Believe it or not, football season is upon us.
Penn football took the gridiron on Friday night for its annual spring game at Franklin Field. This intersquad competition marked the conclusion of the spring season for the Red and Blue, following 11 official practices, the first of which was on February 26.
The offense was dressed in white jerseys, while the defense wore blue, and even though no score was kept, there was no shortage of competition. Before starting the first session, the offense and defense came together at the 50-yard line in front of coach Ray Priore. The players could not contain themselves, jumping around and getting fired up as if it were an Ivy League game.
This level of energy continued into game play. The first few minutes consisted of individual position drills, which then expanded into a short seven-on-seven session. After that, the real fun began, as the Quakers ran a full set of 11-on-11. This included various in-game situations, with the offense sometimes starting with a short field and other times having to drive 75 yards to score. The end of the session also included a couple of two-minute drills.
And while the regular season is still a few months away, it’s never too early to start thinking about who will be on the field this fall. Penn will be without a few central playmakers from last season’s roster, but there is no doubt that the Red and Blue have players who are ready to step into a starting role.
“We lost a lot of key players, obviously that happens every year, but we’ve taken some really good strides,” said junior Tommy Dennis, a two-year starter on the offensive line. “The way our program works is just next guy up, so everyone knows what they’re doing, everyone’s ready to step up...we have a lot of spaces to fill and a lot of talent to fill it.”
Of course, the most impactful loss in terms of a single player is the departure of wide receiver Justin Watson, whose records and accolades speak for themselves. With Watson, as well as tight end Nicholas Bokun, graduating this spring, the door is open for a number of receivers to fill that void.
Last season, junior Christian Pearson had the most receiving yards (225) and touchdowns (two) of all the returning wideouts, so he is sure to be an impact player in the fall. Joining him will likely be sophomores Tyler Herrick and Kolton Huber, as well as junior Steve Farrell. Junior tight end Logan Sharp will be the next man up to replace Bokun.
Even without Watson on the field next season, the team, according to Priore, will reap the benefits of the winning culture that Watson has helped to maintain at Penn.
“One of the best things that Justin brought us was an attitude and a way of how to practice and how to play,” Priore said. “And I think what he’s been able to do in his four years is sprinkle that to many of our players...it’s an opportunity for other players to step up. I think what Justin was able to do was phenomenal for our program over the last four years, and we loved every minute of it. In the end, it’s someone else’s turn to be that new number five.”
The man who will be throwing the ball to the “new number five” is also currently undecided. Leading the offense and replacing Will Fischer-Colbrie will be either sophomore Nick Robinson or freshman Ryan Glover, with the two splitting snaps equally during the spring game.
“What [Robinson and Glover] got right now is confidence; they’re getting a lot of repetitions, and they’re getting better and better each and every day, and it’s great to see” Priore said. “We just try to promote these guys to keep on competing, keep on fighting. We’re a long way from making a decision on anything right now; we’re just thankful that they improved every single day during camp.”
With Penn’s ultimate goal being a return to the Ivy League throne, morale is high after the conclusion of the spring season, and there’s a great deal of confidence that this team has championship DNA.
“I think the energy we brought this spring was what I’ve seen in the past two teams I’ve played for that won a championship,” junior safety Sam Philippi said. “Everybody’s flying around, everybody’s playing with energy, and it’s been one of the best springs I’ve ever had here.”
The Quakers hope to keep building and developing into the summer and ultimately the fall. And even though it is still very early, the team looks poised to put itself in a great position to win the program’s third Ivy title in four years.
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