Fall Practice Report: Day One

The effort and desire was certainly there during the first day of practice, but at the sacrifice of precise execution, which is more than often the case for a first day of practice. Overall the excitement level was high, which pleased head coach Bronco Mendenhall as he saw some old and new faces raring to compete for spots for the coming season.

"There was a lot of energy and a lot of enthusiasm, but not much execution," summed up head coach Bronco Mendenhall about what he saw during the first day of practice. "Willing hearts, willing spirits, kids trying hard, anxious to play, nervous, and the execution left something to be desired."

Overall the team was excited, as the players waited a long time for this day.

"We're so excited, everyone. The energy, guys just competing really hard from day one, it felt great. If felt right," commented cornerback Brian Logan.

Logan observed a different energy,as guys seemed more confident on his side of the football .

"You could really feel it out there today,while last year I don't think you saw this type of excitement and effort until about two weeks in," he observed. "We were making plays, a lot of plays, so it's going to be good, real good, and you can really just feel it out there. Being out there with the energy, if feels a lot more right this time around I think."

A lot of the team - especially the defense - felt right by the mere presence of safety Andrew Rich, who missed most of spring with injury but took a full rep of practices Saturday. His impact was very apparent, as he knocked down passes, filled gaps quickly and furiously on running plays, and overall led the defense to much more aggressive and confident play.

"He makes so much of a difference out there, not just for me, but everyone," said Logan about Rich. "Everyone plays more confident when Andrew is playing. You don't have to talk and think as much, as you know what he's going to do, you know where he's going to be, but most of all, you know he's going to make a play, so that makes you that much more aggressive and confident."

"I was a little rusty, I thought, but overall it was good, real good, and I'll get more and more of that rust off with every practice," said Rich. "I love this game so much and it's great to be around a bunch of guys that feel the same way. It's really fun playing with the guys we have."

The defense was the standout unit Saturday, as a variety of plays were made from a variety of players, newcomers and old veterans alike. Some of the plays included sacks by Thomas Bryson (on a couple of occasions), true freshman Alani Fua and Vic So'oto, and passes were knocked down by So'oto, Kyle Van Noy, DeQuan Everett, Robbie Buckner (on a couple occasions), and one from true freshman Tayo Fabuluje.

"We're a family and the new guys, they're all families from day one, guys like DeQuan and all of them. They have a lot of energy and they're going to help us," said Logan, who accounted for a leaping interception that was unfortunately blown dead due to a sack. "There is a closeness to this unit that we didn't have last year, I think. We were all close and all that last year, but not like this and you could see it from day one."

"There's a lot of symmetry that we have among us that is really going to help us this year," added Rich. "Guys like Brian Logan, Brandon Bradley and the other guys like Robbie Buckner and Corby Eason, we know each other real well. We know each of us will make the play and that helps out so much, just the confidence we have in one another."

Leaders of the Defense

This is very much an uncommon year for the Cougar secondary, as they're looked at as the leaders of the defensive unit with their experience and level of play. According to both Logan and Rich, they're more than fine with that mantle.

"We have more veterans and experience than any other group, so if we weren't looked at as the leaders, that would be a problem for sure, I think," said Rich. "We need all of us, all 11 guys, so we believe it starts with us, but I hope the other position groups get to the point where they're the same way, and that's how we'll become a great defense."

There is a lot of uncertainty with the seven positions in front of the defensive backfield, but if the first day is any indication, those guys will be fine come game time.

"Guys were making plays in front of us, which was great to see," observed Logan. "We'd have the coverage, but guys would be knocking down passes, stopping the run early, and that just needs to continue and those guys in front of us will grow more and more confident with every day."

Practice Notes

-True freshmen Drew Phillips and Manu Mulitalo were both held out of practices as they wait to get cleared, which coaches fully expect to happen within the coming days.

-Jake Heaps finished the day going 8-of-13 for 114 yards and two touchdowns. He ended practice hitting McKay Jacobson deep for a 44-yard corner route, letting the offense run off the field on a positive note. His other touchdown pass came by virtue of a 5-yard toss to Matt Marshall.

-Riley Nelson ended the day going 5-of-8 for 49 yards while rushing twice for 13 yards, which included a 1-yard touchdown run. It was a play that had Vic So'oto protesting wildly, as he felt he would have stopped him easily had it been a full-contact practice session.

-Offensive highlights included J.J. Di Luigi running the ball five times for 36 yards, including the best run of the day when he hit the hole quickly up the middle on his way to a 15-yard gain. It could have very well gone for more had it been a contact practice.

-Ross Apo showed well in hauling in a 15-yard slant pass on the first touchdown drive orchestrated by Heaps.

-Eathyn Manumaleuna saw a lot of time playing defensive end with the first-team defense alongside Romney Fuga and Vic So'oto. The linebackers with the first-team had Brandon Ogletree and Shane Hunter on the inside with Zeke Mendenhall playing Sam and Jameson Frazier trying out the Will position.

-The second-team unit saw a defensive line of Thomas Bryson, Jordan Richardson and Graham Rowley. At linebacker, Van Noy was playing Sam with Jadon Wagner playing Will. In the middle, it was Aveni Leung-Wai and Austen Jorgensen. The secondary had Travis Uale and Jray Galea'i at safety with DeQuan Everett and Corby Eason at corner.

-Jadon Wagner left practice early with an injury and will be getting an MRI to assess the injury further according to Coach Mendenhall.

-One of the highlights of practice was Riley Stephenson letting go of some very impressive punts, which were fielded in turn by Jacobson, O'Neill Chambers, J.D. Falslev and Di Luigi and Spencer Hafoka.

-The first-team offensive line had Matt Reynolds, Jason Speredon, Terence Brown, Braden Hansen and Braden Brown going from left to right tackle, while the twos fielded Jordan Black, Ryan Freeman, Houston Reynolds, Marco Thorson and Walter Kahaiali'i from right to left.

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