The next step of the Mike Sanford era at Western Kentucky begins on Thursday when the first-year head coach welcomes his squad of Hilltoppers to the first day of spring practice.
In recent weeks the players have studied the playbook to gain an understanding of the new staff's terminology, the players have worked in the weight room and seen the results of efforts during the program's week of training. The time to begin putting what they've learned and worked for to test.
“We are really at an exciting time for myself, personally, but more importantly for these players," Sanford said on Tuesday. "It has been a long, grueling and challenging offseason. I’m really, really excited about where our team is right now, but even more than that, I’m just excited for football. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned about this roster, it’s that these players love when the football is out there. Anything that has to do with playing the game of football and competing, is when you see the lights go on, unlike many teams that I’ve had a chance to be a part of."
The attention to gain an understanding of the new schemes and expectations should help the players begin making progress quickly this spring.
"We want to do a great job of teaching," he said. "We've had an opportunity over the course of the last five or six weeks to integrate some meeting time, some film study as part of our offseason program so we're not going to be rolling out the ball with brand new schemes.
"There's been a lot of meeting time, class on the grass - walk-throughs without a football - and there's been a lot of individual coaching on the field."
Sanford and the new staff will be challenged with replacing a number of key contributors from last season's Conference USA championship winning squad, including 12 starters.
Returning quarterback Mike White, who tossed for 4,289 yards in 2016, referred to the opportunity as "the next man up," as 52 members of roster that helped WKU win 11 games last fall return.
"It is all about stepping up and we believe in all of our guys," White said.
Here's the WKU Spring Practice schedule:
(practice approximately 4:15-6:15 p.m. each day. All are open to fans. Times and dates are subject to change.)
1. Thursday, March 23
2. Friday, March 24
3. Tuesday, March 28
4. Thursday, March 30
5. Friday, March 31
6. Tuesday, April 4
7. Thursday, April 6
8. Friday, April 7
9. Tuesday, April 11
10. Thursday, April 13
11. Friday, April 14
12. Tuesday, April 18
13. Thursday, April 20
14. Friday, April 21
15. Saturday, April 22 (Red and White Spring Game -- 3 p.m.)
Check out Mike Sanford's complete press conference in the video below:
(Courtesy WKU Athletics)