Football preseason blog: Thursday, Aug. 14

Head coach Ron Gould
 
Head coach Ron Gould
 

Aug. 3, 2014

By Mike Robles, Asst. AD, Communications

News, notes, updates, musings and other football information from the UC Davis Aggies' preseason camp.

The most recent entries are listed first. 

THURSDAY, AUG. 14
Day 11

Open practices
The second week of fall practice is coming to a close and Aggie fans will once again have the chance to come and check out the UC Davis football season conduct practice on Saturday. Practice at Aggie Stadium starts at 10:45 a.m. and runs until 12:50 p.m. Besides position drills, UC Davis is also scheduled to hold its second scrimmage of camp.
 
UC Davis will open one more practice for fans when it holds it final scrimmage next Wednesday (Aug. 20). That practice, also at Aggie Stadium, is scheduled from 9:15-11:20 a.m. Call it a “business man’s special”.
 
The Aggies are scheduled for two practices on Friday - the morning one in helmets and shoulder pads, and the evening drills with just helmets - before readying for Saturday’s scrimmage. The only remaining double-day of practices is Monday. There are also a couple of practices scheduled for Toomey Field.
 
Schmidt, Fells look for NFL jobs
A couple of Aggie greats are hoping that to land NFL jobs this fall with strong performances during the summer. Colton Schmidt, an All-Big Sky punter in 2012, is in his second preseason with the San Francisco 49ers while tight end Daniel Fells, who’s already enjoyed a productive NFL career, is trying to latch on with the New York Giants.
 
Schmidt was signed by the 49ers last year to give All-Pro kicker Andy Lee a break during the exhibition season. Schmidt averaged 50.0 yards per punt in the 2013 preseason, had a long of 62 yards against the Kansas City Chiefs and had three kicks inside the 20. He had two punts in last week’s game at Baltimore, averaging 48.5 yards with a long of 57 yards. Schmidt also had a punt downed at the 1-yard line.
 
Word is that Lee is not going anywhere but Schmidt is gaining valuable audition time in front of the rest of the league to hopefully earn a shot. He was signed briefly by the Cleveland Browns after being released by the Niners last year but was later released by them as well. 
 
Fells, who by the way had a couple of catches for 23 yards when the Aggies beat Stanford 20-17 in 2005, has been on rosters with the Oakland Raiders, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, St. Louis Rams, Denver Broncos and most recently with the New England Patriots in 2012. He was a late release just prior to the 2013 season but is back this year with the Giants.
 
Reports indicate a plethora of tight ends are looking to latch on with the Giants but Fells is among a couple who have begun to separate themselves. He had a 10-yard catch in New York’s win over the Buffalo Bills last week. Fells has 92 career catches for 1,086 yards and eight touchdowns in his six previous NFL seasons.
 
Speaking of Buffalo, there’s a familiar name on the Bills coaching staff. Nathaniel Hackett, who played linebacker for the Aggies from 1999-2002 and was a long snapper specialist, is in his second season as offensive coordinator. He’s previously held offensive coaching staff jobs with the Bills and Tampa Bay and was offensive coordinator for the Syracuse Orange before joining Buffalo.
 
His dad, Paul, is also an Aggie alum who coached professionally with several teams and was the head coach of USC from 1998-2000. When Nathaniel played for USC, it wasn’t unusual to see him race from the field to the pressbox after his game with the Aggies to try and get his dad’s result with USC..
 
Nowadays, he’d just pull out his phone on the sideline and get it there. Ah, the times have changed.
 
Junior Blue Devils make a visit
Former head coach Bob Biggs was a special guest at practice on Wednesday, relaxing in the stands to watch his former team practice before visiting with Coach Gould afterwards. He wasn’t the only one with a special invitation. The Davis Junior Blue Devils youth football team also kept a keen eye on things before meeting the players after practice.
 
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MONDAY, AUGUST 11
Day 8

Dog days of summer
The second week of fall football camp can seem like the longest of them all for the players. One week of hard work is in the books but three more are still on the horizon, making the Aug. 30 at Stanford seem light years away.
 
“This is honestly the hardest part, coming out here and motivating yourself to get ready mentally and physically and to bang heads and run into each other after we just did that last week,” said senior linebacker Ryan Dimino. “I try to take it a day at a time, especially myself trying to stay healthy.
 
“This year I’m trying to focus on the little things I didn’t focus on last year; knowing the defense better and better everyday and paying attention to little things that o-lineman and d-lineman are doing.”
 
So, while he wishes the game was tomorrow, he’s focused more on taking advantage of the time remaining in camp. To Coach Gould, however, there will never seem like enough time.
 
“The guys are tired and they’re a little banged up,” he said. “They’ve been going extremely hard. The biggest thing right now is to continue to focus on what we’ve got to get done. There’s still a lot of work out there that we’ve got to get better yet, things we’ve got to improve on. So, that’s were the focus lies. 
 
