MACOMB, Ill. - First year head coach Bob Nielson and the Western Illinois football program opens spring practice on Wednesday (March 20) at Hanson Field, the first of 15 scheduled practices. The spring practice season will conclude on Friday, April 19th, with the annual spring game set for 7 p.m.
Wednesday's practice will give Nielson and most of his coaching staff the opportunity to see the Fighting Leathernecks on the field for the first time. Nielson and his staff have two goals for this spring.
"I like spring practice. It provides you with an opportunity to work on improving without having to work on preparing for an opponent. It gives you a sense of where you are at, where you need to go, plus gives you an opportunity to work on some things and in our case obviously a lot of things that will be new," said Nielson. "Number one - to get our basic schemes installed and taught, and to gain confidence in those schemes. The other thing is to get a really good evaluation of where we are at and also an evaluation of our personnel. Getting hired in late December, I haven't had a chance to see any of these guys on the field on a 1-on-1 basis, so I know our staff is very excited to be able to do that."
Western returns 15 starters and 38 letterwinners from last year. Defensive coordinator Brian Ward, who enters his second year, remained on Nielson's coaching staff. The defensive unit returns eight of those 15 starters, led by All-Missouri Valley Football Conference selections: Martinez Davis (2nd team), Ryan Demming (Honorable Mention), Jonathon Rollins (Honorable Mention) and J.J. Raffelson (Honorable Mention/MVFC All-Newcomer Team).
"Offensively we have some base things that we want to make sure we gain confidence with this spring. We'll look a little more in terms of the actual packaging our scheme up over the course of the summer as we enter into fall camp," said Nielson. "Defensively we will be ahead because we are carrying over a lot of what we had been doing defensively and so we expect the defense to be well ahead of the offense throughout the course of spring."
On the offensive side, four starters return along the line, including two-time Honorable Mention All-MVFC selection Jimmy Holtschlag. Seniors Kyle Robiskie and Fredson Salomon (MVFC All-Newcomer Team) return with starting experience at wide receiver. Sophomore quarterback Hayden Northern burned his redshirt late last year and took over as the starter over the final couple games. Junior Nikko Watson led the rushing attack last year off the bench, gaining 660 yards with a touchdown in 11 games.
Davis, David McDaniel (2nd Team MVFC by College Sports Madness) and Rollins all finished last year ranked among the team leaders in tackles. Davis led the team with five interceptions with McDaniel next at four picks. Raffelson finished 15th last year in the Jerry Rice Award, given to the nation's top freshman. He led the Leathernecks in tackles from his middle linebacker position. Senior Devon Butler and juniors Kevin Kintzel and Luke Venegoni played in all 11 games at outside linebacker. Demming and fellow seniors Jacoby Sessions and Ethan Bachinski started on the defensive line last year.
According to Nielson, most everyone will begin spring at the same position they played last fall.
been a couple of subtle moves we've made going into spring to try and balance things
out," said Nielson. "Now is the chance to really observe and there may be more
position moves the end of spring."
Spring 2013 Practice Schedule
Wednesday, March 20
Friday, March 22
Monday, March 25
Wednesday, March 27
Friday, March 29
Monday, April 1
Wednesday, April 3
Friday, April 5
Saturday, April 6
Monday, April 8
Wednesday, April 10
Friday, April 12
Monday, April 15
Wednesday, April 17
Friday, April 19 - Bruce Craddock Memorial Spring Game, 7 p.m.