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Penn football started their spring training practices at Franklin Field on March 22.

Credit: Samantha Turner

Spring is for new beginnings: flowers blooming, leaves sprouting, and the official start of a new season for Penn football. Wiping away the old, the Quakers get to go out on the field with a fresh start. 

On a cold Friday night, the Red and Blue took the field for the first time since its organized winter practices before spring break. This organized play marks the first of many practices that will be held in hopes of building team cohesion and staying in shape ahead of the fall.

As the team ran out onto Franklin Field, each position group took to their own personalized drills. At some points, the whole team would come together for stretching and the occasional group huddle, but the real show came with the start of one-versus-one and seven-versus-seven drills. 

In the one-versus-one drills, wide receivers were given the chance to practice deep ball receptions on one side of the field, while defensive backs were given the chance to practice getting interceptions on the other side. These simple drills are usually meant for the quarterbacks, like expected senior starter Aidan Sayin or sophomore backup Devin Page, to practice ball placement downfield. Despite this fact, there was more attention given to a certain receiver than the quarterbacks: Julien “Juice” Stokes. Injured last season and redshirting at this practice, Stokes was celebrated loudly by his teammates for participating in what was likely his first organized football practice in months.

Stokes showed off by catching the ball with only one hand multiple times as his teammates yelled his nickname, “Juice,” as well as phrases like “he’s back” in admiration.

“On offense last year, we had two guys who were great players for us the year before who couldn’t play, Juice Stokes and Justin Cayenne,” Sayin said. “It’ll be great having them back, both of them do things that you can’t replicate so it’ll be fun having them back running around out there.”

Past the one-on-one play, the organized offense-versus-defense reps sparked the most attention as players went out to sharpen their skills. Facing off against their own teammates, each side went out to play for pride and bragging rights.

This play produced a certain amount of highlight plays for players on both sides of the ball. Another receiver, junior Alex Haight, showed off his athleticism on multiple occasions with diving catches down the field. On one particular play, Haight fully extended for a reception, resulting in a touchdown off of a sharp pass from Sayin. The acrobatic finish resulted in the offensive sideline bursting into cheers as they jeered at the defense.

On another impressive play, Page unleashed a perfect pass to the left corner of the endzone towards junior receiver Sage Webb, creating another incredible pass that earned high praise from the rest of the team.

“One play today in particular, I want to shout out Devin Page throwing to Sage Webb,” Sayin said. “Touchdown left side of the endzone, great throw.”

Despite these highlight-reel finishes, there were also plenty of great plays made by the defense. Seeing a decent amount of turnover with plenty of veteran defensive backs graduating, young players will be forced to step up in practice and the ensuing season.

One athlete who filled his role well — and is a name to watch for next season — is sophomore defensive back Devin Malloy. Recording two straight interceptions during open play, Malloy was uniquely impressive. For one interception, he recovered a tipped pass that he forced with physical play, and for the other, he smoothly flipped his hips to get into position. Demonstrating a complete defensive package in practice, Malloy is only one of the young impressive players the Red and Blue are excited to see perform next year.

“We lost a ton of seniors, a lot of leaders last year,” senior linebacker Jack Fairman said. “Seeing all the new faces out there making plays is the best thing you can see.”

Besides these highlights, players were given the opportunity to see the field, but were restricted from any form of contact. While this type of play has its limits, the importance of just seeing the field and hearing from coaches is immeasurable.

Stepping back from the offense-versus-defense drills, the real importance of a first practice lies in the preparation. There’s a saying in sports that when you aren’t getting better, you’re getting worse. This mentality rings true in football, as coaches focus on keeping players in game shape over the course of a lengthy offseason.

As the spring season moves forward, it’ll be fun to see how the team progress in preparation for the upcoming season. With plenty of starting positions up in the air on both sides of the ball, the Quakers have plenty to learn about themselves before they are ready for competitive play.