Spring Report #2: Intensity Rises as Temperatures Fall
March 27, 2008
NORMAL, Ill. - Two days after beginning its spring practice season with temperatures in the mid-50s and sunny skies, the Illinois State football team was greeted with a more typical day in early spring in central Illinois: cold temperatures combined with rain and stiff winds, as the Redbirds practiced in shells for 24, five-minute periods Thursday on the Hancock Stadium turf.
While temperatures in the mid-30s, combined with the rain and wind did not come as much of a surprise to anyone on the field, a new player practicing with the team did come as a surprise to some, as senior men's basketball player Levi Dyer joined in on practice as a punter. An all-state punter during his prep days at Eaton High School in Eaton, Colo., Dyer came to Thursday's practice just three days removed from the Illinois State men's basketball team's season-ending loss to Dayton (55-48) Monday in the second round of the National Invitation Tournament.
Well aware of his abilities on the basketball court, head coach Denver Johnson invited Dyer out to practice with the team during it spring camp to see what the 6-foot-11 basketball center could contribute to the Redbird football team.
"We knew about Levi coming out of high school, as he was a tremendous punting prospect then," said Johnson. "We're thrilled that he's out here with us; we'll give him a look and see how it goes."
Following Dyer's welcoming to the team during punting drills, the rest of the Redbird kickers got some work in, including extra points. Despite a sharp wind blowing out of the east, sophomore Tyler Funk went 6-for-6 in extra-point attempts, while senior Kevin Mazur was 3-for-6 and sophomore Steven Fetzer was 3-for-7 in point after attempts.
Raising the intensity level of the team's defensive effort was one of the main goals of first-year defensive coordinator David Ross.
"I really liked and appreciated our players' passion and emotion (Thursday)," said Ross. "They displayed a great desire to get better on the field. This was the first time (this spring) that we lined up in a team formation, and the things that I'm pleased about are the intangibles, such as how hard the players worked (Thursday)."
In a change from Tuesday's opening practice, the Redbirds implemented numerous running plays into their offensive scheme Thursday. In the 7-on-7 drill, Illinois State ran the ball 12 times compared to just nine passes. Senior quarterback Kevin Brockway was a perfect 4-for-4 in passing during the drill, with two of those throws going to tight end Kedrick Meredith. Redshirt freshman Drew Kiel was 3-for-4 in pass attempts, while he also made a nice handoff to tailback Cortes Rice, who broke a tackle and ran the ball down the sideline. Sophomore Preston Earl also worked well with the Redbird tailbacks, as he recorded five handoffs during his time on the field, including two-straight to redshirt freshman Clifton Gordon.
"Our tailbacks did a good job of getting some runs in (Thursday), while our offensive line did a good job during their first day in pads," said offensive coordinator Jim Williams. "Our goal (Thursday) was to focus on the running game and get an aggressive, physical attitude coming off of the line of scrimmage."
Illinois State will look to keep the intensity high Saturday, when it takes the field again for the first of two-straight practices scheduled for this weekend.