August 07, 2012
By ODU Athletics
ODU Sports

Aug. 7, 2012


NORFOLK, Va. - Despite the rain coming down to start and end practice, the ODU Football Monarchs got in about 40 reps of team drills in.

"We needed to embrace the adversity mother nature created today," said head coach Bobby Wilder of his second preseason practice.

The Monarchs have lucked out over the last three seasons in terms of weather with only four games really having been affected by the elements. Those games included the thrilling 23-20 win over James Madison, which gave ODU its first win over a top-10 opponent and a 45-42 victory over Hampton both at Foreman Field last season, as well as a 28-17 victory at home over Campbell and a 34-29 setback to Fordham at a soggy Jack Coffey Field both in 2009.

"When I say embrace the adversity, what I mean is that we are going to have situations in the rain where we play," explained Wilder. "It's different. It's something the players have to get used to from the footing and how that affects how they can make cuts and change direction and also handling the football."

The coaching staff also got its first look at the PAT/Field Goal unit. While drills with that unit were not originally on the docket for Tuesday, Wilder and company saw it as chance to give that group a test.

"I saw that as an opportunity where we'd have to handle the ball in the rain from Rick Lovato snapping it, to Nate Ong holding the ball, to Jarod Brown kicking," commented Wilder. "We did a solid job in that phase."

"It was really good today to see the defense get some turnovers," said Wilder. "That's something we were pretty good at last year, turning the ball over defensively, even though we didn't do too well on the points allowed or the yardage allowed. The one thing our defense did was turn it over."

On Tuesday, the Monarch blue shirts compiled five turnovers - including a trio of interceptions made by linebackers Craig Wilkins and Xavier Duckett, as well as corner T.J. Cowart - as well as a pair of fumble recoveries.

Wilder was particularly impressed with the Wilkins interception.

"An area last year where we were deficient defensively in our pass coverage was in the middle of the field with the linebackers," reflected Wilder. "We just didn't get enough situations where we were able to cover that area from the line of scrimmage to about 15 yards downfield where you start to turn a route over to the secondary."

As Taylor Heinicke tried to connect with one of his receivers, he threw the ball just over Wilkins' head who then proceeded to made a leaping catch for the interception.

"That was very impressive to see.," continued Wilder. "That's the number one reason why we moved Craig Wilkins to that mike linebacker position so he could have more of an affect in the middle part of the field and get to the ball on either sideline quicker."

"If we can continue what we are doing defensively in creating turnovers, we're going to be a much better unit this year."

Fans may recognize some familiar faces on the sidelines.

Charles Walls, who was a member of the Monarchs during the inaugural campaign in 2009 at offensive line and had his career cut short with a knee injury, made the move from a student assistant to graduate assistant. A native of Virginia Beach and product of Tallwood High School where he was an All-Beach District selection, graduated from ODU with his undergraduate degree last year.

"He had initially been working with the offense, but this year he's going to work with the defense so he can get experience on both sides of the football," said Wilder. "He'll also work with us in all phases of special teams."

Working with the team as a student assistant is former running back Mario Crawford.

"Mario was a good of a running back as I've been around who had an unfortunate injury last season in preseason in 2011 where he broke a bone in his neck," Wilder stated. "After conferring with our doctors, we all felt, including Mario, that it would be best if he stopped playing."

"He'll be a great resource for the running backs. All of our running backs have tremendous respect for Mario. They like him and they listen to what he says because they know he's knowledgeable about the game."

In 2009, Crawford was the second leading Monarch rusher behind quarterback Thomas DeMarco averaging 60 yards per game and 6.1 yards per carry. He recorded six touchdowns including a pair against Virginia Union and at Jacksonville in the Monarchs' FCS debut. As a sophomore in 2010, the Detroit, Michigan native led the Monarchs in rushing with 505 yards and averaging 45.9 yards per game. He posted six touchdowns including a pair against VMI and also made 24 receptions for 216 yards.

Don't forget to follow the Football Monarchs on twitter @ODUFootball and use the hashtag #ODUFB.

Also like the Football Monarchs' Fan Page on facebook at

The Football Monarchs are back at it bright and early tomorrow morning in shoulder pads for the first time.