HELENA — High energy best described the Carroll College football team’s first spring practice on Friday night.
Players were vocal as a group and excited to finally be on the field after a long winter. They ran around field to each drill and celebrated the big plays on team skirmishes.
At one point when a defensive back intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown, every defensive player ran across the field cheering, and congratulated the player in the end zone.
There were several reasons for this enhanced emotion.
Primarily, it was because this was the first on-field workout with new coach Troy Purcell. He’s taken over the program after 20 years of Mike Van Diest.
“Their excitement is there, their energy was there,” Purcell said. “It was a little chaotic the first day. Just getting to the drills, how we are going to act on the drills, how we are going to go from drill to drill and how are we going to finish. Those are the things we have to improve on, and get better at.”
The Saints worked on various small techniques in all areas from blocking to receiving, ball carrying and special teams coverage.
It was a two-hour sprint from station-to-station. And in-between there were team periods as plays were ran against a scout team and periods where starters faced off with starters.
“There was some rust because we’ve been out of it for a while, and we were stuck in a gym,” linebacker Chase Bowen said. “To come from a gym to this wet, muddy stuff was tough. But it was a great first day. There was a lot of energy.”
Purcell’s staff prepared the players for a new style of practice during the winter. The Saints are working faster than in the past.
The plan is to get as many reps in so practice is more productive. And that goal is to keep players engaged more and thinking faster.
“It was great to be back out there,” receiver Shane Sipes said. “There were a lot of high-intensity drills. The coaches did a good job of setting the tone early and doing what we needed to do. That’s going to carry through spring and through the season. And I think that’s the way it’s going to be now.”
Players responded positively to the approach. After practice they weren’t tired, but more excited to get to the rest of the 14 on-field workouts.
After Saturday morning’s workout, the Saints plan to practice three times a week leading into the April 27 spring game.
“We were excited to see how things are going to change for us,” Bowen said. “It gets everyone excited to be out here. The whole practice format has changed. Everything from the the format and the tempo. The vocabulary is different. We are constantly running drills, and technique was emphasized today.”
Players are buying into the new coaching staff and plans because they are upset from the losing seasons of recent years. The last winning season was in 2014.
The Saints are in rebuilding mode, but they hope they can make an impact in the Frontier Conference sooner than expected.
“You strive for perfection, so I wasn’t happy with how the drills went, but that will improve,” Purcell said. “The energy is there and the hunger is there. We have kids who want to learn and get better. That’s the first step. There’s a lot of improvement to do.”