From the first day on Summa Field, the Zips declared a goal.
"We want to set some traditions," running back Alex Allen said. "The goal is to go undefeated here."
Added coach J.D. Brookhart: "This is our house. This is a place we will violently protect."
The coaches and players talked about how special it was to finally do something meaningful inside the stadium.
"There's a lot of excitement walking down here," Brookhart said, referring to the staircase that the team will walk down before entering the gameday locker room. "A lot of guys said they got chills. It was special. It had to sink in."
On top of an undefeated home record, Allen has a personal goal: "I'm going to be the first player to score a touchdown here."
Other notes from practice...
The team will practice exclusively on Summa Field in August. Later this month, they will even practice under the lights (won't that be fun?). That means no more Zips football on Schrank Field, which the soccer teams and intramural leagues still use frequently.
Practicing in the stadium is a little hotter than doing it at Schrank because the wind doesn't circulate as well. We watched the heat radiating off of the turf.
Chris Jacquemain has a way of winning me over, then losing me. Here is what I wrote in my notebook: "Jacq looks poised in pocket during two-minute drill. ... Picked off in endzone. Story of career." Matt Rodgers didn't look very sharp passing, but he scrambled for large chunks of yards. That's why I love athletic quarterbacks. A bad passing day doesn't necessarily doom the offense. Patrick Nicely got a handful of snaps, as well. He is a lot taller than I thought. He looked a little jittery, but also threw some good balls. I asked Brookhart, "Can you promise me that Nicely will redshirt?" He said, "We'll see what he does." Interesting.
In other quarterback news, Jordan Miller has left the team. Saw that one coming as soon as Nicely signed. The only other player to leave since spring is receiver Jerome Royal, who was injured most of last year.
Ryan Bain is the only significant injury so far. It sounds like he has a chronic back problem. He reminds me of Travis Hafner -- a powerful athlete with an Achilles' heel. I asked Brookhart if Bain might sit until MAC season. He said no; Bain will play when he's ready.
I talked to linebacker Mike Thomas after practice. He told the story about how he wound up at Akron. Coach Brian Callahan persistently pursued Thomas as soon as Thomas let it be known he was interested in transferring from UMass. The coaches had interest back from when Thomas played at Fork Union Military Academy. Thomas said this about the defense: "I feel a different energy."
Brookhart said the team will name captains after fall camp concludes. I asked him to discuss some candidates. On defense, Thomas and Tyler Campbell have led by example with a strong work ethic. On offense, the team has four experienced linemen, four senior receivers and Allen, who might be the most vocal of the bunch.
I also spoke with Deryn Bowser, who said he has spent a lot of time watching game film to improve his route running and hand-eye coordination. Yes, hand-eye coordination. He watched closely for his hand placement on some of his drops from last season. Of course, he also watches replays of his game-saving catch at Kent State whenever he gets a chance.
Jeremy Bruce was back on the field after an injury late in the spring.
Changes since I last visited InfoCision Stadium: The scoreboard is up, but not yet functioning. It looks great. The lights are installed. The turf (obviously) has been filled in with the rubber pellets. The fifth and sixth levels have carpet. There is a fireplace in the president's suite.
Plays worth mentioning: Freshman tight end Jake Brandt caught a pass for about 20 yards. He is an X-factor who could really help the Zips this year. ... Diamond Weaver broke up a pass. ... DeVoe Torrence made a nice cut off the left tackle and scampered for a large chunk of yards. The players didn't wear pads, so it's hard to say when he would have went down. ... Nicely hit Curtis Brown on a well-timed sideline pass. ... Jalil Carter jumped a route and nearly picked off a Rodgers pass.
The UA marketing team has surpassed 5,000 season tickets sold. This week's Hard Hat Huddle was a big success, drawing 750 people from the community. The marketing team will hold open houses for large groups of visitors from InfoCision, Summa and the UA faculty/staff.
Lastly, I'll leave you with this picture I took from midfield on my cell phone. I got chills myself when I was walking across the field.
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