The Citadel Opens Spring Football Practice
The Citadel football team hits the field Thursday afternoon for the first of 15 practice sessions, culminating with the annual spring game at Johnson Hagood Stadium on Mar. 17 at 2 p.m.
The Bulldogs begin the spring with a pair of non-contact drills in shorts and helmets Thursday and Friday at 4 p.m. at the Maybank Triplets Practice Facility. The first live practice with tackling is Saturday at 9:45 a.m.
The four-week practice period will consist mainly of Tuesday, Friday and Saturday workouts.
The 2012 regular season begins on Sept. 1 when Charleston Southern visits Johnson Hagood Stadium. The Citadel also has home games vs. Georgia Southern on Sept. 8, Chattanooga on Sept. 29 (Hall of Fame Game), Western Carolina on Oct. 13 (Parent's Day) and Elon on Nov. 3 (Homecoming).
The Charleston Southern, Georgia Southern and Chattanooga games begin at 6 p.m. while the Western Carolina and Elon contests are at 2 p.m.
Season tickets at the early rate of $125 are available by visiting the Athletic Ticket Office at McAlister Field House during normal business hours or by calling 843-953-DOGS (3647).
Following is a look at the 2012 Bulldogs entering spring practice
The Citadel finished the 2011 season with a record of 4-7. It could have easily been the other way around.
The Bulldogs were haunted by several narrow defeats, losing five games by 10 points or fewer including a 14-12 loss to eventual Southern Conference champion and FCS national semifinalist Georgia Southern. The hope of Kevin Higgins and his staff is that the return of 39 lettermen and 16 starters will tilt some of those close calls the Bulldogs' way this year.
Another factor working in The Citadel's favor this year is stability in the coaching ranks. A year ago, seven of the 10 assistant coaches were either in their first or second season in the program. The staff returns intact this season, providing more of a comfort level for the players.
"With our entire staff together for a full year, we can better evaluate our players and schemes and make the necessary adjustments for next season," said Higgins. "Our players are more familiar with their position coaches which allows for a better learning environment."
The schedule affords the Bulldogs few breaks this season. Georgia Southern is the only team on the home slate which finished above .500 last year while The Citadel has SoCon road dates at Appalachian State, Wofford and Furman as well as a trip to North Carolina State for its first meeting with the Wolfpack since 1983.
"It will be important for us to get off to a quick start with a very challenging opening part of the schedule," said Higgins. "It will be exciting for our alums to have VMI stay on the schedule, playing for the Silver Shako, and it will bring back a lot of memories to play Furman on the final day of the season."
Following is a position-by-position look at The Citadel Bulldogs entering spring practice. All classes are based on the beginning of the 2012 season in September.
The Citadel is in the third season of running the triple option offense, and the team hopes to build on the improvement it showed between years one and two. Last season the Bulldogs committed fewer turnovers, suffered fewer plays that resulted in negative yardage and executed better in all phases.
The ground-oriented attack averaged 286.6 rushing yards per game to rank third in the nation, and the team was whistled for only 34 penalties for 247 yards to lead the SoCon in both categories. Still, there are areas in which the Bulldogs will be looking to continue their development this season.
"Our goal this spring is to improve in all phases of the passing game," said Higgins. "That entails better decision making and accuracy from our quarterbacks, the receivers running better routes and continued improvement in pass protection from our offensive line."
Junior Ben Dupree started all 11 games last year and enters the spring atop the depth chart. He rushed for 645 yards, including 141 with two touchdowns in the opener vs. Jacksonville, and ranked eighth in the SoCon with an average of 58.6 yards per game. Dupree rushed for eight scores and in limited passing opportunities completed 22 of 46 for 192 yards.
Dupree will get healthy competition for the starting spot from sophomore Aaron Miller, who earned a spot on the SoCon All-Freshman team after rushing for 314 yards and five touchdowns in eight games in a reserve role. His top performance came against Georgia Southern when he ran for 80 yards and a touchdown while nearly pulling off the upset of the Eagles.
