Despite being interrupted by the typical afternoon thunderstorms, the Charleston Southern football team enjoyed a spirited workout as the preseason practices opened up on campus Friday afternoon.
Ninety players attended the first day of workouts, which began at 3:30 in the afternoon. By 5 p.m., the team was indoors waiting out the storm. They returned to the field at 7:30 p.m. and practiced for another hour before rains halted the work for the day.
Head coach Jay Mills says his team was crisp and enthused but was not surprised because of the commitment shown during the summer.
"I think what we are seeing here today on this first day can be directly attributed to the leadership of our seniors, which is the largest group of seniors we've had," said Mills, who enters his eighth season as the school's all-time winningest coach. "I believe this is an exceptional group of seniors who started right after last season ended in preparing this entire team for this day.
"I think the commitment has been outstanding. From top to bottom, if you take number one on the list and number 90 on the list, the margin is smaller than ever. We talk about as iron sharpens iron so does one man sharpen another and that is evident right now."
Senior defensive end Joel Walton, a preseason all-conference selection, lived in town all summer and was one of the leaders in getting the players to voluntary workouts over the summer.
"I think we had like 65 guys for the first summer school session and we were close to 100 for summer two session, so that tells me that we have a lot of committed football players in this program," said Walton. "As a team, we worked very hard. We had a lot of the freshmen here all summer and that's a big thing."
Senior quarterback A.J. Toscano echoes Walton's sentiments, and feels he is more ready to be a leader than he was a season ago.
"I hit the playbook hard and watched a lot of film because I realize I have to play better if we're going to be successful as a team," Toscano said. "We just tried to study and improve and our goal was to be more prepared for the start of preseason practice."
Charleston Southern returns a good deal of experience on the offensive side of the ball and Mills says the first week or two of August drills will focus on establishing depth.
The defense, however, has more questions in terms of depth and even in some starting roles.
"We still have to go through a mini-spring ball evaluation, particularly on defense," said Mills. "We have some transfers in and some high school players that we need to determine who can play where."
Mills is optimistic with this squad.
"I can tell already that this is going to be a fun group to coach," he said. "We've got a lot of work to do between now and the first game but I know this team is ready to work."