RUSTON, La. - Louisiana Tech changed things up quite a bit Thursday with an evening practice inside Joe Aillet Stadium for over two hours as the Bulldogs held their 13th practice of fall camp.
Almost reaching the midway point, the coaching staff has begun to speed up the tempo in practice and prepare the team for what they might face in the season opener at Oklahoma, including a fast-paced offense with plenty of noise.
"We have really been working a lot of this fastball stuff," head coach Skip Holtz said after Thursday's session. "We know Oklahoma is going to line up and they are going to go fast on us and have a lot of tempo stuff. We are doing it so our defense can have it. We've had a lot of noise here at practice as well and you are starting to see where the new players are swimming a little bit when signals start getting into it all. This week is about stressing them a little bit mentally, seeing what they know and challenging some guys to get in their playbooks and learn what they have to do. There are some very talented players but they have to learn what they are doing."
With a challenge being placed on the players, especially the newcomers, to continue to progress throughout camp, the coaching staff put the spotlight on the three newcomers at quarterback Thursday, giving Ryan Higgins and Cody Sokol a rest.
"I think Taylor [Burch] is really stepping up," Holtz said of the fifth-year senior that rejoined the football team after spending the last two years exclusively with Tech's baseball team. "Obviously he is a senior and is a guy that has been in college. You are dealing with the difference between a guy that is 22 years old and a guy that is 18 years old. It makes a difference and it is showing up out here. I think those two young guys (Wilson and Woodall) are really talented but right now there are times they have smoke coming out of their ear holes in their helmet. There is a lot of thinking going on when they are on the field. It just goes to show how hard it is, especially at that position, for a quarterback to come in as a freshman and play right away. If we were to play with either one of those two we would really have to reduce some things down and simplify what we were doing so they could go out and really use their talent because of where they are mentally right now."
"[They are responding] incredibly well," Holtz said. "I think it is a real testament to Kurt Hester and what these players did over the summer. I talked about that in the opening press conference on how impressed I have been in the shape they came back in, with guys gaining weight, losing body fat, they're leaner, they're stronger and it is really showing up in camp. We don't really have a lot of soft tissue injuries right now. We don't have a lot of hamstrings, quads and hip flexors and I think Coach Hester has done a great job of maintaining this with what we have done with them with a lot of stretching, rolling things out and lifting during the course of camp. It is a full day when these guys get over here in the morning until when we leave at nine o'clock to go eat dinner, it is a long day for them."
The attitude and mentality of a team each year usually begins in the spring and summer as they go through weight and conditioning programs with the strength and conditioning staff. Head strength and conditioning coach Kurt Hester made sure this year's team would be in top shape entering camp. Having trained three Heisman Trophy winners, Hester is continuing his excellent work with young student-athletes at Louisiana Tech.
"I think Kurt is really special," said Holtz of one of the nation's top strength coaches. "He has such a great understanding of how the body works and what you have to do. He trains our athletes not to go to a weight lifting competition, not to go to a track meet but to go play football. I was curious when we came back how we were going to do but everybody passed the conditioning test. If you don't have that then you are sitting here in two-a-days right now with the amount of work and the workload we are putting on these guys and you get a lot of pulled muscles and those types of things but we haven't had that. I think Kurt [Hester] is really good at what he does because he does such a great job of lifting and training them for the function of what they are going to have to do out here on the football field."
But the doldrums of camp get shaken loose on Friday as Louisiana Tech will head over to Shreveport's Independence Stadium for a practice followed by a fan meet-n-greet session on the south end zone concourse.
"Shreveport is an hour away and it is such a big part of what we do with our fan base and the number of alumni that we have over there," Holtz said of taking the team to Shreveport. "Rather than making them come here as they do so many times during the course of the season, we wanted to take the Louisiana Tech football program to Shreveport. We are going to go spend a day over there, have a practice that will be open to the public. That will be a shorts practice but will give them the opportunity to see some of the talent that is running around on the field and create a little excitement for the football season coming up. Also it will provide the opportunity to let some of those people get close to these players and to get to know them. They see their numbers and they are wearing a helmet. Now, all of a sudden, they see them with a jersey on, without a helmet and they get an opportunity to interact with the players, talk to them, get autographs and get pictures."
Not just a fun day for Bulldog fans but the players also get the opportunity to interact with the fans that cheer for them each Saturday.
"I think the players get a lot of value from having the opportunity to meet the fans, see how the fans love this program and what it means to so many alumni that have graduated from here and have such great pride in this University. To get a chance to get around them and talk with them, I think it is rewarding for our players as well," said Holtz.
Following Friday's events in Shreveport, Tech will return back to Ruston and hold a Fan Fest at Argent Pavilion on Saturday with tailgating and free food being given away at 4 p.m.
"Fan Fest is always a fun day. We are going to go over there and do that tomorrow and then have the opportunity to do it right here for the people in Ruston and all the loyal supporters we have here at home on Saturday," Holtz added.
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