The B-Back is an integral part of the triple option, and The Citadel has two players with the speed, size and athleticism to be effective up the middle while also opening up the perimeter game.
Junior Darien Robinson started 10 times last season and is No. 1 at the position this spring. He led the Bulldogs with 862 rushing yards and nine touchdowns and ranked sixth in the conference and 48th nationally with an average of 78.4 yards per game. He eclipsed the 100-yard mark three times, including consecutive games vs. Appalachian State (109) and Western Carolina (106).
Senior Terrell Dallas is back for his fifth season after sustaining a partial ACL tear in the opener last year and missing the rest of the season. As a junior in 2010 he was named to the All-SoCon second team after leading the Bulldogs with 665 rushing yards and has gained 1,242 yards in his career.
"Terrell is fully recovered from his injury and has been cleared to participate in spring practice," said Higgins. "He and Robinson give us tremendous depth at the position."
The slot back position received a huge boost when Rickey Anderson was granted a sixth year of eligibility. The senior has missed substantial portions of three seasons with a pair of knee injuries and a broken leg but was able to stay healthy in 2011 and played in all 11 games. He started the final seven games and rushed for a total of 498 yards, averaging a whopping 9.6 per carry.
Three other players who have seen substantial game action return to make this a deep position for the Bulldogs. The most experienced among that group is senior VanDyke Jones, who joins Anderson as a returning starter after rushing for 211 yards and a pair of touchdowns last year. Jones has played in 28 games in his career and was on the SoCon All-Freshman team in 2009 with 420 rushing yards and 20 catches for 197 yards.
Junior Terrance Martin opened the season as a starter and played in 10 games, gaining 193 yards on the ground. Sophomore Dalton Trevino rushed for 63 yards and a touchdown in his college debut vs. Jacksonville and started three more times before injuring a shoulder vs. Chattanooga and missing the rest of the season.
"All our slot backs have been in the program since we installed the triple option, and that experience is invaluable," said Higgins. "As a group they have worked hard in improving their speed in the offseason, and now we want to incorporate them more in the passing game."
The loss of starters Kevin Hardy and Luke Caldwell has required the coaching staff to make some roster adjustments prior to the start of spring practice. Despite catching only four passes last season, Hardy impressed professional scouts with his athleticism – he was a two-time SoCon long jump champion – and earned a berth in the East-West Shrine Game.
The biggest change in the look of The Citadel wide receiving corps this season is the move of junior Matt Thompson from quarterback to wide receiver, and he will be in the mix for a starting job. Thompson was the starting signal caller in 2010 and rushed for 264 yards and three touchdowns while throwing for 353 yards and three scores.
"Moving Matt to wide receiver will give us plenty of depth and competition at the position," said Higgins. "We have several players who will be given a long look in the spring. One of the factors that will go into who plays will be who steps up as a perimeter blocker."
Joining Thompson as potential starters at wide receiver are seniors Douglas German, Greg Adams and Domonic Jones. German saw the first action of his career last season, playing in seven games, and has shown a great deal of improvement in his blocking. He is bigger and more physical and has come on strong.
Adams and Jones both possess very good skills but both must get more physical in their blocking. Adams has played in 29 games over the past three seasons and has been a key figure in the return game as well as a reserve wide receiver. Jones has not missed a game the past two years and was a starter in 2010 when he caught 12 passes for 192 yards and two touchdowns.
Trent Butler and Brandon Eakins are a pair of redshirt freshmen who performed well on the scout team last year and will compete for playing time this season. Butler, in fact, was selected the team's offensive scout player of the year.
Junior Cullen Brown returns to his role as the starting tight end. He is experienced with 20 games under his belt over the past two seasons, is an outstanding blocker and one of the team's hardest workers in the weight room. Higgins believes he is in store for a very good year.
Behind Brown on the depth chart is sophomore Alex Glover, a special teams player in 2011 who has the potential to be an outstanding player. He has the ability to catch the ball but does need to become bigger and more physical.
