Hawks hold annual spring scrimmage

Published 8:53 am Tuesday, April 27, 2010

MURFREESBORO – Three, as ESPN says in its advertising, is a magic number.

Year-three of the Tim Place coaching-era actually began with the final whistle of last October’s season-finale and part-one (of three) was Saturday’s Blue-White Scrimmage on the practice field next to the Helms Center.

Part-two will be summer pre-season drills and part-three, naturally, comes when the season kicks off with the first game of the 2010 season on August 28 at Lenoir Rhyne. They open their home schedule against Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association member, Virginia State, September 25 at 6 p.m. at Garrison Stadium.

The Blue-White game, which attracted about a hundred fans, was also the first public look at what Pace’s third season has in store, and marked the end of 15 Spring practice sessions.

Highlights of the game, which was played with the White team on offense and the Blue team on defense, featured a pair of touchdown tosses, some hard hitting by the defense, and an interception return for a touchdown.

Gone are some familiar faces for Hawks fans, particularly All-CIAA quarterback C.J. Westler, who was replaced at least for the spring game with newcomer Steven Carroll.

Carroll, a 6’3”, 195-pound quarterback from San Diego, California graduated from Southwestern Junior College last fall where he was All-Mountain Conference and named a Leader-Scholar-Athlete by the National Football Foundation. Despite missing four games due to injury he passed for 1,616 yards and 12 touchdowns.

“C.J. set the tone for how a quarterback should run this offense,” said Carroll after the game, “and I’m looking forward to working with him this summer because he was really amazing.”

Carroll comes from a football family where his brother and father are coaches.

“This’ll be my fourth offense in a five-year span,” he added with a grin, “so I think I’m getting a better grip on what we’re trying to do and how to run and execute the plays.”

Two of the Hawks’ top receivers from 2009, Robert Holland and Kevin Hodrick, sat out the spring game, but returning after a year away is Eddie Coard, who hauled in one of Carroll’s touchdown tosses.

“I’m looking forward to working with this receiving corps,” said Carroll, “because from what I’ve seen on film, I think if we can put the pieces together we can put up some pretty solid numbers.”

Tony Goodman, who made the CIAA All-Rookie team along with Holland, spent some time in the game playing both sides of the ball including at running back; an area the Hawks will certainly need to shore up as they were 10th in the league in rushing offense.

“We’re still working some kids on offense,” said Place, “so it’s still a work in progress, but as long as the team is going in the right direction we’ll be okay.”

While it won’t be what they’ll be facing on Saturday’s this fall, the defense was hard-nosed all afternoon. All-CIAA performer, linebacker Greg Palmer is gone, and Jeremy Bednarz-Gray will miss the season because of injury, but the four-man front shows promise.

“We made progress from the year before despite going 2-8,” said rising junior defensive lineman Brad Cash. “With a new coach and some of the recruiting we’ve been doing and the hard work we’ve been putting in in the weight-room should make us capable of being better.”

The Hawks’ eight interceptions last season were tied for last in the league, but Saturday rising senior defensive back Marcus Johnson picked off one of Carroll’s offerings and returned it for a touchdown creating cheers and howls from the defense.

“We wanted to whoop it up a little,” said Cash with a smile. “It’s always good to come out and hit a little bit.”

Place is most proud of the off-season conditioning program, supervised by third-year strength coach Luther Henderson.

“A lot of it is going as much as we have in the weight-room,” said Henderson. “But a lot of it also is the mental attitude because they’re taking their football really seriously, stepping it up a notch as far as work ethic.

“The light’s really clicked on,” he added, “that if you don’t bring your worker’s hat you’re not going to get it done. It’s been a blessing to see them come in and say, ‘Alright coach, we’re here to work’.”

“We did some good things today,” said Place, “and if we’re going to get to where we need to be we need to be consistent. Every time we have a chance to get better we have to take advantage of it whether we’re on the field or off.

“We need to develop some depth,” he added. “We need to get better and that’ll happen with both some of the kids we’ve signed and some of the older kids getting better.”