For the first time since 1992, the football team began spring practice in late March without Big East Conference competition in mind. The Owls were kicked out of the conference at the end of last season, and will prepare for life as an independent this fall.
But while the Owls don’t have a home, they still have a focus.
“It’s a lot more intense this spring than it’s been in a long time,” senior defensive end Rodney Wormley said. “We’re trying to win. We’re tired of losing, and I feel a better chemistry. Everybody’s more like a family.”
If anyone would be tired of losing, it’s Wormley and his classmates. In Wormley’s three seasons here, the Owls are a collective 7-28, and players admitted the situation with the Big East has made for an odd experience.
Still, having implemented an I-formation into the offense and planning to field an experienced defensive unit, the Owls said they are optimistic about the upcoming season.
Senior quarterback Mike McGann returns to the helm, after being supplanted by now-departed Walter Washington for the last season and a half. McGann is the only true quarterback on the spring roster; backup Mike Holley is currently competing for the spot of No. 1 receiver.
New offensive coordinator Willie Slater has introduced a fullback to the offensive formation, which ran most of its plays out of the shotgun with one running back last year. Injuries to a number of early candidates in the backfield have made it difficult to assess the formation’s potential, coach Bobby Wallace said.
“[Junior] Prince Williams is doing a decent job of picking up the slack for us, but Josh Bundy broke his elbow, Umar [Ferguson] is out and Mike Neal’s coming off surgery on his knee,” Wallace said. “So we’re limited at fullback now.”
Bundy and Ferguson, along with senior Tim Brown, are the favorites to win most of the snaps behind McGann.
Though the rushing attack will look different, the quarterback said he is approaching the passing game the same as always.
“The offense is looking good,” McGann said. “We have some stuff to work on, iron out a few wrinkles, but so far, so good.”
On defense, redshirt freshman linebacker Rick Costa has had an impressive spring camp. Costa is part of a young and inexperienced linebacker corps that lost Troy Bennett to graduation and Rian Wallace to the NFL Draft. The unit consists of Costa and seniors Ryan Gore and Christian Dunbar, all of whom boast good speed but not much else on their college football resumes.
The strength of the defense will probably be the line. The goal for camp is to find a fourth lineman to join the all-senior group that has a lock on three of the positions.
“The defensive front, the three black shirts – Mike Mendenhall, Rodney Wormley and Antwon Burton – look great, and they’re playing dominating-type football,” Wallace said. “Now we just need to get another nose tackle with them, since [senior] Adam Fichter’s out with a stress fracture, that plays at their level.”
Spring practice will culminate in the Cherry & White Game on Saturday. Depending on the status of a number of injured players, the team will divide into two full squads or the offensive and defensive units will compete as part of Cherry & White Day at Ambler.
Until then, Wormley said, the focus is on getting better and helping the younger players improve.
“We’ve got a lot of older players like me and a lot of young guys who are following in our footsteps,” Wormley said. “We’re trying to lead by example rather than just lead, and we’ve got a lot of people that are willing to listen.”
Benjamin Watanabe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.