With only nine days left until the first kick off of the season, spirits were high on Howard Johnson Field Wednesday night.
The trio of quarterbacks battling for the starting position saw their highest tally of touches so far in practice, but the evening was dominated by a series of scuffles that distracted from a solid performance for the offense.
Redshirt junior safety Ykili Ross and redshirt sophomore wide receiver Tyler Vaughns stopped practice early on with a heated shouting match, with Ross finally storming off the field and taking a lap to cool off. He did not return to practice after the confrontation, but spoke to head coach Clay Helton and remained on the sidelines to watch practice. Helton said that Ross “just got upset” and that the issue will not be a problem for either player moving forward.
Tensions continued to flare as freshman offensive tackle Liam Douglass and redshirt freshman outside linebacker Hunter Echols threw punches at each other during one-on-one drills, and second-year stars junior wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. and sophomore safety Bubba Bolden later went head-to-head, tackling each other to the ground before the fight was broken up. Despite the increased chippiness, the mood at practice didn’t seem to faze the coaching staff at all.
“It was awesome,” Helton said. “Didn’t it make practice more fun?”
Young players continue to stand out
Redshirt sophomore wide receiver Trevon Sidney stood out throughout practice, snagging two one-handed grabs and snatching a lengthy catch in the end zone. After several seasons of struggling to get snaps, Sidney’s flashy play in practice seems to signal his readiness to become a solid contributor to the offense.
On the opposite side of the ball, freshman cornerback Olaijah Griffin stood out as well, making an interception off redshirt sophomore quarterback Matt Fink and later almost grabbing a second before tumbling out of bounds. In the absence of Jack Jones, Griffin’s performance continues to be a sign of encouragement for the secondary.
As part of the opening activities, Helton invited students from across campus to watch the team on Wednesday, and gathered them on the field after practice concluded to talk about the upcoming season.
Redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Bernard Schirmer was forced to leave practice after suffering what appeared to be a shoulder injury. He left early on to receive examination from trainers, and will undergo an MRI to confirm that there isn’t an injury. Schirmer transferred from junior college amid controversy in March after making headlines for knocking out a referee in a game.
Senior running back Aca’Cedric Ware was not in attendance at practice as a precaution due to soreness in his knee. Freshman running back Markese Stepp returned for limited reps while still recovering from a concussion, and senior offensive tackle Chuma Edoga returned to full activity.