Miami Football’s annual Spring Showcase attracted hundreds of fans into the Dauch Indoor Sports Center (DISC) the afternoon of April 20, all hoping for a glimpse of next year’s RedHawks’s squad. The Showcase also marked the end spring practice.
June Bolden, grandmother of incoming freshman linebacker Luke Bolden, attended her first Showcase at Miami, but her third such exhibition in the past couple of weeks.
She was in Oxford to support her grandson, she said, but had to be careful not to show too much support for Miami. In previous weeks, she attended spring games of the University of Cincinnati and the University of Toledo football teams, cheering on two other grandsons at their respective schools.
Miami Cheerleaders greeted fans as they walked in the doors of the DISC. To the left, tables and racks of used Miami gear was for sale. A fenced-in area encapsulated the field on which the scrimmage would be played, and just in front of that were big mobile bleachers packed with red and white clad fans.
This past fall, the team and fans were left with many questions. Nineteen seniors played their final snaps, a lot of whom filled starting and crucial back-up roles on the team. On the bright side, Miami has 29 recruits in the incoming freshman class, making opportunities available everywhere.
“Not only starting positions are open, but more so even back up positions,” Head Coach Chuck Martin said in a post-Showcase interview with the media. “You’re trying to create that depth at certain spots.”
Martin said he was very pleased with the team, including the new freshman who had only a couple weeks of practice before the Showcase. “A lot of those young kids have come a long way in a short amount of time,” he said.
Two main positions are left with a void to be filled with the graduation of quarterback Gus Ragland, and running back, Kenny Young.
The quarterback position currently is a tight competition between the soon-to-be sophomores Jackson Williamson and A.J. Mayer.
Martin said he is conflicted because of the talent both young quarterbacks possess and how similar their skill sets are to one another. “They both can run, they’re both big … they both have the strong arms to push it down the field, they’re both young,” Martin said. “Their decision-making today was really good.”
Williamson went 3 for 11 for 45-yards through the air, including a touchdown and added 32-yards on three rushes and another touchdown. Mayer threw for 42-yards in six passes on nine attempts and also recorded a touchdown, and added 14 yards on two carries.
Williamson is 6 foot 2 inches, 210 pounds while Mayer is 6 foot 3 inches, 213 pounds.
Martin said he expects that the competition for the starter role will continue right up to the opening game against Iowa this fall.
Filling Kenny Young’s running back position isn’t going to be simple either. Martin said he is confident he will have up to five possible guys ready to go come fall, three of whom he’s confident are past the developmental stage. Maurice Thomas, Jaylon Bester and Davion Johnson are in line to get the ball in the backfield and fill the void in some form of rotation.
Unfortunately, Thomas and Johnson missed all or most of the spring practices due to injuries. But that also gave the young, new players more repetitions and chances to develop this spring.
Bester ran for 20-yards on three carries and Johnson ran for 28-yards and a touchdown on five carries.
On the flipside of the ball, the loss of linebacker Brad Koenig leave the defense in a different position than last year. Koenig led the team with 101 total tackles, 62 of which were solo, with Mike Brown the next closest with 58. In addition, Koenig also led the team with three interceptions out of the team’s eight and was the only member of the defense to have more than one interception.
Martin said Miami wants to improve on last year’s defense. He expects some back-ups from last year, Ryan McWood and Myles Reid, to take the reins.
“Fundamentals and obviously improving in the pass game,” are what the team needs to work on, Martin said. “I feel good about McWood, I feel good about Myles, but a lot of the back-up positions are very important.”
In losses last year to Minnesota and Buffalo, the RedHawks gave up three passing touchdowns, and in a loss to Western Michigan, the team gave up five passing touchdowns, and 439-yards through the air.
Martin said he was confident in his team’s effort and ability at the Showcase this past weekend and gives a lot of reasons to be excited about the upcoming RedHawk football season, but nothing is set in stone.
“We got starters fighting for starting positions and they’re playing better than they did in the fall,” Martin said.
The RedHawks open its regular season Aug. 31, at Iowa.