MARTIN, Tenn. – As the calendar switches from winter to spring and the weather begins to transfer from cold and gloomy to warm sunshine, it can only mean one thing at Hardy Graham Stadium. It is time for official spring practice to begin for the University of Tennessee at Martin football team.
The Skyhawks embark on their quest for Ohio Valley Conference glory beginning today at 4 p.m. in what was practice #1 of 15. For head coach Jason Simpson, who is beginning his 12th season at the helm of the UT Martin football program, this year’s spring practice represents a combination of opportunity and eagerness to get back on the gridiron and back to competing at a championship level and with a limited amount of practices available, the Skyhawks wasted little time getting into their standard practice routine.
“Today was really exciting,” said Simpson. “It is really neat to see the old guys raise the standard and make the young guys meet the expectations of how we practice. It certainly was not perfect, but I was pleased and excited at what I saw today.”
While posting a record of 7-5, including a 6-2 conference record that was good enough for a second place finish in the OVC last season and a perfect 5-0 record at home, the Skyhawks are looking to break through this spring in hopes of building off what was a successful 2016 campaign.
“These guys understand that now we have to start back over,” said Simpson. “There is a certain level of expectations around here to be in championship contention and even though we are five months out right now, there is certainly a sense of urgency here and we are excited about the upcoming season.”
Although there may not be any defined position battles so far in the spring practices, building depth at key positions is an emphasis for the Skyhawk coaching staff and with the loss of some of the best players in the OVC, it will be important for UT Martin to find some contributors from some of the new additions to the roster.
“We have a lot of returning players coming back, especially in positions like the secondary,” said Simpson. “However, we have to build some depth behind those starters. We lost some good players on the defensive line, some all-conference guys, so we want to see who will be those lead guys up front. We graduated a couple of fantastic offensive lineman, so we are looking for those new guys to come in and play at a certain level. We also have a fifth-year senior quarterback, so we are excited to see the standard and level that he can take himself too. We have a history of fifth-year quarterbacks around here putting up some good numbers and leading us to a lot of wins, so I certainly expect Troy (Cook) to be in that same boat.”
Weather permitting, the Skyhawks return to Hardy Graham stadium for Practice #2 this Saturday, March 25 at 9:30 a.m.