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Just when they needed it most, no spring practice for Bucs

Joe Avento • Mar 27, 2020 at 8:00 PM

JOHNSON CITY — Randy Sanders is supposed to be a few days into spring football practice, but Greene Stadium on the campus of East Tennessee State is quiet these days.

And the way the Bucs coach figures, the timing couldn’t have been worse.

“Obviously, priorities are priorities and what’s going on in society, in the country and in the world is way more important than football,” Sanders said. “But if there was ever a year that we needed spring practice, this was it.”

Spring practice was canceled, as were all spring sports, as the nation deals with the spread of the coronavirus. It was a time Sanders was expecting to spend evaluating his players and seeing what pieces he’d have at his disposal to solve the puzzle when fall camp begins in August.

“We were young last year and we’re still really young,” Sanders said. “I think I counted that we have 17 upperclassmen, juniors and seniors, and that’s not many at all. We had some questions at quarterback, not that it would have been completely answered or solved, but we would have known a whole lot more about what was getting ready to happen.

“We needed that time. The silver lining, if there is a silver lining, is I don’t know that we’re getting behind our competition.”

Sanders was very interested in seeing the progress made by Cade Weldon, who was just about to be named the starting quarterback last fall when he injured his throwing shoulder. The transfer from Miami missed the entire season after undergoing surgery.

“As much as anything, I needed to get out there with Cade and find out what he could do,” Sanders said. “We were just starting to get to that point in the fall when he got hurt. I know he can throw it. I know he can do all those things. I need to find out what he can do from the mental standpoint, what his strengths and weaknesses are.”

Sanders said there were other questions to answer as well.

“We need to find out about some young offensive linemen,” Sanders said. “And we have to replace (defensive linemen) Nasir Player and Jason Maduafokwa. You always seem to have holes to fill, but it seems like this year there were a lot of them.”

The Bucs won a share of the Southern Conference championship and earned a berth in the FCS playoffs in Sanders’ first year. They slipped to 3-8 last season, so spring was going to be a pretty important part of the team’s progress.

“I tell the coaches and players that spring is about players; it’s not about plays,” Sanders said. “You’re not trying to put the whole thing together. You’re really trying to figure out who can we really count on, what questions do we have and what holes do we have to fill before the season starts.

“You’re trying to figure out what you can do and can’t do right now. It’s a challenge because we’re in completely uncharted territory for each school and for the NCAA.”

Instead of 12 practices, including two scrimmages and a spring game, the players are home for the rest of the school year, forced to take classes online and work out on their own.

“Hopefully everybody’s working out and doing what they should do and taking care of classes,” Sanders said. “They’d better be still running and not getting fat.

“Some of them go home to live with Mom and live with Grandma. Some of those moms and grandmas can cook pretty good. If they’re not out running and staying in shape, we could have a problem.”

The Bucs are scheduled to open the season Sept. 5 with a home game against Mars Hill. Then it’s the big one on Sept. 12 when they play between the hedges at Georgia.

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