Rhule: ‘I like the intensity’

Members of the football team run toward the end of a practice at Paul VI High School. The Owls will hold seven more spring practices around the Philadelphia area, as Chodoff Field is being resurfaced. The annual Cherry & White game will be held later this month. | HUA ZONG TTN
Members of the football team run toward the end of a practice at Paul VI High School. The Owls will hold seven more spring practices around the Philadelphia area, as Chodoff Field is being resurfaced. The annual Cherry & White game will be held later this month. | HUA ZONG TTN

The deal was simple at the end of Saturday morning’s practice.

The kickers would line up for a field goal and if they missed, the rest of the team had to run from the goal-line to the 40. But if they made it, they got to walk.

Tyler Mayes kicked one that barely made it through the uprights, but coach Matt Rhule didn’t cut the team any slack.

He told them that college uprights are narrower than a high school’s field. Rhule made them run, but cut them a deal. He would run with them, and as a bonus, he would run with the skill players.

Despite giving himself a generous head start, Rhule quickly fell behind his players.

“At least I didn’t pull anything,” Rhule said. “That was the win.”

The football team continued its  14-day spring practice schedule last week, with a total of three sessions held at Camden High School in Camden, N.J., and Paul VI High School in Haddonfield, N.J.

The Owls finished last season with a 2-10 record, junior center Kyle Friend said practices and meetings this spring have been run more seriously than in the past.

“We know we have a lot of work to do based off of our record last year,” Friend said. “People are taking it more seriously because it’s about winning or losing.”

The coaching staff has placed a large emphasis on the team’s kicking game during the spring season, after a 2013 campaign in which Temple missed six extra points and went was 3 for 9 on field goal attempts.

“You see when they put the ball on the stick they’re kicking very accurately, it’s just the snaps and everything together,” Rhule said. “It’s about 50/50 right now. We’re emphasizing it every day so it’s getting better and better and better, but it’s got a ways to go.”

One possible solution is newcomer Michael Bittner – a junior from the soon-to-be-extinct men’s gymnastics team who kicked during his time at Catasauqua High School. Rhule said Bittner hasn’t been getting many reps due to class conflicts, but that he has potential going forward.

“He’s a tremendous men’s gymnast and once you’ve been a college athlete, you know how to handle pressure and you know how to perfect your technique and your craft,” Rhule said. “We’re excited for him to come out here.”

Jim Cooper Jr., will return to the 2014 roster, along with redshirt-junior Mayes and redshirt-sophomore Colby Perry.

Rhule said redshirt-sophomore wide receiver Khalif Herbin is the starting returner, but mentioned he would have to compete for the job.

“We’re trying to play him at tailback, play him at wide receiver,” Rhule said. “He’s deadly with the ball in his hands so we’re trying to get the ball in his hands as best we can.”

Redshirt-sophomore Saledeem Major, who played his first season of eligibility at Clark Atlanta University, walked on to the team last fall. He will play his first season with the Owls later this year.

“Sal is a good athlete and he’s kind of a combo guy, so he can do a little bit of everything,” Rhule said. “We’re trying to see what he can do so we put him out there and he got a lot of reps.”

“He’s been a pleasant, pleasant surprise,” Rhule added.

Freshman quarterback P.J. Walker is gearing up for his sophomore campaign, after an impressive rookie year in which he earned the starting job midway through the season.

“P.J.’s best when he’s live. He can kind of run around and move, have a little stress on him. But we’re just trying to really teach him the game. We’re putting a lot on him. Even though it might slow him down a little right now, it’s the best thing for him in the long run.”

“We owe it to him to develop him, not just use what he can do well.”

On the injury front, Rhule announced on Saturday that Shahid Lovett will be out for the spring due to a knee operation. Redshirt-freshman offensive lineman Dion Dawkins returned to practice in limited capacity after suffering a broken foot last fall against Louisville, but he not taken any team reps yet.

The Owls will return to practice on Tuesday at Camden High School.

Avery Maehrer and Nick Tricome can be reached at sports@temple-news.com.

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