As the first day of spring began March 20, so did practice for the Rattler football team. Coach Carter’s team took the field Wednesday for the first time in 2007.
Willie Hayward was back to his talkative ways, place kicker Wesley Taylor was nailing cars in the parking lot as he kicked field goals and the coaching staff was yelling at the top of its lungs instilling the discipline that most athletes have become accustomed to hearing.
The Rattlers are coming off a 7-4 season in which FAMU won four of their last five games, closing out the 2006 campaign by defeating rival Bethune-Cookman College 35-21 in the annual Florida Classic.
Last season is in the books, and 2007 is a new beginning for the Rattlers as they look to win the MEAC after finishing fourth in the conference last season.
“This is a new season,” Carter said. “We can’t rest on the success we had last season. We have some new players coming this year, and we lost some of last year’s guys to graduation.”
FAMU signed 27 new players in this year’s recruiting class, adding depth to the defense, especially the interior linemen.
“Depth on the defensive line was most important in recruiting because the big boys get tired fast,” Vernon Wilder said.
The junior middle linebacker will have to sit out spring practice because of arthroscopic surgery on his right knee.
Having his knee scoped has put a damper on Wilder’s comeback effort, but the Miami native remains positive for his teammates.
“Surgery has slowed my progress down because I have a lot to work on but I have to get myself healthy for the upcoming season,” Wilder said.
Things aren’t looking that bad for the defensive leader who insists he will be back for off-season workouts, which will include running and weightlifting.
It’s way too early for Carter to worry about his injured linebackers, who have continued to execute the Tampa 2 (4-3) defense. His concentration must be set on the younger players learning their roles on offense and defense.
“Dannel Shepard and Vernon Wilder are injured, but they will be available later, and we’ll have to see how things progress,” Carter said.
The question for Carter is who will step up, who is going to give 100 percent in spring knowing there are no games until the fall.
“I want to see players compete, which is critical in developing skills and getting better as a team,” Carter said.
To spice up practice, Carter called for one-on-one drills, which put wide receivers against defensive backs and tight ends and running backs against linebackers.
As quarterback Albert Chester was able to deliver Hayward the ball downfield, the junior wide receiver proclaimed him as “the best” and said, “All I do is go to class and play football.”
While the special teams lined up in field goal formation, the rest of the team sat to watch the show from All-American kicker Wesley Taylor.
Taylor booted field goals right down the middle, at ease from 30 yards out and further while getting positive feedback from his fellow Rattler teammates.
“I’m just trying to get the kinks out due to the layoff and get back to the basics,” Taylor said. “This year I want to be more consistent in hitting my field goals and get more hang time on my punts.”
With the return of duo Chester and Hayward and more depth defensively, the Rattlers say the team’s contention for the MEAC title will come with hard work and dedication in the spring, summer and fall.