By Sye Bennefield
LOGOS STAFF WRITER
In the words of former Texas sports information director Jones Ramsey, “There are only two sports in Texas: football and spring football.”
Spring football is vital in teaching technique and fundamentals without the worry of a game the coming weekend for college programs. It not only gives players an opportunity to shine but it allows coaches to form some sense of what the fall depth chart will perhaps look like and give attention to a wider variety of players.
For the University of the Incarnate Word community, the chance to see what fall football has to offer will be the annual intrasquad spring football game that will kick off at 6 p.m. Saturday, April 9, in Gayle and Tom Benson Stadium.
Last year’s team finished 6-5 — the second winning season in program history — and placed fourth in the Southland Conference, riding strong performances from the defense, led by All-American outside linebacker Myke Tavarres, and games filled with offensive explosions led by quarterback Trent Brittain. Along with a host of other All-Conference honorable mention recipients, the Cardinals are on track to improve.
Returning players have been engaged in winter workouts aimed at strengthening their mind, body and team chemistry. The first of 15 spring practices started March 22. Be it schemes, personnel or even identifying new leaders for the fall, spring football is beneficial to any program around the country.
Cardinals Head Football Coach Larry Kennan sees it no different.
“Our approach to spring is — and I talk to the coaches about it all the time and the players — whatever you’ve been in the past is no consequence,” Kennan said. “What we’re looking for is what are you right now.”
Kennan said he and his staff don’t worry whether a player was a “knucklehead” or a “young freshman” who hasn’t yet proven himself. Spring football is an opportunity to erase all negative slates and let the players themselves decide what they want to be from this point on.
“We’re looking for a number of particularly young guys who haven’t stepped up yet to step up,” Kennan said. “There’s a huge difference between being a high school player and being a college football player in Division I.”
Although most of the attention will follow the newer members of the Cardinals football team, don’t expect the veterans to fall far behind.
“We’re particularly interested in the young guys No. 1, but we also got some veterans, whose time (it is) for them to step up and be real players,” Kennan said. “But there’s no question the talent level is better than it’s ever been here.”
Speaking of that talent, it was on full display March 21 at Benson Stadium where six former Cardinals – including Tavarres — were tested on NFL combine drills by NFL scouts. Seventeen different NFL teams were on hand for this “Pro Day.”
Tavarres had a record-breaking season for the Cardinals in which he was recognized by the American Football Coaches Association and the Southland Conference as a first-team player on their respective lists.
Tackling NFL combine drills was a whole different matter, said Tavarres.
“ ‘Pro Day’ went good,” Tavarres said. “It was good, not great,” he added with his trademark smile. “I did a lot of good things and I did a lot of bad things. But it was fun. Talking to the coaches, scouts and different teams it was surreal because I remember last year (UIW) only had two different scouts there and this year they had multiple ones from different teams. It was a blessing to be there.”
Tavarres said he felt a little rushed during “Pro Day,” but he didn’t let that stop him from doing what he does best: having fun and performing.
Although he graduated in December with a communication arts degree concentrating in media studies, Tavarres’ preparation for possible life as a pro has been packed. Due to his schedule and the NFL draft later this month, he said he may be unable to attend the spring game. But that won’t take away some of his fondest memories of spring ball.
“Just hanging with the guys you know, getting through practice and having a good time,” Tavarres said. “Just seeing the look on each guy’s face and seeing how much they love the game and love being here. That’s what I miss about it.”
E-mail Bennefield at firstname.lastname@example.org