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‘Christmas morning’ arrives as Weber State football opens 2022 fall camp

By Brett Hein - Standard-Examiner | Aug 4, 2022
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Weber State running back Damon Bankston, center, carries the football during a drill in the first practice of fall camp Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022, at Stewart Stadium in Ogden. (ISAAC FISHER, Special to the Standard-Examiner)
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Weber State quarterback Bronson Barron (10) throws a pass during the first practice of fall camp Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022, at Stewart Stadium in Ogden. (ISAAC FISHER, Special to the Standard-Examiner)
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Weber State receiver Colby Samuels hauls in a pass during the first practice of fall camp Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022, at Stewart Stadium in Ogden. (ISAAC FISHER, Special to the Standard-Examiner)
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Weber State running back Colter May (34) completes a drill during the first practice of fall camp Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022, at Stewart Stadium in Ogden.
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Weber State defensive back Kamden Garrett runs a drill during the first practice of fall camp Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022, at Stewart Stadium in Ogden.
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Weber State football head coach Jay Hill gives instructions during the first practice of fall camp Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022, at Stewart Stadium in Ogden.
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Weber State quarterback Bronson Barron (10) throws a pass during the first practice of fall camp Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022, at Stewart Stadium in Ogden. (ISAAC FISHER, Special to the Standard-Examiner)
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A Weber state player catches a pass during the first practice of fall camp Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022, at Stewart Stadium in Ogden. (ISAAC FISHER, Special to the Standard-Examiner)
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Weber State quarterback Kylan Weisser (11) throws a pass to a receiver during the first practice of fall camp Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022, at Stewart Stadium in Ogden.
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Weber State cornerback Jalon Rock (23) covers receiver Colby Samuels (82) during the first practice of fall camp Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022, at Stewart Stadium in Ogden. (ISAAC FISHER, Special to the Standard-Examiner)
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Weber State receivers coach Skyler Ridley, left, shares a smile with defensive back Kamden Garrett (7) during the first practice of fall camp Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022, at Stewart Stadium in Ogden.
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Weber State cornerback Eddie Heckard runs during the first practice of fall camp Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022, at Stewart Stadium in Ogden. (ISAAC FISHER, Special to the Standard-Examiner)
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Weber State football players line up for a snap during the first practice of fall camp Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022, at Stewart Stadium in Ogden.
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Weber State quarterback Bronson Barron rears back to throw the football during the first practice of fall camp Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022, at Stewart Stadium in Ogden.

OGDEN — The tackling dummies, bags of footballs, watering units and the sideline loudspeaker were out at Stewart Stadium.

The whistles, the hooting and hollering, the trash talk.

And yes, co-defensive coordinator Grant Duff was out in his straw hat to combat the hot, summer sun.

“Today honestly felt like Christmas morning, and that was through the whole locker room,” sophomore quarterback Bronson Barron said. “Everyone was excited to finally get to camp and just get going.”

Weber State football opened fall camp Wednesday evening, one month ahead of its Sept. 1 season opener against Western Oregon, aiming to return to playoff form after breaking a streak of five straight postseason campaigns.

“The fire in everybody’s eyes,” said junior cornerback Eddie Heckard about what he liked on Day 1. “I feel like everybody wanted to be out there and compete. If someone got a play made on them, they didn’t put their heads down, they just got right back in for the next play. All the young guys are getting reps and they look like they’ve been here before.”

There are questions at various position groups, including at receiver, a couple spots on the offensive line, defensive end and linebacker, which head coach Jay Hill said begin to be answered even on camp’s first day. But a team-wide focus is how to get back to the unit from the previous four seasons that seemed destined to win every close game — because often, that’s what’s required in the small-margins Big Sky Conference.

Barron’s buzzwords were accountability and trust, something born out of a concerted, player-led summer session that he feels will help the Wildcats return to the form that produced four consecutive league titles.

“Player-held accountability, if that makes sense. Older guys helping out the younger guys, vets keeping vets accountable. That’s a big thing,” Barron said about how the first practice unfolded. “If you have players keeping each other accountable and not having coaches need to do it, it’s huge.

“And trust,” he continued. “I know these guys on the offensive side aren’t going to let me take a play off and I hold myself to that high standard where I’m not going to allow myself to do that … trust and accountability that we hold as a team, player to player, is huge and definitely will pay off in those close games.”

Heckard simply said the experience of falling short in winnable games is enough to move the team forward, and Hill said there was clearly a “new resolve” among players when they reported back to school in January.

The defense enters its second season under the call of Duff and fellow co-DC Joe Dale, who, tutored by Hill, have seemed ready to continue the plug-and-play success of the Big Sky’s top defense.

The offense turns a page with new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mickey Mental, who aims to gain advantages through a stretched-out concept that uses simplicity and a quick tempo to produce points. It’s something quarterbacks have lauded through spring camp into fall’s first day.

Hill said the summer work from each side of the ball was apparent.

“It looks like we hit the ground running today. I think the progression is good. I think the mentality today was outstanding for a first practice,” the ninth-year head coach said. “But anybody can do that for a couple practices. I want to see them grind through it. When we get into practice 14, 15, 16, and we still have a couple weeks until we play a game, that’s when we’ll know what kind of team we have.”

The 6-5 season from 2021 is a mixed bag, according to Hill.

“Last season was a disappointment for everybody, but we had our seventh winning season in a row. I think the most we’ve ever had before that was three winning seasons in a row. I don’t think all was lost last year,” he said. “Was it exactly what we wanted it to be? Absolutely not. Is it something we can build on? Absolutely.”

The pains of the season were a reminder of just how little it takes for a season to be a success or a disappointment. WSU lost games by six points to Montana State, who played for the national title, by three to UC Davis, who made the playoffs, and got Portland State’s best game of the season.

“If you win one of those games, you’re probably in the playoffs. If you win two, you’re competing for the conference championship. If you win all three, you’re one of the top four seeds in the country,” Hill said. “That’s what it hangs on in this conference.”

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