OXFORD — The Miami University football team opened its 17-session fall practice schedule on Thursday, and while the players were predictably rough around the edges, 10th-year coach Chuck Martin was in mid-season form as he stalked the artificial turf Yager Stadium playing surface, wearing a black hat in the bright morning sunshine.
“Keep doing it your way, and you’ll keep not having success,” he loudly told one player.
“Good things will happen if we play fast,” he reminded the players.
“When a guy gets hurt, that’s your chance to win a spot,” he chided another player. “That’s a dream come true.”
“Quit walking around,” he yelled to nobody in particular. “I hate walking around. We’re only out here an hour, and you’re wasting 30 seconds.”
Martin referenced a count of 110 players on hand for the workouts leading up to the regular-season opener on Sept. 1 at the University of Miami. The RedHawks also are scheduled to play road games against the University of Massachusetts, a former Mid-American Conference member, on Sept. 9 and the University of Cincinnati on Sept. 16 before opening their home schedule against Delaware State on Sept. 23.
Miami, which finished last season tied for fourth in the MAC East while going 6-7 overall and 4-4 in the conference and lost to Alabama-Birmingham in the Bahamas Bowl, was picked in a pre-season MAC coaches’ poll to finish second this season in the East Division behind Ohio University.
Martin admitted that gleaning meaningful information out of the first fall practice is difficult.
“It was fast,” he said as players stretched and wound down from the session. “Some of it was good. Some of it was bad. Some of it was ugly. It was a standard first day, but it was fun to be out here.
“Some of the younger players have to learn, ‘I have to do this every down, or can I just float and do my own thing?’”
The RedHawks return seven starters on offense, nine on defense and three on special teams, including junior punter Dom Dzioban, a second-team all-conference pick last season who recently was named to the watch list for the Ray Guy Award, awarded annually to the punter judged to be the nation’s best.
Among the players who had stood out during Thursday’s practice was 6-foot-2, 202-pound sixth-year senior wide receiver Joe Wilkins, Jr., a transfer from Notre Dame who made impressive contested catches along the right sideline on back-to-back plays.
Martin, 45-59 overall and 37-30 in conference play over nine seasons as Miami’s coach, warned that any signs of progress shouldn’t be taken too seriously after just one day.
“We’re not in pads yet, so you should take progress with a grain of salt,” he said. “Our guys worked their tails off all summer.”
What he was thankful for was the physical condition of his team.
“We’re pretty good,” he said. “We have a few guys nicked up, but nothing major. All the guys are back in camp. We’re in the best shape of our lives. They’re all stronger than they were a year ago.”
One of his main goals is to keep it that going into the opener.
“We just want to be prepared, physical and mentally, and be tough enough to play four quarters,” he said.