Hornets tackle heat in first football practice

Shenandoah University's football team started held its first official day of practice Thursday. Here, players run sprints the length of the football field. Rich Cooley//Daily

WINCHESTER – As a group of Shenandoah University freshmen trudged off the football field at Shentel Stadium on Thursday afternoon, senior defensive back Bayvon Young approached the chain-link fence that separated him from the underclassmen.

“Welcome to college, fellas,” Young remarked with a smirk. “Welcome to it.”

Braving the sweltering heat that neared 100 degrees Thursday, the Hornets hit the practice field for the opening day of football camp and were welcomed into the 2016 season with a morning walkthrough and conditioning tests that included a series of 110-yard sprints before breaking into offensive and defensive drills in the afternoon.

“It was very hot but it was challenging,” SU senior linebacker Malik Sims said. “Got to really see how the freshmen would react to adversity as far as the 110s, see how they respond, how they react, seeing how they push through. It was a very good day of practice, very informative for upperclassmen and coaches.”

Head coach Scott Yoder, now in his fourth season at Shenandoah, opened camp with 115 players on the roster, including 61 newcomers who joined a crop of 54 returnees.

Shenandoah University quarterback Hayden Bauserman, of Woodstock, walks across the field at Shentel Stadium for the first day of practice. Rich Cooley//Daily

“Big picture, we’re farther along than we’ve been in our first three years,” said Yoder, who has guided the Hornets to three consecutive 4-6 seasons. “This senior class is the class that we recruited when we got here, so we feel really good about that. Our numbers are good. Our depth is good. We’ve still got a lot position battles and it’s the first day, so if guys aren’t excited now we’ve got a problem. But it was a good first practice and we’ve just gotta build on it from here.”

Yoder’s optimism was echoed by Sims and sophomore quarterback Hayden Bauserman, both of whom said they were “definitely” pleased with what they saw from their teammates in the initial day of camp.

Sims said he was particularly proud of the number of players who passed the conditioning test and the resiliency shown by the freshmen in their first taste of college football.

“I seen a lot of freshmen push through,” Sims said. “I seen some quit but I mean that’s expected. It’s their first day of college, you know what I’m saying. The first practice, it’s really expected when you haven’t been around this type of environment. It’s hard. Everybody knows it’s hard, even when I was a freshman it was hard. So you’ve just gotta be that comfort for them, you know. They don’t got mom, they don’t got dad, so you really gotta be that big brother and tell them it’s gonna be OK, we’re gonna get better. It’s not OK that you failed but we’re gonna get you right where you can be on the same court as everybody else.”

Bauserman, who passed for 2,177 yards, 21 touchdowns and 15 interceptions in his own collegiate debut last fall, said this year’s newcomers caught on quickly as the Hornets began digging into the offensive playbook in Thursday’s drills.

“We just have our regular installs like we normally do, just filling in the playbook as we go for the freshmen, kind of just easing back into it,” said Bauserman, a 2014 graduate of Central High School. “I think mainly the emphasis today is be the best you can, be as sharp as you can. You don’t wanna come out on the first day and just have a sloppy practice, you wanna come out and be as sharp as possible. So I think the emphasis is probably just learning the system and just getting better at it.”

Last season SU enjoyed the best start in program history when the Hornets began the year 3-0, only to sputter after hitting Old Dominion Athletic Conference play. Shenandoah, which lost its final four games of 2015, went 1-6 against conference opponents, tying Catholic University for the worst mark in the ODAC.

SU’s offense – which ranked in the middle of the eight-team ODAC in points (fourth, 30.4 per game), total yards (fifth, 425.9), rushing yards (third, 177.9) and passing yards (fifth, 248) – will need to replace four starters along the offensive line this fall but does return Bauserman, all-ODAC running back Cedrick Delaney (1,554 all-purpose yards, 10 touchdowns in 2015) and seven of the team’s top eight pass catchers from a season ago, including receivers Leonard Scott (34 catches, 411 yards, six touchdowns) and Deshon Brown (32 catches, 405 yards).

The Hornets’ defense ranked seventh in the ODAC in points allowed (31.8) and yards allowed (427.7) last year, and must fill holes left by the graduation of career tackles leader Michael Messick (126 total tackles in 2015) and Jake Payne, the 2015 ODAC Defensive Player of the Year.

“Everybody in the ODAC takes us lightly and we don’t like that at all, so we’re basically going for everybody in the ODAC,” said Sims, who joins fellow senior linebacker Micheal Wroble as the top two returning tacklers off last season’s squad. “We wanna win. We wanna win the ODAC, so we stress that to (the freshmen), 4-6 isn’t OK, 5-5 isn’t OK. If we’re not winning the ODAC then it’s not OK.”

Shenandoah opens its 2016 season with a 7 p.m. road game at Gallaudet on Sept. 3.

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com