You could hear a pin drop toward the end of the Buffalo football team’s first spring practice at the ADPro Sports Training Center Tuesday as head coach Lance Leipold addressed his team.
Minutes later, one voice emerged with a vicious “all” yell, followed by a “for one” chant by the rest of the team as the practice officially came to a close.
It’s been nearly a month since former Bull Solomon Jackson died following a medical emergency at a team conditioning session on Feb. 22. Tuesday marked the Bulls’ first official spring practice for the upcoming 2016 season and first after the death of Jackson.
The university has still yet to release Jackson’s cause of death.
The Bulls have dedicated the upcoming season to their fallen teammate, including using the chant “all for one” – a play on No. 41, which Jackson donned. “All41” also appeared on the team’s helmets. The No. 41 will not be worn by any player next season.
“For everyone’s sake, [it’s good] just to be back doing what we do,” Leipold said. “Year two officially starts for us.”
Jackson’s close friend and teammate junior linebacker Jarrett Franklin said there’s a different energy at practice than in years past. Players would joke around with one another on the playing field or continue to keep laughing even after a subpar play.
Sometimes, laughter is the best medicine.
Franklin believes it’s because of how Jackson would have wanted the team to play. Leipold touched on how revered Jackson was as a player and a teammate – a person with a genuine smile who worked to be the best.
“If Solo was out here, he’d work every single second he got,” Franklin said. “So that’s how we have to attack the season. We have to work every single second we have, during the meetings at 5 a.m., and when we work out in the weight room or on the field, we have to work like Solo.”
And so they will.
Franklin noted there will be a mix up at positions for next year. He believes everyone has an opportunity to prove their worth to the team, from the players who rode the bench last year to the incoming players fresh off a redshirt year.
The first practice allowed the UB coaching staff to have its first glance at the next group that has hopes to win a Mid-American Conference title. With program all-time leading passer Joe Licata, and even his backup Tony Daniel, graduated, the helm of the offense will be up for grabs for a slew of freshman and transfer quarterbacks. A new linebacker trio will be formed due to the graduation of Okezie Alozie and Nick Gilbo.
And there’s the defensive line, which will return all but one player: Jackson.
“Our performance on the field is a reflection of honoring Solomon,” said defensive coordinator Brian Borland. “I think that’s great incentive for people to do things the right way.”
Jackson started eight games for the Bulls last season and was slated to play a bigger role in the upcoming season.
But because of the influx of defensive linemen and the success of the system last year, Borland said the team will continue with its 4-3 defensive scheme.
“I’m not saying [Jackson] isn’t missed and couldn’t help because he surely could have and would have,” Borland said. “But we do have some depth there.”
Still, overcoming the death of a teammate and friend could be a lot to handle for a team – even when it starts the season five months from now. Players and coaches are still grieving. Leipold admits he still has some sleepless nights and still thinks about Jackson daily – Franklin the same.
But the first practice allowed the team to return to their normal football lives – a chance to play as hungry as they knew Jackson would want them to.
“We’re hungrier and were doing it for Solo,” Franklin said. “Our helmets now have something that we can look at every single time we go back to the locker room and say it is all for one. It’s all for Solo. We get to do it and he doesn’t.”