Tabor College freshman running back Owen Cole walked off the field Friday limping, one thigh sore from a full day’s practice, and possibly more behind-the-scenes work.
You wouldn’t be able to tell he was hurting though, from the way he spoke about his team.
“I feel like the team’s doing good, we just have to work on finding our identity and working together,” he said. “This group just isn’t used to being together.”
This is the reality of spring football, and college football in general. Every player has a role, and even in the spring players are fighting ailments for the betterment of themselves and, ultimately, the team.
With some former teammates visiting practice that day, head coach Mike Gardner explained to his team afterward the importance of being grateful for their nicks and bruises, and the memories they are making now. One day there will be nothing but memories.
“It (spring football) gives the kids an opportunity to go out there and be around each other in the competitive sport they’re in, which does nothing but help that,” he said. “You can do so much in the offseason — we can lift weights and condition and things like that, but it’s different when you can put on the pads and do what the bigger colleges do.”
Players have been spending time since early February lifting and running three times a week, just to make it to the “fun” part of practicing in April.
Gardner is just grateful the team can practice now, since NAIA rules only recently changed to allow teams to practice in the spring. Gardner said he thought the rules changed in 2006.
“A long time ago you couldn’t have spring practices,” he said. “You couldn’t do anything.
“The thing that I’m excited about the offseason is it gives our younger guys an opportunity to get a lot of reps and learn.”
Gardner said the bottom line is for the team to improve within the system. At this point, that is all he can ask of a team losing 20 seniors. Many returners next season will have seen action in 2013, though, as part of a team that made it to the second round of the national playoffs and won Tabor’s first ever road playoff victory.
“I would say leadership has changed,” Cole said. “That’s what we’re working on trying to find. I think we have a solid group though, and we should be pretty good next year.”
The Bluejays scrimmage for Tabor’s spring showcase at 10:30 a.m. April 26 at Joel H. Wiens Stadium.