It had been 83 days since the Temple Owls defeated the Florida International University Panthers in the Gasparilla Bowl, and after winning four out of five games to end the 2017 season, they were left wanting more. 83 days later, the process for next season started with the first Spring practice of the year on Tuesday.
WHIP Radio’s Gianfranco Illiano, Sarah Tunnell, Dan Wilson, and Dylan Coyle were on scene at the Edberg-Olson Football Complex to report on the team’s first official on-field session of the upcoming season.
Communication and steadiness preached by offensive line coach Chris Wiesehan
by: Dylan Coyle
The Temple Owls didn’t record the third-best offense in school history last season without the help of their offensive line. While the Owls are looking for more of the same this season, the team won’t be looking to tow the line they made last season.
They are looking for more.
Offensive line coach Chris Wiesehan met with his men early in the morning on Tuesday for the first time all season with a purpose. “We want to be what?” Wiesehan asked, “The most physical line in the country. That’s just effort.”
“We want to deliver body blows,” he added. “So with a body blow, and you’re in a boxing match, everyone wants to hit ‘em on the head, right? You’re trying to get the knock-out real quick, right? That’s not us. Understand we want to pound you, pound you, pound you. The body blows at first don’t show up, right, til the fourth quarter? And we’re going to win the fourth quarter and not be afraid to go to the fifth quarter. We know we’re going to kick your ass there.”
In his second consecutive season coaching the offensive line, Wiesehan knows the men he is teaching on the field. Among those men are leaders in redshirt sophomore Matt Hennessy and redshirt senior Jaelin Robinson. Hennessy was a finalist for the Rimington Award as the best center in the country last season and earned ECAC second-team honors. Robinson was the sixth lineman of the group last season, but he rotated in every game and has the most experience of anyone on the offensive line with 27 career games in the Cherry and White.
During the team meeting later in the morning, head coach Geoff Collins reminded everyone about the “Spike Rule” that the team abides by. No quarterback, wide receiver, running back, or anyone else on the team is allowed to spike the ball after scoring. That is unless you are a lineman. Collins specifically mentioned Robinson when he said that offensive and defensive linemen are allowed to spike the ball, act as if the ball is fire, or celebrate in any other way.
At the end of Wiesehan’s meeting with the offensive linemen, he stressed the importance of being able to communicate with each other on the field. After demanding louder answers from multiple players, he said, “Knowledge is power. Most of you grew up speaking English, so it just flows. As soon as you went to high school and you had to learn another language, how were the first three days of it, that class? Good or bad? Did anybody talk a lot? Didn’t they know how to what? Communicate. They didn’t really know it. So if you’re hoping you know it, or you kinda know it, you don’t know it.”
“The good thing is,” he continued, “you got all these guys that really know it. And if you’re not using your teammates to help you, and you’re not reaching out to them, that wouldn’t be very good.”
For the Owls to win, they need their offensive line to work as one cohesive unit. If Wiesehan is able to instill these methods into the team, they’ll be well on their way.
Playing Smarter, Not Harder is key for the Wide Receivers
by: Sarah Tunnell
Wide Receiver coach, Stan Hixon, put a huge emphasis on playing with intelligence when talking to his wide receivers on the first day of Spring Ball.
“Intelligence is key when playing football. You may be a good player but you are nothing if you don’t have football IQ. Most people think football players are dumb, but you need to have a certain level of intelligence to play a Division I sport.” Hixon said.
Throughout the meeting, Hixon would randomly quiz all the players on the play calls, and it was clear that the players had been studying, especially Junior Receiver, Isiah Wright.
Wright led the Owls in rushing yards and was third on the team for receiving and all-purpose yards.
Hixon said, “Isiah is the most dynamic receiver the team has, and it showed because he scored in five different ways last year which is a huge accomplishment.”
Wright is the sixth player in FBS history to score in five different ways in the past 10 years.
It also was apparent that Redshirt Senior, Ventell Bryant had been studying the play calls. After a rough season last year, and losing his single-digit jersey, Bryant is ready to make a huge impact for the Owls this year.
“I am really excited for this upcoming season. Last season wasn’t something I want to hang my hat on. I want to go out with a bang, and get my single-digit back,” Bryant said.
Hixon was also pressing Redshirt Sophomore Freddie Johnson about focusing on the fundamentals.
“Everyone better be on the lookout for Freddie,” said Hixon, “Freddie is going to step up next year, and be a huge contributor. He is definitely the fastest guy on this team, and we are expecting a lot from him this year.”
Temples offense last year was third-best in program history with a season that was a learning experience for everyone on the team including the new coaching staff. Hixon and the wide receivers are very confident that this upcoming season will be a great one for the team.
