What a difference a year makes.

Defensive end Eddie DeCambre, one of only four senior three-year lettermen on the 2011 football squad, can testify to the change in the attitude and the outlook as spring practice begins at Elliott T. Bowers Stadium.

DeCambre and 35 other student-athletes on the field this spring are all that remain of the more than 85 players who took part in preseason practice last March.

"We have come a long way since last spring," the 6-2, 245-pound defender from Austin said this week. "Last year we all were adjusting to a new coaching staff. This year we know what to expect and everyone is ready to work."

DeCambre's group from 2010 spring ball plus a large influx of new players in September meshed to become a young but exciting team that won six of its final nine games last fall. Coach Fritz's first Sam Houston squad was picked to finish next to last in the preseason polls but tied for third in the league race.

As a starter at defensive end in all 11 games, DeCambre totaled 34 tackles last year including five tackles for losses and three quarterback sacks.

One would think that posting a 6-5 winning record in the first year under a new head coach and building off that would be what is driving the Bearkats this spring.

But it is not. The 31-28 loss to archrival Stephen F. Austin, a 23-20 setback in overtime to Northwestern State and the 33-28 defeat at the hands of McNeese State is what is still fresh on the players' minds.

"What motivates us is that we lost conference by 11 points," Decambre said. "That is 11 points that we could have easily won the conference and nobody would have seen it coming. Now everybody knows that we are good, so we have to play that much harder, go that much harder in practice, go that much harder in the office and go all in."

Spring practice at Sam Houston began Monday March 21. The players will go through 15 practice sessions during the next three weeks.

For the first time ever, the annual Orange-White Spring Football Classic will be held on a week night. The contest which annually climaxes spring work will be held Thursday night, April 14 at 7 p.m.

"With the spring game on a Thursday night, we hope a lot more students will be able to attend," Fritz said. "The whole staff is looking forward to the opportunities spring ball brings. Without the weekly pressures of game preparation, it's a great time to get to know each of the players better and see what each young man can do.

"We're still a young squad with so many players who are going through their first spring practice. That's why is great to have experienced players like Eddie Decambre around to provide leadership."

Most of the early drills consist of working on little things like footwork and technique with some play running mixed in.It might not sound glamorous, but there is still work to be done.

"Right now we are just working on techniques," DeCambre added. "We are getting everything down pat. You have to start with the basics because those are important too. This is spring ball and the best time to work on that stuff."

"We are football guys. That is why we are out here. It's been a while since we got to play some football and we are ready to get after it."

Sam Houston will play six home games at Bowers Stadium during the 2011 season plus the "Battle of the Piney Woods" at Reliant Stadium in Houston. For information about Bearkat football season tickets, go to www.gobearkats.com/tickets .