FORT VALLEY — Sergio Pengel has been through the first day of spring practice three times at Fort Valley State, so he knows.
“This feels,” he said, out of breath and sweating, “like it was day 15.”
Pengel, who will be a senior tackle this fall, was one of almost 100 Wildcats on the field for the first full practice under first-year head coach Donald Pittman and his staff.
It was a little louder than practices have been in the past, with coaches making clear what they are expecting.
“They let it be known from the first day that they mean business, that they’re serious about it,” Pengel said, “and that they’re a championship coach mentality, and there are no exceptions.”
Pittman was hands on, dealing mostly with the offense but keeping an eye on everybody during late-practice conditioning. New coaches mixed with holdovers to keep an up-tempo pace.
And the head coach was quite happy with what he saw.
“Any time you’re a new head coach, your first practice is very exciting,” Pittman said. “The kids, they were in very good shape. We’re already ahead of schedule.”
With a new stadium going up only a deep pass from the practice field, the Wildcats began work on the new regime, a new offense and new terminology.
The offense will be one of transition for a while, going from a balanced attack to an aggressive no-huddle pass-first philosophy.
“It’s totally different,” said Collin Cordell, who will be a senior offensive lineman. “There’s a lot more communication between coaches and players.”
Schemes and strategy aside, both players said things are different.
“There’s no leeway, no loopholes,” Pengel said of the coaching staff. “They established discipline and hard work the first day they were here the first day we came back from the (Christmas) break. The introduction was stern.”
Pittman has his staff almost in place, retaining Glen Holmes (quarterbacks) and Roury Jones (tight ends and offensive line) from the previous staff.
He hired Haskel Buff (defensive coordinator), Terry Jones (defensive line), Keith DeGrate (offensive line), Anthony Broadnax (safeties), Durwood Roquemore (defensive backs), Vernon Dean (outside linebackers) and Ivy Williams (receivers).
Pittman’s main task is to figure out the quarterback position in a new offense.
Nate Samas is the only returning quarterback with any experience. The Wildcats signed two quarterbacks in February and may have more on campus by the time preseason practice starts.
It has been speculated that former Peach County quarterback Antonio Henton might land at FVSU after leaving Georgia Southern. Henton would have to sit out the 2009 season, and Pittman said Pittman isn’t enrolled at FVSU.
Pittman said it is a possibility that Henton could attend summer school at FVSU and fit into the plans for 2010. But Pittman is just ready for 2009 spring practice to pick up steam and for that new stadium to keep rising.
The Wildcats will have new uniforms in the fall, and their attire for the first day of spring practice was a bright white FVSU T-shirt and blue FVSU shorts with “live it” stenciled in.
“We want to look like a winner,” Pittman said. “Then we’ll feel like a winner, then we will be a winner. The kids see a difference, and it’s happening rapidly.”