Big Year For Running Backs
by: Gianfranco Illiano
The Temple Owls are no joke when it comes to the running game. They are a team that prides themselves on being “tuff” and playing physical. That’s the philosophy that Coach Collins has instilled into his team.
Thus the reason why running backs coach Tony Lucas was hired to Coach Collins’ coaching staff, as he shares the same philosophy as the head coach. Every team that Tony Lucas has been a part of prior to Temple, have had a strong running game, ranking in the top 5 in their respective conferences.
At the running backs meeting, the players noticed that their seats have been changed and they ask Coach Lucas why.
Coach responds, “you don’t like where you’re sitting? Change your life.”
Coach Lucas later explained the more experienced running backs will now sit in the back of the room while the younger players will sit in the front so that they’re able to learn the offense. That’s what the message was to the running backs– do whatever you have to do to change your life if you don’t like where you’re at.
This running back group has a big year ahead of them, especially senior running back Ryquell Armstead.
“He’s going to have a huge year for us,” Coach Collins said. “He’s a big tailback that plays physical and displays the ‘Temple tuff’ attitude that we try to establish on this team. He’s also a great leader and helps the younger players get up to speed. Rock [Armstead] is a great teammate.”
Junior running back Jager Gardner is coming off a season where it was cut short due to an injury. Coach Collins is psyched to have him back in the rotation and is happy about the recovery that Jager has made from his injury.
“I saw that he got banged up a little bit today, but he’s had a really good offseason,” said Collins. “He’s come back strong and fast, I think our athletic training staff do an amazing job, as well as our strength coaches of getting these guys bigger, stronger, and faster, and being injury preventative. Jag is a big, physical, 6’1’’, 220 pound tailback, that we’re excited about.”
Coach Collins also mentioned his excitement for the return of sophomore running back Tyliek Raynor.
“Tyliek’s got the shiftiness to make you miss in the hole,” said Collins. “He’s actually put on 15 pounds since we’ve last had him at practice, so we’re excited about what he’s going to do. Tyliek had two really nice runs today, too.”
Andrew Thacker readies new role as Defensive Coordinator
by: Dan Wilson
Two years ago, when the Owls went 10-4 and won the AAC championship, their defense was lead by coordinator Phil Snow and their linebackers were led by coach Mike Siravo.
As 2018 spring football begins, both units have a new leader, as Andrew Thacker, Owls linebackers coach in 2017, has now also assumed the role of defensive coordinator.
Thacker, who came from being the linebackers coach at Kennesaw State and also has previous experience as the safeties coach for UCF and as a defensive assistant for the Atlanta Falcons, came into the program tasked with replacing all three starting linebackers last season.
“I’ve been given a great opportunity to work with a guy that I respect and that believes me in Coach Collins,” Thacker said. “For him to see values in me and to put me in this position [of defensive coordinator] is humbling.”
As he stepped into the first meeting of spring football to address his new defense or the “#DarkSide” as they call themselves, one his main opening messages came from something Thacker learned during his time with the Falcons.
“Change the Math,” Thacker told his team, alluding to the example of facing a future NFL receiver and giving them extra defensive attention in an attempt to give them a better statistical chance than more single coverage.
“I was with the Falcons and I actually got the ‘Change the Math’ from [then defensive coordinator] Mike Nolan,” Thacker said. “Imitation is the highest form of flattery, I just try to put my own personality and spin on it.”
As for a goal for his players this season, Thacker didn’t shy away from setting the bar high in the teams first meeting of the spring.
“Lead the country in turnovers,” Thacker told his defense. “We need to create chaos for offenses and cause takeaways.”
That’s a Wrap
The Owls’ will open up the 2018 season with the Cherry and White game on April 14th at the Temple Sports Complex. The regular season opens at home against Villanova University on September 9th in the battle for the Mayor’s Cup.
Temple will start the season against three out-of-conference opponents in Villanova, Buffalo, and Maryland before playing Tulsa in their first AAC matchup on September 20th. They’ll then play Boston College in their final out-of-conference game before moving onto the AAC portion of the season. After Boston College, East Carolina, Navy, Cincinnati, UCF, Houston, and USF await the Owls, with their final regular season game being played at UConn on November 24th. They will have an off-week between the game against Cincinnati and UCF.
WHIP Radio will be bringing the action on the RadioFX app and iHeartRadio with live broadcasts of all Temple home games.
Michael is an award-winning radio host at WHIP Radio. He has been a staple host on WHIP’s Wake Up Call, and has recently occupied the role of Program Director for the station.