The offensive front returns four of five starters, losing only right tackle Tyler Thornton. The line is strong inside, but the coaching staff will be looking for the tackles to step up and take their game to the next level in the spring.
The anchor of the line is junior center Mike Sellers, who joined the starting lineup late in his true freshman season in 2010 and has not relinquished the spot. Sellers was a fullback and defensive lineman in high school and never played center until he arrived at The Citadel but has thrived at the position.
Sellers was selected the team's offensive player of the year and named first team All-SoCon by the league's head coaches and an honorable mention All-American following an outstanding 2011 campaign.
Flanking Sellers at the guard positions are juniors Keith Carter and Jim Knowles. Carter moved over from the defensive line last season and adjusted quickly to his new position. He played in 10 games with two starts on the defensive line in 2010 and all 11 at left guard a year ago, leading the team with 104 knockdown blocks. His unselfishness in making the transition and his stellar play earned him the Team Before Self Award presented by The Citadel Brigadier Foundation.
Knowles moved into the starting lineup at right guard last year. He has shown a great deal of improvement over the past year, and the coaching staff is expecting a great offseason and better technique in the run game this season.
Three-year starter Neal Strange holds down the left tackle position. The senior, who was recruited to The Citadel as a tight end, is in his fifth season in the program and has started 21 games the past two years. He is the biggest offensive lineman on the team and is a smart player who understands his assignments.
Junior Devin Bice and sophomore Charles Coleman will battle this spring for the opportunity to replace Thornton at right tackle. Bice was a three-sport athlete in high school and has good size while Coleman is an athletic tackle who continues to improve. Both have the potential to be good, solid players on the Bulldog offensive line.
Junior Robert Finke saw some action the past two seasons and was competing for a starting job last fall. He is the most experienced backup on the line and will be used at both guard positions. Redshirt freshman Michael Mabry is in line to be the No. 2 center entering the 2012 campaign.
Although the Bulldogs lose three of their top five tacklers from last season, they return a veteran defensive line and all four starters in the secondary to a unit that ranked among the best in the Southern Conference.
The Citadel allowed an average of only 23.4 points and 343.8 yards per game, ranking second and third, respectively, in the league. Only three conference opponents scored more than 20 points, and only South Carolina reached that total over the second half of the season.
"This spring we will work hard on our perimeter defense against the pass and run," said Higgins. "Also, there will be an emphasis on forcing turnovers, in particular interceptions."
Gone from last year's defensive front is tackle Quintin Turner, who started the final 16 games of his career, but a pair of All-SoCon performers return to make this a strong point for the Bulldogs this season.
"The defensive line will be the strength of the defense this year," said Higgins. "The group of players we have will bring plenty of enthusiasm and emotion to the field."
Junior Derek Douglas moved into the starting lineup last season and was named to the coaches and media all-conference first team as well as the team's defensive player of the year after making 43 tackles and ranking fifth in the SoCon with 14.5 tackles for loss. A team captain and a player who Higgins calls the "heart and soul of the defense," Douglas brings tremendous passion and effort each week.
Joining Douglas on the all-conference squad last year was teammate Chris Billingslea, who was chosen to the second team by both the coaches and media. Billingslea, a fifth-year senior who has started 28 consecutive games, was credited with 53 tackles last year, second among returning Bulldogs. He is the most athletic of The Citadel's defensive linemen and has good size and range.
The top candidate to replace Turner is sophomore Cameron Mobley, who saw action in eight games as a true freshman in 2011. He is quick off the ball and has good strength. Junior Bay Amrhein, sophomores Justin Oxendine and Sammy Ojjeh and redshirt freshman Colin Parsons will also be in the mix for playing time.
Amrhein and Oxendine are a pair of big, physical players who need to take the step up to the next level in the spring in terms of their technique and fundamentals. Both saw action in reserve roles last season. Ojjeh excelled on the scout team last year while Parsons has good size and athleticism which will give him a chance to move into the defensive line rotation.