“As long as we’re doing that, we’re going to be fine,” he said. “But the second week, the bodies are sore. All in all, I’m very pleased. But we’ve got so much work we’ve got to improve upon that we have less time to be worrying about whether we’re tired or sore. Everybody in the country is tired and everybody in the country is sore because of the banging. So, as long as we continue to focus on the process and focus on the things that we’re doing, the rest will take care of itself.”
 
The Aggies had the first of three double-day practices scheduled for Monday. They went full pads in the morning and returned late in the afternoon for a shorter session with helmets and shoulder pads. Other days with two practices are set for Friday and next Monday.
 
Aggies hold first scrimmage
UC Davis donned full pads for the first time on Friday and pushed back its first scrimmage at Aggie Stadium by a day from Saturday until Sunday. The scrimmage consisted of about 50 plays, Gould said, adding that the players put forth a good effort. 
 
“There were a lot of good things,” he said. “There are a lot of things for us to continue to get better at. I liked the energy. We didn’t have a lot of mental mistakes which was good considering we have a lot of offense and defense in at the present time.”

There are two more scrimmages scheduled for later in camp.

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FRIDAY, AUG. 8
Day 5

Return to the Toom
Eight years after last playing a game at venerable Toomey Field, the UC Davis football team made its return to the stadium - some might use other words to describe it other than "stadium" - that was the home to the Aggies from 1949-2006. The Aggies practiced there on Friday which also happened to be their first full day in pads.

None of the players or most of the coaching staff – except former Aggie quarterback Kevin Daft – were ever part of a game at Toomey Field, and only a couple of staffers at practice on Friday were either. However, that didn't stop the current edition of the Aggies from embracing the long-standing tradition of chanting "TOOM....TOOM.....TOOM..." while gathered around midfield.

Some players had a hard time believing that college football games were played at Toomey Field but none could argue with the success through the years. Coach Gould loved the field, particularly the soft grass and how it was nearly game-ready, even today.

For the players, grass is a rarity nowadays. It was a notable occurrence to play on artificial grass until about a decade ago but now playing on natural grass almost seems like a special occasion. Only games at Stanford (Aug. 30) and Cal Poly (Nov. 15) will be played on grass this coming season.

A little more on the Toom
How much history is there at Toomey Field? Today's return brings back memories of when the field was nearing its final game in 2006. Legendary assistant coach Fred Arp, who roamed the sidelines for more than 40 years and still attends every game - usually on the sidelines - helped bring back those stories when he was interviewed by Aggie football broadcasters Scott Marsh and Doug Kelly.

How was he interviewed? Well, he walked the field from one endzone to the other, stopping every 10 yards or so to tell a story about some great moment that occurred on that particular spot. It was something only Coach Arp could do and became a Toomey memory in itself.

Final note on Friday's visit
Logistically, Friday's practice presented some challenges. The goal posts have long since disappeared so an old-style "H" standard that was the norm back in the day was wheeled out for use. A makeshift "training room" was set up beyond the south endzone and worked pretty well except for the random kick that flew by.

Filmers also scrambled a bit. One of two scissor lifts used by the team was driven over to Toomey Field, albeit it at about 5 mph, while the second one petered out somewhere in between. The bed of the athletic trainer's electronic vehicle was used to provide film from the opposite side. Still, Coach Gould was pleased with the film he watched later in the day, despite the bit of “MacGyver-ing” that had to be done.

With the Aggies’ locker rooms and meeting spaces now at Aggie Field more than a mile away, players had to do all their practice preparations on the west side of campus on Friday morning before being transported to Toomey Field.

As noted, Friday also marked the first day of full pads for UC Davis and players were itching to slam their shoulder pads into something after having limited equipment all week. While the hitting was hard, particularly along the line of scrimmage, there was no tackling, just a lot of "thud" contact.

Players continued to alternate between drills with their position groups and offense versus defense situations. The competition for the starting quarterback nod continued in earnest as did competition for spots throughout both sides of the ball. Camp is still just getting ramped up but the intensity is already there.

Saturday's practice is for the fans
UC Davis is conducting closed practices for most of camp but Saturday morning it'll throw open the gates for fans to come in and get a sneak peek of the team. Practice at Aggie Stadium will start at 10:15 a.m. and run for about two hours. Scrimmaging was on the original schedule but is being pulled as players continue to get used to practicing in full pads.

There is no cost to get in and watch - yes, some schools apparently do charge for practice – and parking in surrounding lots is free on weekends. There won't be any concessions open so be sure to bring some water and sit back and enjoy the team's efforts.

More polls
The Sports Network released the second of two primary FCS polls on Friday. TSN polls media and sports information directors – including yours truly – vote each week while the FCS Coaches do the same. The coaches' poll came out earlier this week.

