“I can see the ability and talent,” Sanders said on a chilly and blustery Tuesday afternoon at Greene Stadium. “Now I need to see what kind of football players we’ll have.”
ETSU opened a spring schedule that will include 12 practices, two scrimmages — on March 24 and 31— and the spring game, set for April 5.
“We’ve been talking about getting to this point for a long time,” said Sanders, who was hired to replace Carl Torbush on Dec. 17. “It’s nice to finally get to spring practice, get the guys on the field and see what kind of team we really have. I’m excited about what I’ve seen so far, but unfortunately you don’t play many games in the weight room or offseason conditioning. You play games in pads on the football field.”
With Sanders taking over for the retired Carl Torbush and bringing in some new staff members, there will be an adjustment period for everyone involved.
“I’ve got to feel them out,” Sanders said of his players. “Now don’t get me wrong. It’s their job to please me. If they want to play, they have to please me. At the same time, I’ve got to look and see what their abilities are, what they can do and what they can handle.”
This will be an important camp for the players. Competition is the keyword and incumbent starters will be looking over their shoulders as younger players and experienced backups try to impress the staff enough to win starting jobs.
“There’s definitely new excitement,” said Nasir Player, an All-Southern Conference defensive end. “There’s a whole new coaching staff and everyone has a clean slate. Everyone has to show these new coaches what you can do. They don’t know you from the next dude, so you have to let them know that you’re better than the next man.”
With so much at stake — every position is said to be up for grabs — the players won’t waste any time. Nobody will be easing into the spring. They can’t afford that.
“We’re coming out firing for sure,” linebacker Austin Gatewood said. “I think I speak for everybody when I say that.”
Sanders is a former offensive coordinator at Tennessee, Kentucky and, most recently, Florida State. He has a reputation as a developer of quarterbacks and he’ll be putting in a new offense. Austin Herink has started at quarterback for the past three seasons, but even his job is up for grabs. Logan Marchi, who started seven games for Temple last season, has transferred to ETSU and could push Herink.
“I plan on doing what our best 11 players allow us to do,” Sanders said. “We’ll find out. A lot of it will depend on what these guys can do, what the quarterback can do, what the offensive line can do. It’s one thing I’ve learned through the years: You never try to do anything that your quarterback and the offensive line can’t do. We have to find out.”