Standout outside linebackers Rod Harland and Jeremy Buncum, who played in a combined 85 games during their careers, will no longer be wearing Bulldog uniforms, but a pair of talented players are in line to take over starting roles.
"This is one position on defense where we lost several key players," said Higgins. "But a lot of players got experience the second half of the 2011 season, and we are excited about their growth and development during the offseason."
Sophomore Rah Muhammad and senior Yemi Oyegunle have the inside track for starting jobs at outside linebacker this season. Both are athletic players who will benefit greatly from spring practice. Muhammad played in all 11 games with two starts, made 21 tackles and was named to the SoCon All-Freshman team while Oyegunle has seen action in 17 games over the past two years.
Sophomore Trevon Davis played in four of the final five games last season, making five tackles and breaking up two passes, and is in line for addition playing time as a reserve outside linebacker.
Four-year starter and team captain Tolu Akindele, who made 261 tackles during his career, as well as DeAndre Smith must be replaced at inside linebacker. Sophomore Carl Robinson started the final five games of the 2011 season, and fellow second-year player Carson Smith is slated to join him in the starting lineup after playing in all 11 games in a reserve role last year.
Robinson and Smith are smart, heady players and are both bigger and more physical players than who The Citadel lost at the position. Robinson had 42 tackles last season, including 19 in consecutive games against Georgia Southern and Samford, and Smith made 25 stops.
All four starters, including three seniors, and several top reserves return to give The Citadel a defensive backfield that should be one of the strengths of the program.
The most experienced player in the secondary is senior cornerback Joseph Boateng, who has started 30 games over the past three seasons and has not missed a game in his career. Boateng made 69 tackles last season, tops among returning players, and is the most athletic defensive player on the roster. He has very good speed and instincts and is an all-out type of player.
Joining Boateng at cornerback is junior Brandon McCladdie. McCladdie came on strong last year and started all 11 games, making 42 tackles including 34 solo stops, and has four interceptions in his career. He became bigger and more physical which accelerated his development.
Battling for the No. 2 spots are senior Keith Gamble, junior Sadath Jean-Pierre and sophomore Walker Smith. The spring will be important for each of these players in getting more comfortable learning the skills necessary to succeed at the corner. Gamble is a fifth-year player and easily the most experienced of the trio while Jean-Pierre and Smith both saw limited action last year.
The Boyle twins – fifth-year seniors Davis and Austin – return to their starting safety spots this season. They are both smart, fundamentally sound players who make good decisions on the field. Davis became a starter in the fifth game of the 2011 season and finished the year with 36 tackles and two interceptions. Austin started 10 times and was credited with 31 stops.
Last year the Bulldogs boasted some of the finest special teams units in the country, led by punter Cass Couey. The fifth-year senior led the SoCon and ranked fifth in the nation with an average of 43.0 yards per punt, had 10 kicks of 50 or more yards and placed 14 inside the 20 to earn all-conference first team honors and The Citadel's special teams player of the year award.
In his first two seasons as the team's punter, Couey averaged 39.6 and 39.1 yards and has a total of 22 punts in his career that traveled at least 50 yards.
The return game was another area in which The Citadel shined. The Bulldogs ranked fifth nationally in punt return average at 15.2 yards per attempt, a mark helped in large part by a unit which blocked nine kicks to tie an FCS single-season record. Domonic Jones had five of those blocks while Greg Adams is back as the primary punt returner.
Keith Gamble and Kevin Hardy were the kickoff return specialists last season and combined to average 22.9 yards per return, the third-best mark in the conference. Several players will compete to line up deep with Gamble this season with Joseph Boateng getting the longest look.
Ryan Sellers concluded his career last season, leaving the placekicking duties up for grabs. Senior Thomas Warren made his lone field goal attempt of 2011 and will be competing for the job with sophomore Mason Wachter this spring.