For the football players, it was a chance to get away from lifting weights, and running sprints, and put on the helmets and pads, and go play the game that they have been waiting for since their season ended last December. Old friends and old rivals picked up where they left off, and new faces looked to find their spots, and build new relationships in this special band of brothers who play football at UTEP.
Spring is all about rebirth, and new life. It holds the promise of youth, and growth, and facing new challenges. The young men taking to the freshly mown grass with the bright, sharply focused white lines marking it off in five yard sections, held expressions and moved as differently as their body sizes and shapes. Some wore the look of awe, and some wore the look of wisdom. Some were as excited as kids on Christmas morning, and some were all business. Age and years of experience were no predictors of which expression they might have. But, all were happy to be out on the field, doing what they love to do. Each of them is a competitor, and the long awaited competition was about to begin.
The football team had a huge turnover in players. Gone are many starters, and players with years of experience. But, for all of those fans who are apprehensive about the loss, there are players who see openings for them. In a job like few others, seniority means little. It means that you are the supposed leader at that position, but you better not let up, or take a moment to look over your shoulder because that may be just the opening the other guy was waiting for. Some have been waiting a long time, and some have no intention of waiting their “turn”. In this line, cutting is not only allowed, it is encouraged, and rather than the coaches protecting your place, they are more than willing to help another player cut in. In a delicate balance, players work together, and help each other, but at the same time it is a dog eat dog world, where their is no pity for the eaten, and those who eat are celebrated. The eaten know that’s how it works, and not only do they have no problem with it-they embrace it. That is a major reason why they love the game. They are part of this special group, and because of that, they are special, too.
It was picnic weather, but practice was no picnic. There was absolutely no grab-ass, no joking. This wasn’t any disco, and there wasn’t any foolin’ around. It was perhaps the most energized first day of spring ball I can remember. All of that experience of the last couple of years, and perhaps a complacency and self assurance, was gone. There are only so many seats at the grownup’s table, and the players know that those seats are up for grabs. There were hard hits, spectacular plays, and a serious disagreement erupted a time or two. I never once heard any gentle refrains of kumbaya.
As much as there were so many new spots up for grabs, there was amazingly very little in the way of disorganization. I felt like the defense probably got the better of it, today, as one would expect. But, the offense simply needs some time to gel, and get their timing down. Depending on whom you asked, each of the quarterbacks names were given as to the one who had had the best first day. Red-shirt freshman wide receiver, Jordan Leslie made catch after catch of any pass that got near him. Defensive backs laid claim to many passes by breaking them up, and taking the ricocet out of the air. Basketball player, Wayne Portalatin stood out above the rest, literally, but amazingly, for a guy who has never played football, he never appeared lost, or confused.
Today was just the kind of day you would want to start off Spring football, and it started off just the way a fan or coach would want. There is plenty of talent on this team, and the players appear to be excited and appreciative of the chance to be coached and play. I think those who have been looking down their noses at this team will be feeling a bit sheepish before it is all over. What this team lost in experience will be offset by hard work and desire.
I will have some video of practice up today, and in the days to follow. You can watch it and judge for yourselves.