With spring practice being pushed back later this year, student athletes are not only trying to get in the limited amount of practice time allotted in the spring, but are also working to wrap up their academic commitments. Redshirt junior defensive back Keith Tandy admits that the workload during the spring can be tough.
"It's been a little bit different because we are used to having spring ball a little bit earlier," said Tandy. "Now that classes are winding down so we don't have as much homework. Now it's more about getting your makeup work in and start studying for finals."
Members of the football team are permitted to miss practice if the time interferes with their academic schedules and often, against their wishes, they must attend their classes rather than participate in practice. That's part of a juggling act that often isn't apparent to fans, but is a reality for a percentage of the team.
"When you're in class and you're missing practice, that's really all you can think about," said Tandy. "You're like ‘I wonder what's going on in practice. Are they getting better or not and who's doing what?' You have to come in and try to get better by watching the film."
Missing a day of practice during the spring might not be viewed as critical by some, but string a few of them together, and a lot of work is missed. The repetition of fundamentals is a key component of spring drills, and its there where the building blocks are laid for the installation of the offensive and defensive schemes during fall practice. Missing one practice in the spring often feels like missing multiple days because the team covers so much each day while preparing for the upcoming season.
"(Missing a day of practice) feels like you are steps behind," said Tandy. "When you watch film, it feels like you've missed three or four days when you start watching because we practice so fast and get so many plays in. When you miss a day, you really miss a lot."
After being thrown into a starting position as a freshman in the Meineke Car Care Bowl, Tandy was able to get his first full year of experience as a sophomore when he started all thirteen games. As a sophomore, Tandy was a part of more than 760 plays. He credits his extensive game experience as a sophomore in helping him to build his confidence.
"The main (change in me) has been confidence," admitted Tandy. "The more confidence you get then you believe in yourself. Sometimes when you're not confident about stuff you see it but you don't believe it. When you're more confident you jump right on it. I just feel like I'm years ahead. Now I have to be one of the leaders, I'm one of the older guys out there. It feels so much easier when I'm out there playing." There's no doubt that the confidence is built not only on game action, but also in the hundreds of repetitions players get in during practice sessions. Each one that's missed is a lost chance to improve., but Tandy is doing his best to minimize that impact. Missing that time is even more important in his development as a leader, which has been a point of emphasis for head coach Bill Stewart this year. Tandy, after being a student to some of the veterans on the defense last year, is being looked at to teach some of the younger players, like redshirt freshman Brodrick Jenkins and sophomore Pat Miller.
"So far, it's going pretty good," said Tandy. "We still have a long way to go but we're starting to get guys to fly around to the ball and I'm trying to work with some of the younger cornerbacks so that they can play more this year. We will probably end up playing like four or five corners. We have a lot of young guys. It's going to be interesting this year."