MACOMB, Ill. - Western Illinois Football returns to Hanson Field on Friday afternoon (March 23) for the first of 15 practices this spring. In all, 15 starters and 40 letterwinners will go through spring drills, culminating with the Bruce Craddock Memorial spring game on Saturday, April 21.
Head coach Mark Hendrickson enters his fifth year in charge (and 14th year overall) of the program as the Leathernecks look to return to the NCAA Division I playoffs. Three All-Missouri Valley Conference performers return, in addition to two members of the All-Newcomer team. Of the 15 starters, seven are on the offensive side of the ball, six on defense and two special teams.
Offensive lineman Jimmy Holtschlag (10 starts in 10 games), defensive lineman Dwight Harris (37 tackles/3.0 sacks) and defensive back Kieron James (45 tackles/team-leading three interceptions) earned Honorable Mention All-MVFC honors. Linebacker Theon Dixon (79 tackles/team-leading 13.0 tackles for loss) and running back Nikko Watson (485 yards and three TDs in four games) were selected to the Newcomer squad.
Hendrickson begins the 2012 spring with four new assistant coaches, including two new coordinators. Running backs coach KiJuan Ware earned the promotion to offensive coordinator, while Brian Ward was brought in to run the Leatherneck defense.
Along with Ward, new assistants hired by coach Hendrickson include: Jason Eck (offensive line), Jake Sprague (defensive line), Jared Elliott (quarterbacks), and the return of Kevin Almlie (cornerbacks).
"Brian Ward is a veteran coach. He's been a head coach at the college level, and a defensive coordinator. Brian has been able to install his 4-3 package with his staff. Our d-line coach Jake Sprague played in a similar system at Wisconsin and coached in a similar system at South Dakota. So Jake's teaching techniques really were already in place with what Brian has done up front," said Hendrickson. "Carl (Franks) has coached in this system in the past. Kevin Almlie played here and coached with Carl before. So in the secondary that part has gone very well.
"With Brian being a veteran and knowing exactly what he expects out of the defensive scheme, step 1 of the defensive staff being on the same page has gone very well. Starting (Friday) March 23 we'll start teaching it to the players on the field."
Entering his second year on Hendrickson's staff, Ware will run the offense and remain as coach of the running backs. Hendrickson noted the ease of this transition.
"The offense is going to remain the same, the terms will remain the same, and the players don't have to mentally face a change there. There will be some new wrinkles but the big picture will remain the same. With KiJuan stepping up and becoming the offensive coordinator that transition has gone very well," said Hendrickson. "There will be some different teaching techniques up front with our new offensive line coach Jason Eck. I know the offensive linemen are very excited to take the field with Coach Eck.
QBs are really going to benefit from the new offensive system. Jared Elliott
will be able to focus entirely on the quarterback position. He's a high energy,
enthusiastic guy that the QBs will enjoy working for him," stated Hendrickson.
"KiJuan is still the running backs coach, so that remains totally consistent. That
is critical in the offense, both the running backs and fullbacks do so much in
the run game and passing game. Derek Moore has done a great job with the tight
ends. He's got a good group to work with, been doing so for a year, and Gunnard
Twyner has done a great job last two years with the receivers."
Spring Practice Schedule (Days and times subject to change)
#1 Friday, March 23 (Helmets)
#2 Saturday, March 24 (Helmets)
#3 Monday, March 26 (Full Pads)
#4 Wednesday, March 28 (Full Pads)
#5 Friday, March 30 (Full Pads)
#6 Saturday, March 31 (Full Pads)
#7 Monday, April 2 (Shells)
#8 Wednesday, April 4 (Full Pads)
#9 Friday, April 6 (Full Pads)
#10 Monday, April 9 (Shells)
#11 Thursday, April 12 (Full Pads)
#12 Monday, April 16 (Shells)
#13 Wednesday, April 18 (Shells)
#14 Friday, April 20 (Helmets)
Saturday, April 21 - Bruce Craddock Memorial
Spring Game, 2 p.m.