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Thursday, September 29, 2022

UC Davis football close out spring practice, look forward to the fall

Dan Hawkins and his team aim for another playoff run as they conclude spring practices

 

By MARLON ROLON — sports@theaggie.org

 

Spring practice came to a conclusion Saturday morning at UC Davis Health Stadium after a grueling three weeks of hard work on the gridiron for UC Davis Head Coach Dan Hawkins’ football team. They ended their training camp on a high note.

“It’s been really good,” Coach Hawkins said. “We’ve made a lot of really good strides and a lot of good learning moments. We’re very healthy; it’s an education. It’s [about] getting your football Ph.D., and you gotta learn.”

Hawkins seemed happy with the way his team progressed during camp. However, he seemed even ecstatic to have a spring camp after a three-year absence due to the pandemic.

“Technically it’s the first; we were kind of in between winter and spring, and then we’ve always been winter, so this is the first time [we had a camp] really all spring,” Hawkins said.

Coming off an 8-4 season and an FCS playoff appearance in 2021, UC Davis football hopes to continue to trend upward for the upcoming 2022 season with the addition of new talent as well as returning players. 

Ten newcomers signed with the Aggies for 2022 back in February, six being transfers, in addition to their freshman class that had already signed. Although all were not present for spring practice, they will be soon. A notable signee who plays the wide receiver position was third-year Andre Crump from San Jose State, where he only played 16 games. He brings value to the WR room; coming from the FBS division, he brings experience and speed at the top level of college football. 

UC Davis lost a key contributor on special teams, punter Daniel Wheelan, who declared for the upcoming NFL draft. The Aggies hope to have found his replacement: a graduate student from Colorado State University Pueblo, Justin Dwinell, who averaged 43 yards per punt. 

Coach Hawkins seems to love his quarterbacks: the more he has, the better. Third-year QB from San Francisco City College Jack Newman joins Hawkins’ rich quarterback room. Newman passed for 3,583 yards, 38 touchdowns and only six interceptions in his last year with San Francisco City. He is a player who will compete and challenge for some playing time, as he used spring to get used to the system. 

Another player who brings some valuable experience on defense is graduate student Evan Tattersall, who played 20 games as a linebacker at UC Berkeley. A player who played in big games will help solidify the defense, an area that has its question marks. 

Hawkins also bolstered the receivers room with the additions of Samuel Gbatu, Logan Kraut and Laviel Pickett.

Spring practice is an opportunity for players to showcase their qualities and show the coaches why they deserve a starting role. 

“The spring is definitely a time to show these coaches that you’re meant to be here and you’re going to show them what you do well, what you do consistently,” said UC Davis linebacker Nick Eaton. “Everybody is coming out here with that on our mind, with a lot of energy and with something to prove. Everybody has a chip on their shoulders, that was definitely displayed today in between the white lines.”

Intensity was high on both sides of the ball during the last scrimmage, there was a scuffle between teammates. Nothing was personal, as it’s normal for players to go at it as they try to turn heads to earn a role. This is something that Hawkins wants to see from his players: players who are hungry, players who want to win, players that want to be there. 

“Energy was high, testosterone was high, dudes were flying around; it was the last day to prove yourself to these coaches that you’re meant to be out here,” Eaton said. “Everybody’s looking to carve themselves a role.”

Hawkins said he was pleased with the way his quarterbacks performed. There are six quarterbacks on the spring roster: Miles Hastings, Trent Thompkins, Mitchell Dixon, Gunnor Faulk, Grant Harper and Jack Newman.

Last season, the Aggies starting quarterback was Hunter Rodrigues who helped beat powerhouse Tulsa to open the season. However, Rodrigues began to struggle halfway through the season eventually being replaced by Hastings who had a strong campaign. Hastings struggled against South Dakota in the postseason only to be benched after two quarters. Rodrigues seemed to get the offense moving with his mobility until he had to throw the ball which resulted in four interceptions. The Aggies would lose 54-26 in their second appearance in an FCS postseason.

With so many questions as to who will be the starter when fall comes around, it will be difficult for the coaching staff to decide who will take the reins. 

“Mitch [Dixon] has had a good camp, they’ll make it tough on us. We gotta figure this thing out but we got a good crew there,” Hawkins said.“They’re learning; it’s still an uphill learning curve for them, but they’re coming along. You look at Jack [Newman]; every practice, he’s just gotten a little bit better. It’s been good.”

Hawkins put the quarterbacks to the test during scrimmage. The defense put the pressure on the offensive line going after the quarterback was the only way to emulate a real game situation. The QB’s felt the heat, closing out the scrimmage with a pick-six. 

“We got a few turnovers out there today. I don’t care if it’s lacrosse, basketball, [if] you have turnovers you’re going to lose the game so that’s a big deal,” Hawkins said. 

Besides the quarterbacks battling it out, the wide receivers also showed out in an attempt to make a statement. Hawkins decided to let the quarterbacks loose in an attempt to show the qualities that his receivers have. 

“Obviously, you have a bunch of receivers that have been out, injured, [and we’re] trying to get those guys figured out and the quarterback situation figured out, so we hucked it around a little bit more than we normally would,” Hawkins said.

The coaching staff was pleased with how the offensive line is progressing since most of their starters returned. The O-line is key to get their run game going — a strong element in their identity. UC Davis thrived when they mixed the pass game with the run game. 

“We know we have a returning offensive line, we have an excellent backfield and we know we feel like we can run the football and be successful there,” Hawkins said.

After practice concluded, players and coaches sounded optimistic, excited and relieved that they made it through camp. They’re motivated to start the season to get back to the postseason. Hawkins has changed the culture within the program. Making the playoffs twice in the last few years is what they’re used to around Davis. 

The program is known for its academics being a formidable institution — top 10 public universities in the nation. However, the football program is growing, producing NFL prospects and winning the Big Sky Conference championship while making the playoffs and advancing to the second round in 2018. In 2021, the Aggies upset a FBS team in Tulsa on the road. In the same season they set a record in attendance.. Even though the goal is to improve as a football team, for Hawkins and students on the team, academics comes first.

“We are all student athletes and the student comes before the athlete and I would say that at UC Davis, we take a lot of pride in academics here,” Eaton said. 

After last year’s postseason exit Hawkins had this to say about UC Davis, “UC Davis is a nationally ranked top 10 academic institution in the country; we are No. 1 in the world in many academic categories.”

Now that spring practice has concluded, the athletes will focus on their academics as they prepare to go into the summer to prepare for the fall season. 

The Aggies will open the season on the road against UC Berkeley (Sept. 3). They will fly to South Dakota for a FCS Playoff rematch (Sept. 10), they play their first home games of the season against San Diego (Sept. 17) and Weber State (Sept. 24). Then, UC Davis will travel to play Montana State (Oct. 1) and return to host Northern Arizona (Oct. 15).

Hawkins and company will travel to Colorado to play Northern Colorado (Nov. 22) and return back home for two straight home games against Cal Poly (Oct. 29) and Idaho State (Nov. 5). UC Davis will close out the season on the road against Idaho (Nov. 12) and Causeway Rival Sacramento State (Nov. 19). 

To be back into the playoffs won’t be easy, but the players take pride in wearing the blue and gold. If they can collectively come together, we can expect to see the Aggies back in the postseason contending for a championship.

 “We always say that being out here is not your right; it’s a privilege, and we take that to heart,” Eaton said. “Every time you step on this field in this uniform, you should wear it with honor and pride, and you give it your all.”

 

Written by: Marlon Rolon — sports@theaggie.org

 

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