GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- The familiar sound of popping pads returned to Memorial Stadium on Monday morning as the Fighting Hawks' football team donned full pads for the first time during fall camp. Head coach Bubba Schweigert described today's practice as up-and-down with plenty of room for improvement.
"Our energy level was good, but we have to be a lot sharper than we were today and that's why we practice," he said. "I thought we were inconsistent and the five-yard penalties, we have to eliminate those on both offense and defense."
Despite the inconsistency, Schweigert did praise the underclassmen on his squad for being ready to practice and helping make UND, who was slotted No. 8 in the STATS FCS Top 25 Preseason Poll released on Monday, better.
"Our younger guys are getting better and that's going to help our football team, especially up front on offense and defense because that's where you see the difference," Schweigert added. "Guys being able to rotate in and execute plays, that's better than it has been in our previous fall camps, so that is pleasing to see."
He also wants to see his veterans help maintain the energy level that has been present throughout the first five practices. "With the excitement level, it's easy the first couple of days, but now it's a challenge because you're a little bit sore and the newness of fall camp has worn off a bit," Schweigert added. "Now, we're really going to see who wants to play, who wants to practice at a championship level day-after-day."
The fourth-year coach did single out one position group that he has seen that desired level of competitivenes from. "I think our defensive line is really playing with a lot of energy and practicing really hard. That is a group that I have noticed," he said. "Some of those guys have been around a while and we really don't see them being comfortable or complacent and that's pleasing to see. We have to push everybody, but those guys are really setting the tone out here at practice."
STATS Preseason Poll
The STATS, Inc., preseason Top 25 poll was released on Monday and the Fighting Hawks found themselves ranked No. 8. The preseason poll consists of 163 voters from a national panel of sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers and other dignitaries. In the voting, a first-place vote is worth 25 points, a second-place vote 24 points, all the way down to one point for a 25th-place vote.
1. James Madison
2. North Dakota State
3. Sam Houston State
4. South Dakota State
5. Eastern Washington
6. Jacksonville State
8. North Dakota
9. Youngstown State
Find complete poll here
UND was one of three Big Sky teams in the poll. Eastern Washington was ranked at No. 5, while Cal Poly came in at No. 23. The Fighting Hawks were ranked 19th in last year's STATS Preseason Poll and ended the year ranked No. 12 after posting a 9-3 record and winning a share of the Big Sky title.
Mat Cox Q&A
Senior Mat Cox is among a handful of players that suffered a season-ending injury a year ago that are back to being full participants this fall. The converted offensive lineman started the first games of the 2016 campaign at right tackle before being lost for the season in the Big Sky opener at Montana State. He's part of a senior tandem that expects to be the book ends of an offensive front that returns four starters from last year's Big Sky Championship run. Cox is today's subject for another installment of the player Q&A that UNDsports.com is providing this fall.
Five practices into fall camp, how are things coming along? "It's nice that we have some older guys, so we can get the young guys up to speed. I really think we're moving forward as an offense. Everyone knows the playbook fairly well, so it's going really well."
Discuss how it feels to be back at full-health going into your senior season? "It feels amazing. Rehab went really for me. I was out about seven months, but my knee feels great. I'm a little rusty, got to get the footwork back, but it's coming along really nicely. I'm really happy with it so far."
Do you feel like this is the best depth you guys have had up front during your tenure? "We have a lot of depth. Everyone is working hard and that really helps makes each of us better. Guys are challenging each other, which helps a lot too."
As a senior, where can you make the best contribution to the young guys behind you? "I'm hoping that I can make the young guys comfortable with the offense, comfortable being here at UND and just having fun. There are here for four or five more years. So, the sooner you know the offense, then the more fun you are going to have playing and the better you are going to do."
You have one of the premier backfields to block for, what's the impact those guys have on the o-line, knowing the type of weapons you can open up holes for? "It's awesome. We still have to make the blocks, but if we mess up they can still make plays. It's awesome knowing that. Hats off to them though because they run hard every single play and keep working hard. It's nice having them back there because you know they can make big plays when you make the right blocks."
Coming off of last year, what's the vibe been like as a team? "We are all really hungry. There were a ton of guys here this summer and everyone has been working hard. Our first goal is to win the Big Sky Championship, then after that the second goal is to win the National Championship, so that's what we're shooting for right now. Everyone is working hard."
The Fighting Hawks opened practice with full 11-on-11 work with the offense and defense squaring off in third-and-six scenarios ... Both sides of the ball came up with key plays during the 10-minute session ... Freshman cornerback Hayden Blubaugh made a diving interception to highlight the defensive efforts, while classmate Izzy Adeoti hauled in a perfectly thrown deep ball from Keaton Studsrud to highlight the offensive efforts ... Junior Luke Stanley hauled in a 10-yard reception on an out route for a first down to win the final play of the session that resulted in five up-downs for the defense ... In the closing team drills, safety Cole Reyes deflected a deep pass intended for Travis Toivonen that fellow safety Chuck Flowers hauled in for an interception ... With it being the first day in full pads, the team still did not go through any live drills, but each position group intensified the contact in various drills ... The first live work is tentatively scheduled for Friday morning's practice, which will be the ninth for the Fighting Hawks this fall ... Former NFL quarterback and Grand Forks native Brooks Bollinger was among those watching practice today.
-- UND --