Jacksonville, Ala. — It was a hot 90 degree day on Tuesday as the Jacksonville State Gamecocks practiced in full pads. Tuesday marked the fifth practice of 29 practices as the Gamecocks are getting prepared for their season opener on August 29 in East Lansing against the defending Big Ten and Rose Bowl champions the Michigan State Spartans.
This year, the Gamecocks have a new head coach. John Grass was the offensive coordinator for JSU last season under Bill Clark who only coached at JSU for one season. When Clark left for the head coach position at UAB, Grass was interviewed and hired just two weeks before National Signing Day.
Coach Grass was very pleased by the way his players practiced in full pads on Tuesday despite the heat in the middle of the afternoon.
“I thought we handled it pretty well. First afternoon practice you’re going to wilt a little bit and you build a tolerance to [the heat] but I thought our guys handled it pretty well and had a good practice.” Grass said.
Grass says that the Gamecocks have progressed over these last five practices but still have a long way to go.
“A lot of positives. A lot of areas we’ve got to improve on. We’ve got a long way to go even though we are pleased where our progression is we still have a long way to go to where we need to be. Pleased with the effort so far. The chemistry is working really well.”
There were a few players in orange jerseys on Tuesday. Those players had some minor tweaks with some pulled and strained muscles according to Grass. Grass says that these “tweaks” are nothing major and he hopes that it will stay that way. Grass also said that the overall health of the team at this point in practice is good.
One of the positions that has gained some more depth this season has been at quarterback. There is some experience coming back for the 2014 season. Senior Max Shortell played in nine games last season and started in six and was second team All-Ohio Valley Conference throwing for 1,435 yards and six touchdowns. Redshirt Sophomore Eli Jenkins returns for the 2014 season who played in 14 of the 15 games last season and started in eight of those games. He earned the honor of Freshman All-America after throwing for 887 yards and three touchdowns along with running for 953 yards and scoring eight touchdowns.
“We’ve got so much game experience coming back. It’s a battle every day. A lot of depth there and a lot of leadership there. That’s the main thing I see in the position. All of them are comfortable in what they are doing schematically and operating on offense. There are a lot less turnovers and doing a good job of protecting the football.”
JSU coming off an 11-4 overall record finishing third in the Ohio Valley Conference with a 5-3 conference record in 2013. The Gamecocks are ranked eighth in the NCAA DI-FCS preseason Coaches poll and ranked 10th by The Sports Network preseason poll.