FLORENCE, Ala. — Thursday was day two of preseason camp for the University of North Alabama football team, and the Lions brought the energy amidst the heat. Head coach Chris Willis called their first practice "I thought the energy level today was the highest that I have ever seen in a day one practice," Willis, who is in his 21st season on the Lion staff, said in a release. "You could feel a different excitement and it was really a player-driven practice.”
After Thursday’s session, he said he made sure to check in on all position groups today, and said that everyone contributed to a successful practice.
On top of optimism that usually comes with the arrival of a new season, today was also the first full day since the NCAA’s Division I Board of Directors approved UNA's transition to D-I, making today’s practice the first official one as an active member of college athletics' highest classification. Willis spoke at ASUN media day last month about how that final step in the transition process - were it to be completed - would be the ultimate relief.
After practice today, Willis said it’s a reward for those who've been around from the beginning of these transitions from Florence residents to school administration to the team itself.
“You feel like there's some type of accomplishment like you've made it and, you know, man, what an awesome deal,” he said. “If you told everybody the outline of what it was going to be like to go through all the action, you laid it all down from resources that you have, the schedules and everything you got to do, a lot of people wouldn’t have signed up for this. And so I think what we feel around here is just like, man, we did it and we did it together.”
As for today’s practice, Willis thought all position groups contributed to a positive effort, but the defensive backs stood out in their first few rounds of facing live competition.
“The secondary, I thought, in our pass scale segment did really good,” he said. “I thought the coverage looked really good … but sometimes it might look good on air because you have nobody defending you or you're defending that receiver today and ‘Man, it's a little harder to cover him when I was just out here covering air.’ So, you know, it's a little bit more to it now that you're actually going up against each other.”
The Lions are back at it at the Bill Jones practice complex tomorrow morning and energy will be maxed out again because they get to put on shoulder pads for their first “shells” practice of the year and Willis says, although they’re not doing full contact just yet, there’s still going to be “a little more pop” to things.