TERRE HAUTE —
Many things change from year one to year two in someone’s coaching regime, but when it comes to football, few things change more dramatically in that span than spring football practice.
That is the case as Indiana State began spring practice on Monday. In year two of the Mike Sanford era, the days spent last season on coaches getting acclimated to players, and vice versa, new systems and practice regimens are gone.
This spring it’s all about the football. Sanford knows it has to be. After an injury-ravaged 1-11 season in 2013, the Sycamores are hoping for a fresh start.
“They say in college football, during the course of a season, the biggest improvement should be from game one to game two. The same thing should be true with this team. We need to improve in a dramatic way from year one to year two. This spring is critical for that,” Sanford said.
Robert Tonyan Jr. — more on him in a minute — knows that last season wasn’t up to the recent standard set by the program and he’s eager to make up for it.
“We’re eager to get back on the field. We just want to redeem what last year was. We’re keeping it simple with concepts on offense and defense and there’s a lot more trust in the coaching staff because we’ve been with them for a year,” Tonyan said.
Sanford had on Monday what he rarely had last fall — a healthy complement of players to run a practice with. Most of the injury issues from the fall have worked themselves out. Stability is a trait the Sycamores rarely had in 2013 and Sanford is hoping he has it this spring.
“The big thing for us is to stay healthy. I love having these guys out here and healthy,” Sanford said.
Stability, however, doesn’t mean there isn’t change. Tonyan, who played in 11 games at quarterback last season, has been reborn as a wide receiver. ISU will switch from the 4-3 defense with 3-4 principles that it ran in 2013, and that it used back into the Trent Miles era, with a true 3-4 defense this season.
“I’m excited about that,” said Sanford on the new defensive scheme. “I think it fits our personnel that we have.”
There are new faces at practice too, including a pair of transfers from Cincinnati that could loom large in ISU’s plans.
Running back Keionte Buckley and quarterback Patrick Coyne took their first snaps as Sycamores. Buckley rushed for 1,610 yards and 27 touchdowns in his final season at Warren Central in 2011. He rushed for 32 yards with the Bearcats before sitting out 2013 with the intention of coming to ISU.
Buckley competes for time in the backfield with Buck Logan — one of the pleasant surprises of 2013 — as well as LeMonte Booker and redshirt freshman Dmitri Taylor.
“I bring a big play ability and I’m a downhill, physical runner. I can make a guy miss,” Buckley said. “I take pride in my pass pro [protection]. That’s something I bring from Cincinnati to here. Pass pro is very important and that’s something I take a lot of pride in.”
Coyne was a highly-touted quarterback at Cincinnati Badin High School — he threw for 1,642 yards as a junior at Badin before a shoulder injury scuttled his senior season — but was switched to tight end at Cincinnati. He did not play in a game for the Bearcats.
Coyne will be one of four quarterbacks — Mike Perish, Trent Lancaster and Matt Adam are the others — who will compete for the quarterback job.
“I come with a passion for the game. I love football and I bring the ability to run the ball. I want to bring the expectations up of the players around me,” Coyne said. “The opportunity to play here was big. They were honest with me that I could come here and get a shot to play if I can come and prove myself. I haven’t earned anything yet, but I’m going to keep working and earn it.”
Buckley and Coyne are two of the four Division I transfers currently on the roster. Linebacker Jordan Wallace is an Indiana transfer and defensive lineman Kris Davis came to ISU from Miami of Ohio.
ISU will continue practice through March and April. It will play its spring game on Friday, April 25.