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ILS Bird Drill Returns with 'Birds in Pads
In the eyes of a few on the Illinois State football team, practice has officially begun after the team’s first Bird Drill and the first practice in full pads on Saturday. All can agree that camp took a more physical turn as the Bird Drill debuted mid-way through the team’s fifth session at Hancock Stadium on a surprisingly hot and humid afternoon.
Illinois State head coach Brock Spack could be heard telling his squad, “It’s too quiet out here,” while the players went through the motions practicing special teams. The Redbirds had a slightly more spirited seven-on-seven competition that saw the offense make two of the three trips to the top of the bleachers after being bested by the defense, but there was a marked difference in the demeanor of everyone on the field when the horn blew and the Bird Drill was announced.
“I thought our guys picked it up halfway through practice,” Spack said. “The first part of practice, we were not where we needed to be, but we changed the tempo and went with some live drills and the game got better. It was good that they responded – that’s what we’re looking for.”
Freshman running back Ryan Givens scored on two of his three carries during the drill that pits three blockers, a quarterback and a running back, against three defensive players on the line and a deep defender, in a confined, goal-line type situation. Givens needed two plays to score for the first time, then wowed everyone as he spun off a tackle on the right side and sprinted towards the left cone on the next carry.
Henry Vande Hey, a freshman offensive lineman, sealed off the left end to give freshman wide receiver Corey Shandrick a score on his final attempt and fellow freshmen wide outs Tyler Van Sligtenhorst and Ben Erickson both reached pay dirt during the drill. Junior defensive back E.J. Jones delivered one of the most punishing hits during the drill as he stood up Darryl Valdez once the junior wide receiver had skirted by the front line.
The Redbirds returned to team drills before finishing practice with more seven-on-seven competition and full squad first-and-ten situations.
“We had a very physical practice today,” Spack said. “It was really hot and we tried to push them pretty good. They fought through it and got it done. There are some good things and there are some things we have to improve on, but all in all, it’s a lot better than it was in the spring. We’ve got a ways to go to be the type of team we want to be. We’ve set the tempo here early – let’s see if we can keep it going and gaining momentum as we go through camp.”
The defense gave quarterbacks Drew Kiel and Matt Brown fits at times during the seven-on-seven and first-and-ten periods, drawing praise from the Redbird’s head coach.
“I thought our front four did a good job of rushing the passer,” Spack said. “Our secondary has been pretty consistent all fall. I thought that Austin Davis showed up a few times today, along with the defensive line. I’m sure I’m missing a couple guys, but all in all, we’re a lot better than we were in the spring.”
Illinois State returns to the field Sunday at 3 p.m., in Hancock Stadium, the team’s sixth of 14 practice’s leading up to next Saturday’s scrimmage.
Joe Whitson and his athletic training staff were as busy as they’ve been all fall with the full contact and increased temperatures Saturday. Saturday’s practice had a built in 10-minute break for players to cool off. Spack reminded several weary players that football “is a tough game, played by tough men.”
Freshman defensive lineman Nick Broome wasn’t juked out of his shoes, but needed a new pair anyway as his left heel separated from the mid-sole near the end of practice. Illinois State Director of Equipment Operations Nicholas Watson came to the rescue with a new pair of cleats and had Broome back on the field in no time.
Freshman wide receiver Tyler Van Sligtenhorst took a few snaps at quarterback Saturday and is considered an emergency option for the Redbirds. The 5-foot-7, 174-pounder threw for 1,736 yards and 20 touchdowns as a senior at Rogers High School in Puyallup, Wash.
There were around 20 people in the stands for Saturday’s practice, one of the largest turnouts through training camp.
Former Illinois State Director of Equipment Operations Jay Bailey was on hand for practice with his son. Bailey left Illinois State last year to help start the football program at Georgia State.
By Illinois State University Sports Information