Friday, March 29, 2013

FAMU Rattlers Under The Lights At Bragg Stadium

Rattler James Owens returns a kick
TALLAHASSEE, Florida  --   It’s Tuesday morning, and while most people are snug in their beds as 43-degree temperatures test the levels of insulation in their homes, the Rattler football team is at full tilt. It’s 5:45 a.m. and the Rattlers are 15 minutes into their spring football practice inside Bragg Memorial Stadium. New head coach Earl Holmes has decided that practicing that early has several benefits.

“At some point, your team has to be mentally tough. Looking at what we’re trying to get done here and looking at the style of ball we’re going to play here, we’ve got to make sure that the elements are not a part of it. Whether we’re playing in the sun or strong winds or rain, we’ve got to be ready to execute,” Holmes said.

The team is even varying locations for practice, utilizing the regular practice field, Bragg Stadium and the campus recreation turf fields in a rotation of venues. Holmes feels this will help with the team’s preparedness and insure that nothing is mundane about spring football practice this year.

FAMU offensive coordinator Quinn Gray signals a play to quarterback Damien Fleming, who executes the play, throwing a crisp pass right between the 2 and 7 on the chest of receiver Lenworth Lennon. Lennon promptly throws a move, causing a defensive back to miss, that draws whoops from the offensive sideline and exposing an energy that the new era has brought to the program.

The Rattlers have 12 games lined up for the 2013 slate, but they pale in comparison to the competition internally on the team. Coach Holmes has stated that 21 positions are open as of spring, excluding quarterback he said with a laugh. Fleming will be regarded as the top returning quarterback in the MEAC and FAMU’s top professional quarterback prospect since Gray finished his playing days.

With All-American kicker Chase Varnadore handling kickoffs and field goals, special teams coach Juan Vasquez now turns his attention to replacing punter Branden Holdren. Right at mid-practice, the Rattlers went over punt team coverage drills, where heir-apparent Colby Blanton booted a 60-yard booming kick that had the scout team returners retreating. In usual Vasquez fashion, he commented to Blanton that the punt was “okay.”

Holmes, a career defensive guy, seems to be rooting more for the offense these days. “As a head coach, I have to concentrate on our weaknesses. Last year, obviously we struggled offensively and now I want to see progress in our offense and I’m confident that coach Gray and his staff will bring better results for us,” Holmes said.

 Coach Quinn Gray talks with Damien Fleming.

Surveying players on the sideline, the best analysis they could give about the new direction of the team is “it’s just different.” Holmes said he accepts that notion. “If different means better, then I can attest to that. We’ve talked about it among the coaching staff and in player meetings and it’s about moving forward and that’s what we are concentrating on,” Holmes said.

Minutes later, a receiver caught a pass on the sideline and was popped by a defensive back. The team energy was evident as the mode was rowdy…a competitive rowdiness that brought smiles to all of the coaches. The energy of internal competition is evident.

The Rattlers have about eight working days before they publicly unveil the changes to the team. The annual Orange & Green Game is Apr. 6, 2013 at Bragg Memorial Stadium at 2 p.m. Coming off a disappointing 4-7 season, Rattler fans are anxious as well to see what Holmes and his staff have to add to the FAMU legacy.

“I’ve seen some of our underclassmen starting to raise some eyebrows. Guys are improving and understanding what we’re looking for and understanding the tempo of practice, while playing close attention to detail. We’re going to continue to put our best foot forward and try to play some Rattler football,” Holmes concluded.

The Rattlers will play five home games in Bragg Stadium and two more games in the state of Florida. To order your season tickets, please call (850)599-3141. To renew your Rattler Booster memberships, please call (850)224-6093.


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