MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – Football fans, get ready: The season is finally here.
Middle Tennessee’s 105 players officially reported for fall camp on Thursday ahead of Friday’s first practice, scheduled to begin at 9:35 a.m.
The first three practices – on Friday, Saturday and Sunday – will be open to the public for the first 20 minutes. The rest of fall camp will be closed.
As camp opens, 13-year head coach Rick Stockstill knows exactly what he wants to see: a workmanlike attitude.
“It’s been a really good offseason from winter workouts to spring practice to the summer,” he said. “I’m excited. I like our team, I like where we’re at right now.”
The offseason was a little different for the players from a strength and conditioning standpoint.
Strength and conditioning coach Matt Hickmann was hired in January, and he brought a new approach to the summer program. The players focused a little more on maintaining strength and less on running their legs off, a difference than in years past.
“I can’t say enough good things about Matt and his staff,” Stockstill said. “Our summer was really outstanding.”
The first week of camp will be an acclimatization period, meaning the team will work mostly on getting in what Stockstill calls “game shape” and getting acclimated to the offense, defense and special teams.
The team’s first scrimmage is scheduled for Aug. 11, followed by another Aug. 17. Fan Appreciation Day at Floyd Stadium is set for Aug. 19, and the annual Beanie Bowl will be Aug. 20.
Stockstill hopes to have most of his questions answered by the time camp closes ahead of the season opener at Vanderbilt Sept. 1.
Most notably, the Blue Raiders need to find a way to replace nine starters lost. Luckily, with 16 starters returning (eight on offense, seven on defense and one special-teamer), veteran leadership should be abundant.
“If every player gets just a little bit better every day individually, then we improve collectively as a team; that’s our goal,” Stockstill said. “I just want to see this team improve every day.”
Other notes as camp begins
Players with new numbers and new players’ numbers
Terelle West, 1 … Chris Stamps, 2 … Gregory Grate Jr., 3 … Luke Shiflett, 3 … Khalil Brooks, 6 … Chance Nolan, 6 … Jarek Campbell, 10 … Jordan Middleton, 10 … Raheme Fuller, 15 … Davis Witt, 15 … Chase Cunningham, 16 … Crews Holt, 18 … Teldrick Ross, 19 … Tavares Thomas, 21 … Cordell Hudson, 22 … Xavier Dupree, 22 … Zack Dobson, 24 … Justin Brown, 31 … Chukwudifu Ogbonna, 35 … Kendricks Gladney, 38 … Avery Jones, 40 … Yusuf Ali, 46 … Miller Armstrong, 48 … Jorden Starling, 49 … Javon Ross, 50 … Dalton Frantz, 52 … Matt Martin, 53 … Dawson Bragg, 59 … Jahlil Ryles, 60 … Eric Seay, 61 … Marcus Greer, 65 … Will Gilchrist, 66 … Tyler Falvey, 70 … Blake Catlett, 75 … Jordan James, 78 … Ulysses Williams, 80 … Devon Jackson, 82 … Gatlin Casey, 87 … Jordan Branch, 99
*New players in bold
Dustin Royston, a graduate assistant with the Blue Raiders in 2017, was named the 10th assistant coach in February. He’ll help on the defensive line.
Matt Hickmann was hired in January to replace Jason Spray as MT’s head strength and conditioning coach. He spent the previous two years at NC State as an assistant strength and conditioning coach for football.
New kickoff rule:
There are a few new NCAA rules the Blue Raiders will have to be wary of this season. Maybe the most talked about during the summer was a new kickoff rule that allows returners to call a fair catch and take ball at the 25-yard line.
According to the new rule, if a returner signals a fair catch on the kickoff inside of his own 25, his team will start on offense at its own 25, no matter where the fair catch is made inside the 25. If a fair catch is made outside of the 25, the team will take the ball wherever it is fair caught.
“I think you’re probably going to see a lot of fair catching from all teams,” Stockstill said. “We’ll look through camp and see what kind of returners we have and make a decision as we go through camp from that standpoint.”
The players aren’t the only ones heading into camp in good shape. Their head coach is also looking slim and fit.
“I’ve had a good summer,” Stockstill said. “I’ve busted my tail just like those players. I’ve run, I’ve exercised, I’ve tried to eat healthy – I’m ready to go.”
Josh Vardaman is the staff writer for goblueraiders.com. Follow him on Twitter @J_Vardaman and also follow @MTAthletics for more on the Blue Raiders.