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Sanders' Bucs ready to 'go live' in first scrimmage

By Joe Avento • Aug 9, 2019 at 10:00 PM

JOHNSON CITY — When the lights come on at William B. Greene Jr. Stadium on Saturday night, the East Tennessee State football team will be hitting for real.

The Bucs have their first intrasquad scrimmage of the preseason. The action starts at 7 p.m.

“It’s our first time going live,” said defensive end Nasir Player, the Southern Conference’s preseason defensive player of the year. “It should be fun.”

The team has been in pads since Tuesday, but for the most part the hitting has been controlled. Saturday will be the first time the players will take part in anything close to a game atmosphere.

For the upperclassmen, it’s business as usual. But for the young players — members of coach Randy Sanders’ second recruiting class — this is a chance to prove they deserve to play.

“It’s been good to see all the young bulls get in there trying to be hungry,” Player said. “Everybody’s trying to make a name for themselves. I like the hunger. I like the energy and I like the focus.”

Player said his young teammates on both sides of the ball have plenty of talent. It’s just a matter of harnessing it.

“Once they learn what to do, learn the ins and outs, I think they’ll be able to step onto the field immediately,” he said. “It’s as much mental as it is physical. The physicality’s already there.”

With a lot of holes to fill, Sanders says it’s important that the upperclassmen provide leadership.

“They have to set the example,” Sanders said. “I told Nasir, all these young guys we’ve got, they might hear me, but they’re going to listen to him. He’s got to drag them along and the older guys have done a good job of that.”

It’s a role Player and some of his teammates have embraced.

“I like what I see, but I expect more from my teammates and they expect more from me,” defensive tackle Jason Maduafokwa said. “It’s just the first six days of practice, so they still have a long way to go.

“I definitely think they’re strong enough to stick with the people we play through the year. They just have to learn their assignments.”

Sanders has set his expectations low for the first scrimmage, admitting the first one is usually the one where the most mistakes are made.

“I expect a whole lot of sloppy-looking offense and a whole lot of busted assignments on defense,” the coach noted. “Honestly, that’s first scrimmages. Everybody gets out there in a scrimmage and they forget everything they’ve been doing for a week.

“When the chaos starts, they fall back on their habits. Eight days isn’t enough time to create habits. Game day, when it’s 11 on 11, everybody resorts back to what their habits are. I do expect them to play hard and all those things that take no talent or ability.”

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