August 06, 2012
By ODU Athletics
ODU Sports

Aug. 6, 2012


NORFOLK, Va. - Monday marked the first day of practice for the 2012 version of the Football Monarchs.

"It's great to be out here at our very first practice even though we are in our shorts and helmets based on NCAA rules," said head coach Bobby Wilder on the team's first preseason appearance on the turf. "There's not a lot of contact but still very exciting to get them out there. They've been working all summer long here for classes and workouts so ever since they've ended spring ball in April they haven't had anything on in terms of equipment."

"I really like the tempo of practice," he noted. "Our goal is to play as fast as we can in all three phases - offense, defense, and special teams. I thought for the first practice, particularly with over 25 freshman or first-year guys, it was a very fast practice."

The ODU Football team's initial theme going into the 2012 campaign was "We Are One". But that all changed on May 17th when it was announced that Old Dominion would be joining Conference USA and elevating its program to FBS status.

"Then we took it a step further after that announcement - to compete for the national championship," said Wilder. "Our goal is to get back to the tournament, which will be a big challenge. To play in the league we play in, the CAA, it's going to be a major challenge just to try to be one of the best four or five teams, but then to try and compete for the national championship, that's the goal this season."

"The main focus has been we need to improve our team speed and I feel like we've done that," said Wilder of what his team needs to zone in on this preseason. "I feel like we are a faster team. Offensively, there's the goal of scoring points and not turning the ball over. Very focused on repeating what we did last year in leading the league in turnover margin."

Last year the Monarchs topped the CAA ranks in turnover margin at 1.00, ahead of second ranked Maine at .69. Nationally, ODU sat at 12th overall. Among those helping the Monarchs to the ranking was redshirt sophomore corner Eriq Lewis with five interceptions to ranked fourth in the CAA and ninth nationally along with a team-leading three force fumbles. Also safety Carvin Powell registered three picks last year and was one of four Monarchs with a pair of fumble recoveries.

"With special teams, our returns units will be a major focus of our camp."

ODU will be looking to get back to the numbers they saw in 2010 when they ranked fourth nationally in kickoff returns at 24.86 yards per game and 21st in the country in punt returns at 12.43 yards per contest. While the punt return unit was second in league behind New Hampshire, the kickoff return unit ranked 10th in the league.

"Defensively, I thought we were much improved in the spring with our tackling, which was the focus our defensive coordinator Coach Dee had," continued Wilder. "We were not as good as a tackling team last year as we need to be. So I want to see that continue to improve and we'll work on those base fundamentals throughout camp."

Monday marked the final first day of practice for 16 seniors, including 14 who started with the Monarchs back in 2008 when they redshirted as freshman in preparation for the inaugural 2009 campaign.

"From this practice to my very first practice, it was a huge jump," said defensive tackle Chris Burnette, also one of this year's co-captains. "Just the speed of practice, the tempo of practice. When I first got here, we didn't have senior leadership, it was just freshman out here. Now we've got guys that have developed like myself and Craig, Carvin (Powell), D(evon) Simmons, Those guys are out here being leaders, vocal leaders, and pushing everyone to get better. There are a lot more veteran players helping guys out when they are down and a lot more competition."

"Big difference," also noted wide receiver Nick Mayers. Mayers remembers everyone having to learn the playbook from scratch and with everyone familiar with the schemes "You can play a whole lot faster," he said.

"Everything feels more comfortable right now," Mayers added. "I'm ready to play, I'm excited about what we are doing at camp."

Two Monarchs were awarded "The Summer Challenge Champion" trophy at the end of practice by Associate Head Strength and Conditioning Coach Ryan Martin.

"Every Friday in the month of July we had competitions," said upperclassman Summer Challenge Trophy Champion Craig Wilkins. "Brackets were broken up into big, big skill, freshman."

Wilkins, who won the trophy for the second consecutive year for his time through the obstacle course noted, "It's not about the physical part, it's more about the mental part of it -The will of who wants to win. It wasn't easy. Taylor Heinicke was second behind me. I beat him by 10 seconds."

The second trophy was awarded to Terrell Reid out of the freshman group. Reid, a fellow linebacker who signed with ODU last spring out of McKinley Tech in Washington D.C., was a CIAA First Team as an outside linebacker where he totaled 109 tackles in his career, including eight sacks and 10 tackles for loss along with seven forced s fumbles.

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The Monarchs return to practice early tomorrow morning for another session in helmets.