Before Fairmont State’s 2006 football team officially steps foot on the turf at East-West Stadium for its initial practice Monday afternoon fifth-year head coach Rusty Elliott can honestly say he’s very proud of his squad.

That’s because well over 60 Falcon football players of their own volition agreed to come back early, most as much as 10 days, to begin preparing for the 2006 season by running and lifting weights.

“In all the years I’ve been as assistant coach here and even in my years as the head coach here I’ve never seen anything quite like that,” said Elliott, who has been around Falcon football for 20 seasons. “I think it shows the kind of commitment our guys have to making themselves better this year.

“A lot of Division II schools do that, but it’s different for them. Take Cal, Pa. (FSU’s first opponent) for example, they can pay for their kid’s summer school and then demand that all 75 kids show up and then they can control them. We’re not that way and we can’t do that. Our kids did that all on their own.”

The players who did come back early spent the better part of two weeks working with FSU strength coach Josh Ison, a former All-American linebacker for the Falcons in 2002.

“Josh did a great job with the guys and our coaching staff certainly appreciates his efforts, but for him to have someone to work with our guys had to make the commitment on their own to come back early,” said Elliott. “It tells me that we’ve got a lot of guys who are willing to go above and beyond a normal commitment to the program.”

Needless to say Elliott and his staff are anxious to see how the extra commitment by the players during the off-season translates to the field the next few weeks.

“I believe we had a lot of players on this team work very hard over the summer and I can tell you they’re chomping at the bit to get out on the field and see where they stand right now,” said Elliott. “You take a guy who is 19 years old and has been busting his tail all summer long lifting and running and he’s a second-teamer, he wants to play. If the first-teamer hasn’t done the same thing then he’s going to find himself sitting on the bench.

“When we get down to business don’t be surprised if you don’t see a lot of positions changing and some real heated battles taking place for starting jobs. One thing’s for sure, we’re going to find out who worked hard and who wants to play for this team and who didn’t work so hard.”

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