One month after opening fall ball ahead of the spring 2021 football season, Weber State is just now reaching its midway point and head coach Jay Hill could only characterize the camp one way.
“Start and stop and start and stop,” Hill said.
After another major disruption to the practice schedule over the coronavirus pandemic that has already postponed the fall 2020 season to 2021, the Wildcats returned to the field Wednesday to resume camp.
“We’ve had contact tracing, we’ve had a couple positives. Nothing alarming, in my opinion, but something we’ve got to be smart about and cautious about,” Hill said.
In a previous stoppage, much of the team could still train and lift weights while a portion of players quarantined. This time, Hill said the whole team was shut down for a short period.
Such is the life of college players and coaches in 2020. A now perennial top-10 and even top-five program, Hill and his players are itching to stage position battles, refine the haul of experience that returns, and continue to develop the young players who stepped in and anchored an 11-4 season in 2019.
“That’s college football. You deal with those ups and downs like that. ... It’s something we’ve got to get past,” Hill said.
Middle Tennessee transfer Randall Johnson joins a quarterback group that returns familiar names low on game reps in Kaden Jenks, Kylan Weisser and Teryn Berry, with Bronson Barron also returned from missionary service.
That’s the most pressing position WSU needs to figure out and, beyond the first day of fall camp, Hill says that entire group hasn’t really been on the field at the same time. That’s made it more difficult to evaluate the competition.
Though they performed well, the Wildcats played four freshmen in the secondary last season, Marque Collins and Dave Jones pieced together a banged-up season through injuries, and Desmond Williams hasn’t played in a game in nearly two years after missing last season with a torn ACL following his transfer from Boise State.
Noah Vaea, Conner Mortensen, Peni Mobley and BJ Taufalele got their first chunk of starter or major rotational reps last season, among others at linebacker, and a relatively young offensive line returns with newcomers like Ethan Atagi from BYU. Of 14 rostered offensive linemen, 10 are sophomores or freshmen.
So Hill wants to be on the field.
“A lot of them have started games, but they’re not two- and three-year veterans,” he said.
Hill said his players have handled the delays, disruptions and downright frustration as well as they possibly could and, after finishing ranked No. 3 last season with sights on more, the team is still excited for what the spring brings.
“They want to get going. They’re sick of sitting around, I’m sick of sitting around,” he said. “Nobody wants to get sick or get anyone else sick, but let’s get going somehow, some way, and figure it out.”
Hill said the process to hire a replacement for six-year defensive line coach Kite Afeaki, who left the staff in late August, is still ongoing.
“We’ve looked at a couple guys but I have not pulled the trigger. That should be in the next three weeks or so that I have that finalized,” he said.
“There’s good candidates in the pool. Some of them I’m kind of holding off, making sure we’re moving at the right time for the school and for them. But my guess is I’ll be making that move here soon.”