Indiana State players and coaches alike were happy Wednesday to be back on the turf at Memorial Stadium, no matter how hot it was.

One player was particularly appreciative.

“It was great to get out there and get my feet wet,” said Dakota Caton after ISU’s first fall practice. “I just want to contribute to the offense and special teams and try to be a leader out there.”

The Sullivan High School graduate is a returning all-Missouri Valley Football Conference kick returner and wide receiver for the Sycamores, but he hasn’t played since 2019 because of an injury and the 2020 season lost to COVID-19. His presence back in the lineup will be welcome, according to another all-MVFC receiver, Dante Hendrix, who praised Caton’s work after Wednesday’s practice.

Those weapons could be a security blanket for whichever of three candidates wins the quarterback job. Redshirt freshman Cade Chambers and junior college transfer Gavin Screws.

Both were available for spring practice, were joined Wednesday by Colorado State transfer Evan Olaes.

“We’ve got three guys battling,” coach Curt Mallory said after practice, “and for his first day, Evan Olaes showed some good things.”

Mallory was, as usual, enthusiastic about the first day but is looking forward to the second day — and the days after that — even more.

“There are some new faces out there,” Mallory said, “and it looked like that at times. Our execution has got to be better. We’ve got to come back and get those things cleaned up.”

Some key players are missing from last year’s 5-6 team, and the 2022 Sycamores are picked by the conference coaches and media members to finish 10th in an 11-team league. No one at Wednesday’s practice seemed devastated by that news.

“There are a lot of holes to fill,” Mallory said, “but that gives a lot of guys great opportunities.”

“We’ve got a bunch of hard-working guys that really want it,” pointed out senior defensive lineman Kris Reid Jr. “Coming together as a team is really important . . . but we ended last season on a good note, beating Illinois State [on the road], and we’re looking to carry that into the new season.”

“We’re always there for each other,” Caton said, “and I feel like [conference opponents] will see very soon what we’re all about.”

“We did not expect to get any respect from [the other MVFC teams],” Hendrix said. “It’s our job to change that narrative.”

Hendrix missed half of last season with an injury of his own, maybe the only reason he was just a second-team preseason all-conference selection.

“I’m happy with where I am, physically and mentally,” he said Wednesday. “This is my last ride, and I’m feeling very excited.

“I love the team that we have,” Hendrix continued. “Our 7-4 year, when we almost made the playoffs, we were picked 11th [in preseason].”

“I’m pleased with the way we worked during the summer,” Mallory said, praising his team’s strength and conditioning. “The defense is ahead [of the offense], which I expected, but generally I was pleased [with the first day].”

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