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August 12, 2009

Freshmen Trying To Learn Ropes Quickly

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At the end of the second day of fall football practice, the players and coaches were all filing off the field. But there was freshman offensive lineman Logan Massengale hurriedly doing up-downs on the edge of the field, towards the scoreboard.

He let out a few grunts, but every few seconds, he was moving, doing another up-down as offensive coordinator Walter Wells barked at him to keep going.

Coming back the other direction after reaching the goal line, Massengale slowed down just past mid-field, struggling to make it to the other end zone. Within seconds, a swarm of Massengale's teammates huddled around him as he continued, urging him to keep going. True freshman quarterback Courtney Dalcourt even did up-downs to Massengale's left with him, while still willing him to continue.

Not a minute later, Massengale reached the end zone. You would've thought Massengale had scored a touchdown, as the ten or so players around him patted him on the back and helmet, congratulating him for finishing.

Massengale recounted later that the extracurricular activity was because of a smile that Wells interpreted as disrespect. Massengale said that it was a miscommunication and that he apologized to Wells that night.

After just two days of practice, there's already a bond among the players, among the incoming freshmen in particular. Massengale said that as he began his punishment of up-downs, he never thought his teammates would be there for support.

"That meant the world to be honest," he said. "Not even in high school when I was the "all-star" on the team. This is a big program and everything like that and for so many people that I'm just now getting to know, to rally behind me and help me up when I'm getting up and encouraging me and they constantly say positive an uplifting words, that was huge."

One of the most celebrated recruiting classes in WKU history is getting adjusted to many new surroundings and a new lifestyle at a fast pace as fall camp gets going. While it's not exactly smooth, the transition is coming at a good rate for coach David Elson, who said more true freshman than normal will be seeing playing time this season.

"It's really early, but just the skill level you see, it's just gonna take reps and meetings and walk-throughs," he said. "There's no question, I feel more confident now saying that there's gonna be four or five of them that are gonna contribute and really help us and some of them are such good athletes. We'll find out how physical they are, but we think special teams could be another place where they can really help us and build our depth there as well."

Practice at the highest level of college football is typically a rude-awakening for freshmen. Many talk in their recruitment of the desire to play immediately. But even before the season starts, they find out that might be tougher than it sounds.

"First, it's physical," freshman tight end Ed Hazelett said. "I was expecting the physicalness, but it's just so much faster than what we're used to. That was like the main thing that just jumps out, is how fast everything is and the learning process."

To help prepare the freshmen and the rest of the team, the Toppers went through a rigorous off-season training regimen from the strength and conditioning staff that included daily two-hour workouts. Those workouts ended with running the bleachers on the old side of L.T. Smith Stadium.

The players also took part in seven on seven workouts and drills in the weeks leading up to the start of fall camp.

"It helped me a lot," freshman running back Keshawn Simpson said. "I gained like five pounds and it feels like I'm a little bit faster than I used to be. But it seems like everybody's fast. Even the linemen are pretty fast."

A handful of the freshmen are already making strong impressions. Wide receivers Jamarielle Brown and Will Adams have made some acrobatic catches in drills, while defensively, players like linebacker Josh Carter and Cole Tischer have made key tackles.

The freshmen are running out of time to get adjusted and show that they're ready to play. WKU kicks off its season Sept. 5 at Tennessee, but in the weeks before that, redshirts will be given to the freshmen that aren't ready. The redshirts will sit out this season, while contributing on the scout team.

Right now, the adjustments are still being made. But Massengale and the rest of the freshmen do have one thing to help get them through: each other.

"I feel like, especially the o-linemen, all four of us are really tight," he said. "But even outside of that, all the receivers we signed and the quarterback and the running backs, from day one when we were moving in we all seemed to click. The cool thing about it, is it doesn't matter if you're white or black, if you're from the ghetto or the city or country, everybody clicks with everybody. You can hang out with anybody anytime of the day and it won't be awkward. We just make each other laugh and have a good time."


Check InsideHilltopperSports.com's Facebook page for a photo gallery from the first fay of practice



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