With a mix of excitement and relief, the UC Davis football team took the field on Tuesday for the first day of spring practice.
The Aggies are relieved to finish up their winter routine — with its early-morning workouts and challenging weight-lifting and exercise sessions — and excited to move their development to the football field.
With a mix of new players — or those who redshirted last season — trying to prove themselves and veterans polishing their skills, the squad is together in making preparations for a turnaround in 2012. UCD is looking to improve upon a 2011 campaign that saw it finish with a 4-7 record, but featured wins over rivals Cal Poly and Sacramento State at year’s end.
Next season, the Aggies will join the Mustangs and Hornets as they compete in the Big Sky Conference for the first time.
“I feel more frustrated than disappointed because I thought we were a better team than four wins,” UCD head coach Bob Biggs, who will retire after his 20th season this fall, said recently. “I think when we look back there were three games that we probably should have won.”
“I am excited about the 23 returning seniors that we have, most of whom have prominent roles and played a lot of football. So, I am excited about their leadership and motivation. There is a lot to build on there.”
But of more immediate importance is the work that the Aggie roster is able to get in over the next month of spring practice. UCD is expected to don pads beginning next week and play three Saturday scrimmages before the workouts conclude on May 12 with the Spring Game at 9:30 a.m. at Aggie Stadium.
“A big part of spring isn’t necessarily establishing the starters, but really establishing our depth,” Biggs added. “We have had two really good recruiting classes with a lot of talent and a big part of spring is finding out how much they are going to be able to contribute and where the depth is going to fall.
“I love spring. I love the format of spring. Spring ball is great for teaching because you get to take your time.”
For the Aggie offense, spring football is a time to ramp it up.
“I think we’re as close as we’ve ever been to being an explosive offense,” said Tim Plough, UCD’s co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. “Our tempo will be at an extremely high level this year. I think people will be shocked at how quickly we push the tempo. That has a lot to do with us being in our third full year of our new scheme.”
Also on that side of the ball, spring practice is a time for players to compete for starting positions. Even players who are coming off strong seasons are happy for a chance to improve with more on-field training.
“Spring is my opportunity to work even harder on skills that I struggled with during the season and to just expand my knowledge as a receiver to take my game to the next level,” said sophomore receiver Corey Galindo, who is coming off of a breakout year in which he made 25 catches for 334 yards and two touchdowns.
Sophomore quarterback Randy Wright (188 completions, 2,250 yards and 14 TDs in 2011) is also looking forward to developing and has goals for both the offense and himself.
“I would like the offense to come together and believe in the system as a whole,” Wright said. “Personally, I want to take on a leadership role — someone the team can believe in when things are not going right, and play more aggressively.”
Meanwhile, intensity and physicality are the buzz words for the UCD defense this spring.
“Our expectations are always to play the game with a blue-collar, physical approach,” said Aggie defensive coordinator Mark Johnson. “We will run to the football and play the game hard with great intensity and respect for the game. Our goal this spring as a defense is to continue growing as a unit. Our older, more experienced players must continue to grow and master our defensive schemes.”
Johnson added that improved communication on the field will be another of his crew’s goals.
Note: DirecTV announced this week that the Aggies’ Oct. 6 home game against Montana State will be televised on the Root Sports Network.
— UCD media relations intern Sean Maraz, a former Aggie quarterback, contributed to this report