By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
Today is the first day of spring.
Mark Twain knew about the spring and what it does to the human soul.
“It’s spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want — oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!”
Football coaches get spring fever, too.
Oh, it’s not the kind of stuff poets write about. It isn’t about love and flowers and the earth being reborn in its green beauty.
It’s about football ... spring football.
The coaches gather their teams and put them through their paces, some days with violent drills, others with drills whose goal is far different, to learn, to create an atmosphere, a unity.
What is spring football about?
To Dana Holgorsen it is about team building ... building morale, building excitement. He spoke of that after the spring’s fourth practice Sunday.
“I had a sense our morale was high,” he said, as if it could not be, coming off a 70-33 Orange Bowl victory the last time they had stepped onto a football field.
“We were around them the last four weeks quite a bit in meetings and watching competition, weightlifting and team runs,” he continued. “You can sense that they’re excited about what’s going on.”
Excitement leads to good practices. It leads to paying attention in meetings, to giving extra effort.
It makes it easier, especially on the defensive side of the ball, where nearly the entire staff is new and the scheme is different. The new coaches bring a new sense of things happening, of improvement, and it rubs off on the players.
“They’re eager to learn. I sense that after watching four practices that they’re excited,” Holgorsen said.
The excitement shows itself in many ways.
“I can assure you if you take a poll from the entire team, there’s a very high percentage of them who look forward to coming into the building to where you’re going to get the most out of them from a study hall perspective, a weightlifting perspective, meetings and practice,” Holgorsen said.
“No matter what it is, if the guys are excited about coming in, you’re going to get a whole lot out of them. I think we’ve accomplished that.”
Of course, it is a long spring, especially the way Holgorsen spreads out the practices, and football players are competitive types. After the initial excitement of putting on the pads again wears off and you being to realize that there is no real game down the road, it is up to the coaching staff to find ways to challenge the players, to keep them going.
Holgorsen is certainly not out of the Bear Bryant school of football. His is a more casual approach, all of it with a purpose.
“Throughout the course of spring without having a game, if you wear them out, then you’re not going to get a whole lot out of them,” he said. “I told them after practice today they’re crazy if they didn’t use this day to get better. We had a bunch of meetings and practice time. If you don’t take advantage of that, then there’s something wrong.”
Holgorsen understands that it won’t be everyone doing just as he would envision.
“For the majority, we did get a lot out of it, which is why we hold three practices a week and don’t go back-to-back days and have meetings between practices. You need to have some recovery time and not wear them out.
“We’re not preparing for a game, but you’re trying to make yourselves, your unit and the team better, so that’s what the overall objective of the spring is. If you break down or get worn out, then you’re not going to get that accomplished,” he concluded.
The ultimate goal is improvement.
“I can’t foresee where we’re going to be at the spring game. There are 11 more practices to gauge that. These guys know what the routine is; they know what their job is,” he said. “They know what is expected of them. We’ll keep gearing toward getting that accomplished. We’ve got the rest of this week and three more after Spring Break.”
o o o o o
Reports are circulating that WVU offered running back Dontea Ayres from Wicomico High in Maryland a scholarship. They say he runs a 4.48 and has a 4.2 grade point average ... Bruce Irvin, the Mountaineer defensive end who seems destined to be a second- or third-round NFL draft choice, was arrested in downtown Morgantown for disturbing the peace and destruction of property on Saturday night, which was St. Patrick’s Day, according to published reports.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.