Martin calls Spring Practice 'awesome'
OXFORD, OH -- Spring has been good for the Miami RedHawks football team -- good enough to bring back a little more contact at the annual Spring Showcase event, which closes spring practice.
In recent years, the showcase has featured a variety of drills, with some scrimmage plays thrown into the mix. Head coach Chuck Martin, however, elected to divide this year's spring squad into two units and have a little competition. Bragging rights for the day went to Team Schembechler, as it defeated Team Parseghian 19-0. More importantly, the event capped off what Martin considers a productive spring.
One of the best parts was coming out healthy. While a few starters missed the final, the injuries weren't all that serious. In fact, even more should be ready for fall camp and/or the season opener at Miami (Fla).
"We're in really good . . .
. . . shape (even though) ... we banged around in spring as hard as we've banged around in some time," head coach Chuck Martin said.
"Spring was awesome," he continued "We got a ton of work done. Fifteen great days. ... The compete level was fantastic."
As expected, the RedHawks defense was ahead of the offense a good portion of the time. "We've got nine starters back (on defense)," Martin noted. "We were number one in the league last year on scoring defense. ... We have a lot more to do on offense, but we're excited about where our offense is going."
Among the reasons:
Brett Gabbert's injury in Week One, along with another later in the season, kept him out of the lineup for much of the campaign. The burden fell on freshman Aveon Smith, who had to learn on the fly. Both QBs are back, along with Colorado transfer Maddox Kopp.
Gabbert watched most of Saturday's event, but the junior his healthy and primed for a big season.
"He's always tryng to take his game to the next level, even though he's accomplished a lot already.
"We told him in January, we were going to put a lot more on his play with "in-play" decisions. Brett is really at the stage of his career where he can handle more," Martin said.
That process seems to be going well. "He had a monster spring," said Martin, adding that Smith and Kopp also showed plenty of skills.
"A-V, with all his game experience he got last year, is a totally different A-V now. He took a giant step forward throwing (and) commanding our offense." The sophomore tossed two touchdown passes in saturday's showcase.
Kopp, meanwhile, has quickly shown promise. "With Maddox just getting here in January, (he) has had a phenominal short window here with us. He got tons of reps (and) he's got a high ceiling."
Given the available talent, Martin is feeling much better about quarterback depth his season.
The passing game may also may also get a boost from MU's crop this year. Mac Hippenhammer and Jalen Walker are gone, so former Indiana Hoosier Miles Marshall is the primary returning widout. However, two transfers will be join a talented group of younger players who Martin feels showed growth and potential during the spring.
Joe Wilkins is a 6-2 receiver from Notre Dame. As a senior in 2021, he played in ND's first five games before suffering a season-ending injury against Cincinnati. Last year, he was primarily on the kick return unit. "He got his feet wet (this spring), and he is going to be in a position to help us in the fall," Martin said.
Gage Larvadain led Southeastern University last year with 59 catches for 731 yards (12.39 ypc). The 5-10 sophomore scored two TDs in 2022.
Among the young newcomers, Martin noted two players who "really stepped up."
"Reggie Virgil (6-4) had a great spring. He's just scratching the surface of who he can become," Martin said. The sophomore had one TD grab among his receptions Saturday. Javon Tracy (6-0), meanwhile, "had a nice catch and run."
Those "guys really stepped up to the level we tought they could and probably higher," Martin said. "They have fantastic strengths."
Although guard Caleb Shaffer (Oklahoma) and center Rusty Feth (Iowa) are gone, Martin remains optimistic about his year's group up front.
He noted Sam Vaughn will be "cleared and healthy" in time for the opener. With Will Jados returning, the RedHawks have another experienced tackle. Guard Kolby Borders and tackle Reid Holskey are also back.
"Even though we lost two, I feel like we've got four returners, and then we've got a lot of other guys that had really good springs," Martin said, adding players like Charlie Nank took "a big step forward."
-- Saturday's event started with a roar as Martin surprised redshirt sophomore defensive back Silas Walters with a scholarship.
First, Martin ostensibly brought Walters, a Lakota West High School grad, in front of the squad to call for his unit in a coin flip. He then gave the walk-on three options: offense, defense or ... a scholarship!
With the latter, Walters teammates let out a roar and swarmed him.
Martin later noted both his pride and joy at being able to reward the player's hard work, grit and determination.
"That's probably the best part of my job ... to see a kid earn it like that and have that moment," said Martin, adding that Walters persevered despite being told on several occasions that he wouldn't be able to reach his goal of being a Division I football player.
Walters has already seem some game action. He was in on a big down field pass breakup early in practice and is expected to make contributions again this season.
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Editor-Publisher Mike Smith
Mike grew up in Mid-American Conference football and basketball territory and returned there after military service. He has been covering MAC football and men's basketball for much of the last several decades.