COOKEVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee Tech's first day in full pads on Friday was another opportunity for the Golden Eagle football team to improve, something head coach Watson Brown seeks from his squad every day as fall camp aims toward the Sept. 3 season opener at Iowa.
"I don't know that we had the tempo or the spirit that we had yesterday, but individually I think everybody improved," Brown said. "We are so much better than we were in the spring, but we're not there yet. Every day, I want every player to come out here and be a little bit better than he was the day before."
Tech spent about two hours on the turf of Overall Field Friday. The team will be back in Tucker Stadium Saturday morning, then hold a scrimage Sunday at 5 p.m. that is open to the public.
Next Saturday is the annual Gathering of Eagles, with gates opening at 12 noon and the team holding its second scrimage at 1 p.m. The event is free and includes free hot dogs and Pepsi drinks, plus schedule posters.
Season tickets to watch the five-game home schedule are on sale at the Athletic Ticket Office in Eblen Center (931-372-3940), or online at TTUsports.com.
Pugh: Team's strength gains are vast and fast
According to Strength Coach Chip Pugh, Tennessee Tech's new Athletic Performance Center (APC) has had a huge impact on Golden Eagle student-athletes, and it's been a key factor in the increase in the strength and performance of the football team.
Asked to list the three strongest players on the team, Pugh pointed to senior Scott Schweitzer, junior Michael Baker and sophomore Jordan Johnson. All three, coincidentally, are linemen. Schweitzer will start at guard and Baker is the starter at center. Johnson is the heir apparent to the noseguard spot in the defensive line.
Pugh took it a step further, pointing out the three players he considers the "most explosive." They are strong and quick, and can convert their strength into power, Pugh explained. The top three on that list are junior linebacker/defensive end Marcus Edwards, junior receiver/runningback Zack Ziegler, and junior runningback Adam Urbano.
Final question for Pugh: Who are the two or three most improved since the Spring?
"That's a tough question," Pugh said, looking around the practice field and sorting through each position in his mind. "It's tough because there are so many guys. The whole team is vastly improved. And the improvement has been fast. It's really fun training them at the APC because we can do so much more."
He said senior All-America wide receiver Tim Benford is the Golden Eagle who has had the most dramatic change. "Tim has really developed, and he is so much sronger," Pugh said.
He also singled out sophomore offensive lineman James Normand as a player who has gotten much stronger in the past few months.
"It's tough, though," Pugh said. "Look around. Everybody is stronger. It's amazing."
He pointed at a player. "Look at Cory McDonald. He's never had arms that big."
Many happy returns
While the question of who returns kickoffs should be easy to solve, finding the right man for the job returning punts is a matter that coach Watson Brown and his staff are working through during fall camp.
"Kick return is good because they're all back," Brown said. "Henry (Sailes) was one of them, but we had four or five and they're all back. I feel very good about that.
"Punt return is a different story. Demetrous Garrett, Zack Ziegler, Will Johnson. Will was a really good punt returner in high school and we're working with him. We're working really hard also with Alden Olverson. I think those are the four 'older' guys who are fighting for it, and then there are some freshmen that we're looking at too. But that's still up for grabs.
"What we're going to do is put the one out there that catches it best, first. Honestly, none of them has been as consistent caatching the ball as I'd like them to be, but I think there is potential for one to come through, but I just don't know which one it's going to be yet."
Roster includes three new additions
The roster includes three walk-ons who were added when camp started. Alphabetically, they are:
Zach Bush, a tight end from Morristown West High School and transfer from Carson-Newman. He is the brother of sophomore Nathan Bush. He played one year at Canon County High School, and his final three at Morristown West under coach Dan Woods. He will major in interdisciplinary studies.
Matt Hamby, a quarterback from Murfreesboro who played four years at Brentwood Academy for coach Ralph Potter. An Honors student and a civil engineering major, he is the son of former MTSU quarterback Butch Hamby.
Wade Plemons, a wide receiver who comes to Tech after four years as a quarterback and safety for coach Jeff Harig at Loudon High School. An all-state selection, he rushed for more than 4,500 yards and 40 touchdowns. He also set school records in the 100m and 200m for the track team. He is enrolled in communications.