The Gold-Blue game not only offers the team their only time to perform in front of a crowd until the regular season kicks off in the fall. but it also allows some of the younger players to showcase their talents and, in some cases, vie for playing time or a starting position. While practice performance, situational drills and scrimmages also provide the chance to move up the depth chart, making a mark in game-like situations with a key interception or a big hit is certainly a sure-fire way to get noticed.
"I'm looking forward to see what the other guys are going to do with the fans in the stands and under the lights," said Sands. "That's a lot of pressure for some of us. I want to see what some of the younger guys are going to do and how they're going to react and cope with the environment. "
Going into his third season with the Mountaineers, Sands is primed to be a key performer for a Mountaineer defense that has a chance to be one of the best in the Big East, and perhaps in the country. A mix of veteran experience and young talent holds lots of promise for the unit, but there are also some items that still need work. Chief among those is making sure those youngsters understand the environment in which they'll be playing. As part of his leadership role, the Florida native is already anticipating working with some of the younger players during the Gold-Blue game to help them with their nerves and reservations.
"I'll just talk to them," said Sands. "I'd say ‘You all are used to this. You did this in high school. This is what you did to get here from high school. Be confident in your skills. Don't be nervous. Don't worry about the fans. You don't see the fans you just see the other players that are out there with you. If you focus on that then you'll be fine.'"
This year's spring format puts the starters and key reserves together on one team, which should provide another chance to work on team play. That has been evident during the past month, as the defense has had a number of bright spots and good performances. However, Sands realizes that there is still room for improvement, and not just from the players moving into starting or vital backup roles.
"We want to improve on last year," said Sands. "Wherever we were ranked last year, we want to be higher. Each and every individual on the team hopefully will have improved from last year, and we will have a better team. We're just average. We're an average defense right now. To be above average, we have to constantly be getting turnovers every day. We haven't been doing that. We've only been getting one or two turnovers a day. Against this offense, it's pretty hard to do but right now we are just average on defense. We have to come back after the spring game and get at it."
Tonight's game will being at approximately 7:20 p.m., and will be preceded by a 7:00 p.m. flag football game between two squads of former Mountaineer players.