Aug. 12—The longevity of a college football season can resemble a marathon, but preseason is much closer to a sprint.
UW-Eau Claire kicked the year off with its first day of practice on Thursday at Simpson Field. The Blugolds have just over three weeks until they open the season against Loras at Carson Park, making each passing day beforehand that much more important.
"If everybody listening thinks summer went fast, these three weeks go faster," coach Wesley Beschorner said. "It's great. We get so many practices and we try to utilize as much time as we can."
Nailing down the essentials and carving out an identity was a process that began over the offseason and in spring practice. Now it takes center stage as the countdown to kick off continuously ticks away.
Spots are up for grabs. Plays are waiting to be made. For the Blugolds, this is the time to do it.
"It's really important," Beschorner said. "It started in spring ball, it started in the summertime, this is just kind of the finish to that. Those guys have an idea, they've put in the back of their mind where they want to be on the depth chart. Now they've got to go prove it to the coaches and the team."
The Blugolds are coming off a 3-7 season last fall. Eau Claire won three of its first four games, but ended the year on a six-game losing streak. All six of those defeats came in WIAC play.
Thursday offered the first concrete steps to getting back on track.
"The guys are excited. They're fired up to be out here," Beschorner said. "I'm excited to see what we can do. We've got to watch the film to see how we actually did, but I appreciate the enthusiasm."
While last year's roster was loaded with seniors, the label was a bit deceptive. Beschorner said several players are utilizing the extra year of eligibility granted by the pandemic-canceled season of 2020. They've brought an air of familiarity to training camp, even if there's an unusually large freshman class aboard.
"The COVID year is a big deal," Beschorner said. "We have a lot of guys coming back. That year didn't count. A lot of guys are a junior in the classroom, they're a sophomore on the field. They're a junior in the classroom, and shoot, they're a freshman (in football). A couple of guys graduated early and they're going to go to grad school and continue to play. That's been fun to see. The guys just enjoy being around it. You only get a window, too, that's so small to play college football and they're taking advantage of it."
The early days of practice are focused on mastering the mental aspects of the game. The Blugolds are honing in on pre-snap elements and everything that they need to do off the field to be ready on game day.
The clock is ticking, so the need to be prepared is certainly on the team's radar.
"We've got to be more detailed and we know that," Beschorner said. "We've got to do that as coaches, players and staff. I appreciate what we did today. We'll see if we can stack another one."
While there is experience scattered across the roster, Eau Claire also has a boost from its incoming freshmen. Beschorner said the Blugolds brought in a larger recruiting class than normal this year. Some players will compete for immediate playing time, while others will add depth behind the upperclassmen.
"Continuing to add depth, that's something we've harped on and really, really worked hard at," Beschorner said. "I appreciate the coaches and everything they've done. We've spread our net a little bit bigger, but we do have some really good hometown talent.
"I think seeing them for the first time — you saw them maybe play a game in high school, or a basketball game or watched them wrestle or something like that — but actually seeing them coming out and practicing and in a meeting room, that was pretty neat. I'm excited to see what they can do. Some guys will probably play early, some guys it will take a little bit of time. Every kid's different."
The Blugolds' opener against Loras on Sept. 3 is set to kick off at 3:10 p.m. Eau Claire travels to Iowa to take on Central a week later before returning home for a bye week and then concluding nonconference play against Albion on Sept. 24.