.

    The Cougars finish the regular season with an away game against archrival Utah.

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