UB Bulls spring football practice begins
Changes to practice regimen lead to optimism for next year under new head coach
Junior quarterback Joe Licata said Wednesday’s first spring practice was one of the most intense practices he has ever been a part of.
But Licata – who is recovering from an offseason surgery – didn’t practice with the team at all. He just observed.
“I think we practiced a lot faster [than last year],” Licata said. “That was the quickest we’ve ever moved from drill to drill. It was very high intensity. That was one of the most intense practices I’ve ever been a part of in my four or five years here.”
Head coach Lance Leipold addresses the football team after his first practice as Bulls head coach in the ADPRO Sports Training Center. Leipold enters his first season in Buffalo after winning six national championships at the Division III level.
Members of the football team raise their helmets at the conclusion of the first day of spring practice. Senior Punter Tyler Grassman won Mid-American Conference Special Teams Player of the Week.
On Wednesday, the Lance Leipold era officially began in Buffalo as the Bulls held their first spring practice under the first-year Division-I head coach and the new staff at the ADPRO Sports Training Center in Orchard Park, New York.
One of the biggest differences the players noticed about the new staff was the approach to the pace of practice. Junior wide receiver Ron Willoughby said receiver practices under former head coach Jeff Quinn were the same drills over and over again. With Leipold, there are different drills every day for each position. Willoughby, who led Buffalo with 50 receptions, 771 yards and nine touchdowns last season, notes there is a lot of different play calling language he is not used to.
Licata feels the same way.
“The thought process behind these plays is a lot different,” Licata said. “The reads are different. The big thing is the verbage. Once we get everyone on the same page with the verbage, we’re gonna be running very smoothly.”
Leipold admitted it will take a while for the team to pick up on the terminology, but he said he hopes the personnel will pick it up by the end of spring.
Licata, who is expected to assume his role as starting quarterback, will not practice during spring workouts while recovering from offseason hip surgery for the second consecutive season. Licata suffered the latest hip injury last season. But Licata is confident he will be ready for the beginning of the season.
“I’m feeling good,” Licata said. “Feeling better every day. I’ll be back by the summer. Full go, 100 percent. I’m looking forward to that. Watching these guys competing is making me jealous.”
Licata said he was on and off crutches after the surgery, but he’s not using them anymore. He also said he will start a training regimen in two weeks, which begins with light jogging.
Leipold is not concerned with Licata’s ability to learn the system despite not practicing under center.
There was an optimistic vibe around the Bills Fieldhouse in the first organized team practice since the end of last year, in which the Bulls finished 5-6 after finishing 8-5 the previous season. Willoughby was excited to get back on the field and start “running around again.”
Junior running back Anthone Taylor, who led the Bulls with 1,403 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns last season, said the coaching switch promoted a lot of excitement due to Leipold’s new approach to practice.
“I feel like there’s a lot of excitement out here,” Taylor said. “You can just feel on both sides of the ball a lot of excitement … coach Leipold is very encouraging about growing. If you don’t have an answer, he encourages you to work hard and seek help and don’t be afraid to say you don’t know something.”
Leipold acknowledged the departure of many key defensive players for next season – more than half of last season’s starting defense next season graduated, including safety Adam Redden and linebacker Lee Skinner. Redden and Skinner ranked No. 1 and 2 on the team last season with 78 and 96 tackles, respectively.
Leipold said he is not afraid to try out different players at different positions as long as it will help the Bulls win.
“We’re hoping the first move is the right move,” Leipold said. “We’re trying to find a way to get our best 11 players on the field and build depth from there. Anything is open.”
Buffalo is entering its first season with the established Division-III coach at the helm. Leipold went 106-6, including five national championships in six years at Wisconsin-Whitewater. Willoughby said it will take a while to learn the new system and most of the teams’ work thus far has been in the film room.
With one practice complete, Leipold said he wants to work on “the little things.”
“It’s the little things that we’re able to pick up and be the fundamental football team that we expect to be,” Leipold said. “Not just the schematics of what we’re doing. We can do it at a pace that we want. Those will come because I know they’re receptive to it.”
The Bulls resume practice on Friday at the ADPRO Sports Training Center. The team will practice roughly 15 times before the annual Blue-White scrimmage on April 18. Most practices will be held at UB Stadium, dependent on weather.
Jordan Grossman is a senior sports editor and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org