Coastal football hits spring practice field full of hope

ccufoot-practiceThe Coastal Carolina football program has officially begun its defense of the 2013 Big South title by opening spring drills this week.

After a frigid first day Wednesday, the official first day of spring Thursday was picture-perfect for a practice. The squad will close the week with a pair of practices and conclude spring drills April 12 with annual Spring Game at 1:30 pm.

“We are excited to be out here,” said two time National FCS Head Coach of the Year finalist Joe Moglia. “We can certainly build on last year’s success and that experience is beneficial. However, if we won the national championship or did not win a single game last year, it has no effect on this coming year. What we do during this time, this summer, the preseason and each week of next season is all that matters.

“We have a solid group coming back and some with a little game experience. We have to get those with some experience or no experience a lot of reps this spring. Having quality depth is essential to every program.”

Coastal Carolina returns 56 lettermen (22 on offense, 31 on defense and 3 specialists) and 15 starters (five on offense, seven on defense and three specialists). The Chanticleers will have to replace 25 lettermen (12 on offense and 13 on defense) and 10 starters (four on offense and six on defense).

Specifically, Coastal has two of its top three rushers back from 2013, including running back De’Angelo Henderson and quarterback Alex Ross. However, Coastal will have to replace All-American and 2013 Big South Offensive Player of the Year Lorenzo Taliaferro (1,729 yards and 27 touchdowns).

While the Chants have the luxury of rising junior Ross returning to run the offense, four of his top five targets – Matt Hazel, DeMario Bennett, Niccolo Mastromatteo and Taliaferro – are gone. Rising junior Tyrell Blanks had 29 receptions as a freshman and 23 last season. Rising sophomore Bruce Mapp hauled in 20 passes as a freshman in 2013 and John Israel averaged 19.8 yards on his 13 receptions last season. Also all three tight ends are back, including Thomas Pauciello and his three scores.

The defense may have lost six of its 11 starters, but 17 of its top 24 tacklers are back, including All-American and two-time Big South Defensive Player of the Year Quinn Backus.

Coastal lost two starters on the defensive front four, but have a total of 10 lettermen back including All-Big South selection Calvin Hollenhorst.

The linebackers suffered a huge loss with the graduation of two-time All-Big South selection Mike McClure but seven lettermen return including Brett Johnson and Colton Blackburn.

The secondary returns four starters, losing just LaDarius Hawthorne, with All-Big South picks Denzel Rice and Richie Sampson back. Also two-year starter and rising senior Pernell Williams returns as well as both Samson Baldwin (10 starts) and Kamron Summers (five starts), who combined for the 15 starts opposite Rice at corner.

For the second consecutive year, the specialists – All-Big South kicker Alex Catron, long snapper Shane Ballard and 2013 CCU record-setter for average yards per punt Austin Cain – return intact.

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