The biggest different between the two is at No. 1. The coaches had defending champion North Dakota State while TSN lists Big Sky member Eastern Washington. (that’s who I voted for). There's not much difference in their point totals but the Eagles get the nod. Don't forget, they'll visit Aggie Stadium on Sept. 27 so it's quite possible EWU will be bringing in their top billing.

Other Aggie opponents in the poll? Montana is at No. 5, Montana State is No. 18 and Northern Arizona is ranked 23rd. Cal Poly has an unofficial ranking of No. 33 while Sacramento State is No. 52. As they say, "get your tickets", it's going to be a great home schedule.

Special guest appearance
Dr. Scott Carell, a professor in the Department of Economics, visited the Aggies during Thursday's practice and watched the team go through its workout. Dr. Carell has been a member of the faculty since 2007 and saw some pretty good football as an undergrad - and later as an instructor - while at Air Force. 

Academics are high on the priority list for Coach Gould who is constantly checking on his players' progress in the classroom. One of the first rules he put in place upon his hiring in 2012 was that players must sit within the first five rows of their classes. They're also constantly texting him their grades and their hard work is paying off. The team had a B- average in spring quarter.

Paul Creighton, assistant football coach, is new to UC Davis but learned something very fast once he arrived in the spring, and that's academics are taken very seriously by the Aggie players. He told Bruce Gallaudet of the Davis Enterprise during an interview on Thursday evening that in his previous stops, study hall wasn't always used for what it was intended. He said the first time he monitored study hall at UC Davis, he was expecting much of the same but instead was met with three hours of dead silence as Aggie players took care of business with the books. 

 
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WEDNESDAY, AUG. 6
Day 3

Tempo, tempo, tempo
Coach Gould has been mostly pleased with the team’s tempo through the first three practices. Tempo means sprinting between plays, drills and other activities during practice. As he reminds the team often, work hard by conditioning that way and there’ll be no need for post-practice conditioning.

Players get tired late in games and that’s when good conditioning needs to kick in. The practice tempo simulates game situations. If you can perform when you’re tired in practice, you can do it on Saturdays.
 
“One of the things is you have to stay mentally focused (during games),” Gould said. “When you’re tired and you’re not in very good shape, things start to break down. We’ve got to be able to play four quarters and we have to play overtimes, so we have to be sure we’re in great shape.”
 
Weather heats up
Mother Nature took a hint from Coach Gould, who said after practice on both Monday and Tuesday that the pleasant temperatures needed to make a turn for the moderately unpleasant. Gould compared the first two days to a being “like a country club.”
 
He talked, she listened. Wednesday morning’s practice was decidedly unpleasant. The practice temperature was just 83 degrees - although you can probably add about 10 degrees to account for the bowl-like surroundings of Aggie Stadium - but humidity was at muggy 53 percent.
 
“The humidity is the one that gets you. It’s not so much the heat. The humidity, the sweating and the stickiness with the ball and everything is what makes it harder,” said sophomore quarterback Ben Scott. “It’s a little bit harder but it’s all about your hydration. If you hydrate before practice and in the days before, you’ll be fine. Today was a little bit harder. With the shoulder pads you’re sweating a little bit more. It’s a little bit harder to breathe.”
 
Scott is from Vacaville so summer heat is nothing new to him. How does he feel about lower temps and high humidity versus higher temps and low humidity?
 
“I would rather have the dry heat,” he said. “Before, when everybody on the east coast would say that humidity is the worse thing ever, I’d kinda joke ‘yeah, but it’s only 70 degrees’ (and they’d say) but it feels like 100.' But I’ve been in it so I’ll take the dry heat.”
 
Stanford activities
Tickets are still available in the UC Davis fan section for the 2014 Aggie opener down at The Farm against the Cardinal but you’ll need to go through the Stanford Ticket Office to purchase them.
 
If you need a ride, bus transportation is still available through the UC Davis Ticket Office. The cost is $40 but does NOT include a game ticket. Still, spend freeway time with Aggie friends rather than trying to squeeze out time in the fast lane passing traffic. 
 
Pregame activities for UC Davis fans and a Vintage Aggies Wine Tasting in Palo Alto the night before the game are among the ways you can make the most of the Aggies’ first trip to Stanford since 2005.
There is a special webpage with all the information.
 
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MONDAY, AUG. 4

Beautiful weather
A string of triple-digit temperatures leading up to the start of camp were nowhere to be found on Monday during the first practice. In fact, it was darn right pleasant. Overcast skies, a hint of a breeze during the latter part of practice and 68 degrees made the first drills of the season very bearable for the team. Well, except for one person.

"I want the heat to turn up, it's not warm enough," said head coach Ron Gould with a wide grin on his face.
 
That's opposite of senior safety Charles Boyett, who simply called the weather "beautiful."

