"We're excited to get some preseason hype and recognition," added cornerback Brandon Howard. "We've earned it. It's nice to see all the hard work and good seasons we've had finally get recognized, but you know what? It doesn't mean a thing. We lose one of our first games again this year, start out 1-and-2 or whatever, and it won't mean anything. Not a thing."
With the high expectations and the knowledge of what it takes to meet those expectations firmly in mind, the Cougars took the practice field as fall practice officially got underway. As has been increasingly the case with every year, the team came out prepared and ready for the grueling month of practices that lead up to the season.
"We had a good team five hours ago, and now that has been confirmed," stated head coach Bronco Mendenhall when asked of his overall impressions of Saturday's practice. "I was very impressed, but that is what I expected."
Indeed, with the expectations defined clearly by the coaching staff, players know full well what needs to be done. More importantly, the players have a ready reference point to what that hard work and meeting those expectations will lead to.
"There is more certainty on this team," said Reed. "We've been doing it for the last two or so years now, so it's about not resting on anything we've done [and instead] repeating what we know what needs to be done with every day and [working] all that much harder than we have to reach new heights this year."
For the players, Saturday's practice felt more like a continuation of what they've undergone all summer. With the unofficial workouts during the summer, the team took care of its business to be as ready as it possibly could for the start of fall camp.
"It's been an amazing experience getting ready for this camp," commented Mendenhall. "It hasn't felt like fall camp. It's felt like a continuation of the last three years, and the players came in and knew exactly what to do [and] what is expected, and they told the new players even before I told them, and we've had very few issues already, and that's a sign of progress."
"It was no joke this summer," added Howard. "I stayed all summer and so did just about everyone else. We know that what we did the last two years was good, but we're not satisfied with that, and this summer showed that. We all know the potential we have as a team and we're working hard to meet that potential."
The offseason workouts were regarded by veteran players as being the best and most intense workouts they've ever been a part of. There wasn't an attitude of being out there just to be out there, but a general attitude of willingness.
"We didn't have guys take days off or cut workouts short this year, complaining about cramps and all that," said Reed. "The guys this year, man, you'd have to pull most guys out of the workout with a stretcher. There was just a better attitude this year of really working to get better instead of just being out there."
No Worries with Collie
Austin Collie's stress fracture doesn't appear to be serious, and the star wide receiver expects to miss no game time once the season starts.
"I plan on playing every game," said Collie. "I'll take it easy here to start, but I'll be out there the first game and every game after that. That's the plan."
Bright is Back
One of the more pleasant sights Saturday was the return of Travis Bright to the practice field, and let me be the first to state how good it is to appear to be wrong regarding my prognosis of his injury and the timetable in which he'll return to the team.
There isn't a timetable in fact, as Bright took every rep with the 1s at his right guard position. Bright said he felt good - although a little different - being out there Saturday.
"Oh, it doesn't feel the same," said Bright following practice. "The leg has sort of a new feel to it, but there is no thought of me breaking it again. With everything I've had done to my leg, it's really going to be hard to break it again."
Standout Reporting Freshmen
Shiloah Te'o stood out Saturday as he played some great ball from his strong safety position. Te'o accounted for a pass knockdown and also met players in the backfield on at least two occasions.
Also impressing was true freshman O'Neill Chambers. Chambers showed quick feet, good hands, but most importantly, a workman-like attitude of being ready to learn wherever he can.
"He asks a lot of questions out there," observed Reed about Chambers. "That's good, real good. He doesn't have the attitude that some do that they'll just take over without working. He's very intent on learning whatever he can and learn it fast, and that is really going to help him."
"I've been impressed," added Collie. "He's a very smart kid who wants to learn. He's very athletic and I think if he continues with the attitude he's shown so far, that he'll help this team a lot, maybe even this year. I like what I've seen from him."
Mendenhall commented that Fui Vakapuna's reps will be limited initially due to pulling a hamstring during drill testing this offseason. The thought is that his hamstring isn't serious and they'd rather rest him at the start of fall practices rather than the end.
As is tradition for incoming players, they made a trip to the barbershop just prior to the first day of practice. The barbershop was the Cougar locker room, and the haircuts were free of charge. Many creative haircuts came out of the locker room Saturday, as the veterans weren't intent on just shaving the heads clean.
"I'm not quite sure how that works," said Mendenhall with a laugh. "I've kind of stayed out of that. The good news is that the players who got them were smiling, and I'd be concerned if they felt that they were getting picked on, but they were showing them off, so I think it's okay."
-Mendenhall was very pleased with the kicking game, and he commented that the ball is jumping off of C.J. Santiago's foot better than he's ever seen. Mendenhall was also impressed with Justin Sorensen, but said that Mitch Payne's accuracy has also improved, which should lead to a very competitive battle this fall for the kicking duties.
-Brendan Gaskins then took the offense the length of the field against the 2s on defense on a drive which culminated into a touchdown pass thrown to J.J. DiLuigi from four yards out. On the drive Gaskins completed 8 of his 10 passes for about 54 yards.
-Passes were caught by Wayne Latu, O'Neill Chambers, J.J. DiLuigi, Kelly Bills, Kaneakua Friel and Spencer Hafoka on the drive. Standout defensive plays included Shiloah Te'o meeting DiLuigi in the backfield on a run that was whistled dead for a loss of two yards, and a sack recorded by Vic So'oto.
-Hall then completed all three of his passes, including consecutive passes Michael Reed and one to Dennis Pitta. Ian Dulan recorded his second sack of the practice, thus ending the series of reps.
-The offensive line saw Tom Sorensen at center as the only new guy with the first-teamers. Matt Reynolds was at left tackle with the 2s, along with Mark Freeman at left guard, R.J. Willing at center, Jason Speredon at right guard and Garrett Reden filling the right tackle spot.