Golden helmets are on, and whistles are out. Football is back in Durango.
Spring practices began Thursday for the Fort Lewis College football team. In his second season as head coach, John L. Smith is encouraged by how far along the team has come in one year’s time.
“It’s great to be back out on the field. The team is way ahead of where we were last year,” Smith said. “It is only the first day, but at least we understand so much more now than we did a year ago. It is night and day.”
Thursday was the first of 15 spring practices FLC will hold through April 19. Three scrimmages are scheduled for April 5, April 12 and April 19. All three scrimmages will be held at 9 a.m. at Ray Dennison Memorial Field and are open to the public.
Sixteen seniors will lead the Skyhawks through workouts. Smith said the entire team has bought into what he is trying to accomplish, and now it is time to prove to the community that the Skyhawks are serious about winning after taking the first steps with a 4-7 season in 2013.
“The more we can get the city involved the better, and I think they are getting on board,” Smith said. “We have to take it personal. Yeah, we won four games last year. Everybody thinks that’s great. That’s not great. Our goal is we are going to win twice as many. We have to put a prouduct on the field that people want to see, and that’s our obligation as coaches and players.”
Every position is an open competition as the Skyhawks go through spring and summer workouts. That includes the quarterback position where returning senior Max Baiz and returning junior Jordan Doyle have the most experience.
Doyle started six games for FLC in 2013, passing for 995 yards, five touchdowns and nine interceptions while completing 54.3 percent of his passes. Baiz started five games and threw for 823 yards, five touchdowns and four interceptions while completing 49.6 percent of his passes.
Also competing for the job is Trevor Bonifasi, a redshirt freshman who played sparingly last season. He threw for 96 yards on just 21 pass attempts.
Smith said the quarterback competition will remain open throughout the summer.
“We are a lot better off than we were this time last year with those guys,” Smith said of his quarterbacks. “More than anybody, those guys spend time looking at film and understanding. It is so mental with that position. They’ve done a great job learning and understanding what we are trying to do with the offense.”
Freshman signee Bo Coleman from Valley High School in Albquerque also could factor into the quarterback competition, Smith said. Coleman was the Gatorade Player of the Year in New Mexico in 2013. He threw for 2,734 yards and 39 touchdowns, while rushing for another 1,003 yards and 11 touchdowns in his senior season. That came one year removed from heart surgery.
“With Bo and all the freshmen coming in, it is a lot easier for the skill guys at quarterback, wideout and defensive back to play right away because you are dealing with a God-given talent of run, jump and catch,” Smith said. “With the linemen and linebackers ... there is a growth factor in those spots. But at a spot like quarterback, it will be a lot easier for a guy like Bo to come in and push for a job.”
Smith is pleased with the recruiting class already built this season, but he aims to add at least another five players to the crop of talent already signed.
“We needed numbers with this year’s class. Last year, we didn’t get a lot of numbers, especially with freshmen,” said Smith, his second year on the job and his first full recruiting class. “This year, we did. We have signed 29 freshmen, and we are not done yet. We need a few more guys, and that will help us a ton.”
The best part about signing new talent is the competition it breeds in the players already wearing FLC blue and gold, Smith said.
“These guys out here know we are going out and trying to find better guys, so they are working their tail off, and that is good,” he said. “When you see the really good teams, they are the teams with depth and competition at every position.”