Gould will likely be getting his wish. Temps are slated for a high of 82 on Tuesday but then will reach into the mid- and upper-90s the rest of the week although the Aggies should be done with practice by the time the heat gets turned on too much.
 
Tempo is the name of the game
NCAA rules limit player equipment the first two days to just helmets so the emphasis on Monday wasn't on hitting, but rather on skill development and learning offensive and defensive schemes. But it was also a time for new players to learn what veteran players already know - if you run hard during practice, then you won't have to run after practice.

It's called "tempo" and it's how Coach Gould prefers the team to get in most of its conditioning. How does tempo show itself during practice? Between drills, players sprint from one part of the field to another. After a play is over, the defense - coaches included - sprint to where the ball ended up and then run back and get ready for the next play. The offense sprints back to its huddle as well. 

So, how did the team do the first day?

"I was very pleased with the tempo," said Coach Gould. "There was a lot of energy out here today. Guys were flying around. One of the things I'm excited about is we have an opportunity to have our system in place for another year. It allows guys to play that much faster which is what we want to see. Anytime you see guys play fast, they're starting to understand from a conceptual standpoint what we're trying to get across on both sides of the ball."
 
First day excitement
Boyett and wide receiver T.J. King are a pair of seniors who have been through a few first days of practice during their Aggie careers, but even they still get excited about hitting the field for the first time. 

"It feels good," said King, who caught 25 passes for 356 yards and a pair of touchdowns last year. "You go through winter (conditioning) with no ball, in spring you're limited but to be able to come out here today and run around with your brothers feels good."

Boyett, who had a team-high 86 tackles, shares that excitement.

"The beauty of camp is we come off a long grueling offseason of hard work and not being able to suit up as much as we'd wish," he said. "We get to come out (now) and run some plays. It's very exciting."

But Monday was also the first "first day" for newcomers, including freshman quarterback C.J. Spencer who comes from nearby Inderkum High School in the Natomas area of Sacramento. It didn't take him a long time to see a difference to what he was used to at Inderkum.

"It's definitely a lot faster pace," he said. "I like the pace. You're a lot more involved. You have to be involved. Even though you're not getting reps maybe, you're still being involved in the team."
 
Coaches Poll
From a team standpoint, the preseason is all about practice. For the media and for fans, it's a lot about polls and the first of the two primary FCS polls came out on Monday.

The FCS Coaches Poll has four Big Sky teams included. Actually, it's probably more correct to say it has four UC Davis opponents included. Eastern Washington is ranked No. 2, Montana is No. 5, Montana State is ranked 19th and Northern Arizona is 25th. For good measure, Cal Poly is among teams receiving votes.
 
Three-time defending national champion North Dakota State is the No. 1 team out of the gate.

The Sports Network puts together the other major FCS poll, taking the pulse of the media and sports information directors. Those rankings come out on Friday.
 
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SUNDAY, AUG. 3
Reporting Day
Today is reporting day for the 95 Aggies who will be here for the start of camp. The first meetings for the entire team were scheduled for the early evening but newcomers got a jump on things by checking into their dorms and learning about all the do's and don'ts of their new living arrangements earlier in the day. They also had their first meeting with Coach Gould. You better believe that'll be the first time they learn the importance of eye contact.

The first meeting for the entire team will introduce them to athletics training, academic, communications staff and others before the compliance staff comes into provide the bigger picture do's and don'ts. For freshmen, it's always interesting to watch them try to digest a TON of information that will be tossed their way. Welcome to college!

A team dinner, a team meeting with Coach Gould and then a facility orientation will help end the day.

What also ends on Sunday is a lot of decision-making by the players on how to spend their time because for the next few weeks, that's already been done for them. An hour-by-hour schedule will let them know exactly where they need to be and when. From getting taped to position meetings to practice to more position meetings to lifting weights to meals, it's all figured out for them. Even some of their social activities (gotta love bowling night!) are lined up.

The whole idea - as you can guess - is for the Aggies to be able to focus on the job at hand. It's crazy to think but the Aggies will be on campus nearly two months before they start fall quarter classes on Oct. 2. Of course, once the season actually starts, then they'll fall into their usual game-week routine.

There'll be a lot of anxious bodies tossing and turning Sunday night, anticipating their first foray onto the Aggie Stadium turf on Monday morning.

Davis Enterprise
The Davis Enterprise - in particular, masterful and veteran writer Bruce Gallaudet - is living its name during the preseason by being, well, enterprising. Beginning today, they'll run an Aggie football-related story everyday they publish leading up to the Stanford game.

Player features, coach interviews, team updates and a host of other great coverage items are on the menu. Bruce kicked off this expanded coverage todayby catching up with Coach Gould about his excitement and plans for the preseason.

Visit the Davis Enterprise for all the stories or go to www.ucdavisaggies and look at "Around the Web" on the right side of the front page where we'll link to them.