Training day: Football practice begins

A new era in Rattler football began Monday as new head coach Joe Taylor conducted the very first practice of the spring. The players went along for the ride and for some, the experience proved to be a learning experience.

“It’s a new coach, new staff and a new system,” said Javares Knight, 21, a junior wide receiver. “We were just playing it by ear.”

Nari Tomlinson, 19, a sophomore offensive lineman, agreed with Knight.

“We anticipated confusion,” said Tomlinson, a public relations student from Fort Lauderdale, “but we use the spring to work on technique and learn the plays to a tee, so it’s going to come.”

Spring practice is used to fine-tune skills before the first games in the fall. Players said that hard work and perseverance are the theme of this spring. Between the practice field and early morning conditioning, the team is making strides to improve its overall game by conditioning early.

“5:45 a.m. conditioning is building character for us,” said Knight, a Tallahassee native. “Coach is pointing us in the right direction.”

Tomlinson agrees and said workouts improve the strength of the team.

“Early morning workouts can’t do anything but challenge us and improve our mental game,” he said.

After a 3-8 record last season, the team is looking nowhere but up, and the Rattlers have their sights set on a MEAC title.

“We always aim to be number one,” Tomlinson said.

Players’ early sentiments surrounding the new coaching staff are very positive.

“Our new system is easier than the old one, and so far the coaching staff is cool too,” Tomlinson said.

According to a press release issued Monday on the team’s Web site, coach Taylor was “impressed with the sense of urgency.” He also said he believes the team will make improvements once the players understand how practice will be organized.

Individually, each player is making his own efforts to improve his game for the fall season. Whether it’s mental, physical or through leadership, the football players have said they are using this spring as a catalyst for change. Upperclassmen know the importance of leadership, and they plan on doing just that.

“I plan to be a positive leader for the incoming freshmen,” Knight said. “I also want to continue to be a role model and a team leader.”

Key returnees for the football team include Eddie Battle, Philip Sylvester and an experienced senior class. Both Battle and Sylvester are said to be major contributors to the success of the team next season. Battle, a quarterback, is returning and is said to be an offensive threat. Freshman standout Philip Sylvester led the team in rushing and kick return yards during the 2007 season.

Overall, players agree that the team’s success lies in the hands of the quarterback.

“Right now it’s a toss up; we don’t exactly know who will be there (at quarterback) this coming season,” Knight said.

The 2008 squad believes it has all of the ingredients for a successful season. Under a new coach the Rattlers are ready for a fresh start and a championship to follow.

The first football game is scheduled for Aug. 30 against Alabama State.