Football spring training provides competition

Senior quarterback Jacob Tucker drops back to throw a pass during a UNA football spring practice Feb. 24. Tucker played as a backup quarterback the last three years, and many people expect him to start next season.

by Sports Editor Mike Ezekiel

Spring training is officially underway for the UNA football team.

With over 20 players graduating from last season’s team, the Lions will experience a competitive spring, said UNA head coach Bobby Wallace.

“I think competition is the most important thing for us right now,” Wallace said. “Repetition (of plays for the main players) is always important, but we’re not to the point where we know who needs those repetitions.”

The Lions started practice Feb. 22, but did not start full contact until the second practice Feb. 24. After a third practice the following Friday, the Lions scrimmaged at Braly Stadium.

“I think we’ve implemented a lot of stuff on offense and defense,” Wallace said. “To do that in one week is good. Having so many returning players helps that. I think we’re ready to compete.”

The Lions return 17 starters and 45 lettermen to the team.

Many people expect last year’s backup quarterback, senior Jacob Tucker, to start next season. Wallace said Tucker looks confident in practice.

“He’s a great leader,” Wallace said. “He knows it’s his turn to step up with Luke (Wingo) through playing. It’s really his team right now, and he knows it. He has great leadership skills.”

Tucker said people often throw the idea around of him filling Wingo’s shoes, and he embraces it.

“For three or four years, I’ve been on the sideline ready to go when they called my name,” Tucker said. “Sometimes, they needed my name called, like in 2014 when Wingo got hurt. I’ve always been ready.

“Now, people do come up to me and tell me, ‘It’s your time now.’ I just kind of laugh and say I feel like I’ve paid my dues. Whether I get to play four years or one year, just getting the opportunity to play is a blessing.”

Redshirt freshman Blake Hawkins will be eligible next season, and the team expects him to backup Tucker. UNA brought in transfer sophomore Matt Markham to build depth at quarterback, Wallace said.

After former offensive coordinator Cody Gross left the Lions for the head coaching position at Athens High School Feb. 15, UNA wide receivers coach Steadman Campbell is working with the quarterbacks for the spring.

Wallace said he is in no rush to fill the offensive coordinator position.

“Right now, we haven’t named anyone to that title,” Wallace said. “Coach Campbell and Coach (Scott) Harper are running the offense and are both capable of doing it. We have to make the decision within a reasonable time and get it settled, but right now we’re in no big hurry.”

Defensively, the Lions plan to experiment with different players in new positions before this spring is over.

“We’re not moving anyone right now, but we may put some people in different positions in a week or so,” Wallace said. “There has been a few moves, but not with the players that played last year.”

Preparing for the team’s first game against Football Championship Subdivision opponent Jacksonville State starts in the spring, said senior defensive end E.J. Parnell.

“We have a lot of work to do for Jacksonville State Sept. 1,” Parnell said. “I feel like we have a lot of work to get in at the spring game. We have to show up as a unit and continue to mold all the way through the summer and up to that first game.”