Friday evening the Bearkats finally got back to work preparing for a new season.
Beneath the lights at Bowers Stadium, Sam Houston players suited up in their practice jerseys and helmets and kicked off their 2012 campaign.
"We've been preparing since we got back in the offseason in the spring. In the summer, we just started to get back to football. It's just like a weight lifted off your shoulder," Kats do-it-all junior Richard Sincere said of waiting for the start of preseason camp.
"You've been ready all offseason long just to get back to the grind. So that's we've been focusing on, just on our team and getting back to the grind and our routine."
Throughout the practice that was designed to touch as many of the bases as possible, position groups specialized in ball security for skill position players, while the offense and defense worked on drills. The Kats even played a little 7-on-7 Friday evening.
"You kind of teach the lowest common denominator for the first week and a half. You're trying to get everybody some reps and get everybody to learn," Kats head coach Willie Fritz said. "After a week and a half, we'll start teaching the highest common denominator and if you don't know what we're doing, 2012 is not going to be the year that you're going to play a whole lot."
During last season's undefeated run through the regular season and three rounds of the playoffs, the Kats used a potent offense with a prolific running tandem of Sincere and Walter Payton Award finalist Tim Flanders to carve up opposing defenses as well as boasted a fierce, suffocating defense.
With nearly all of its starters, including several reserves who saw starter-like action, back on a defense that finished the 2011 season ranked No. 1 in rushing defense, No. 2 in scoring defense and turnover margin and No. 3 in total defense, the experienced Kats on the defensive side of the ball look to find more ways to cause even more havoc.
"It's a lot easier, having everybody knowing everything. Everything's flowing a lot smoother for a first day than at any other time since I've been here," senior linebacker Darius Taylor said. "I think it's going to be much easier this fall camp, just getting through the plays and going over them.
"We went over some film and coach showed us chances we missed to get turnovers and there were probably about 20 solid opportunities to get turnovers. It's hard to build on what we did last year, but all we've got to do is continue to get better individually and everything will take care of itself."
While the defense, which also has all of its defensive coaches intact from a year ago, looked to perfect their calls and assignments, the offense is still diving headfirst into a tweaked scheme that is still being installed by new offensive coordinator Doug Ruse.
The offense worked out of a number of formations, including the shotgun and "wild Bearkat" as well as utilizing a high-speed tempo, and looked to establish a refined passing game with quarterback Brian Bell and receivers Trey Diller, Torrance Williams, Sincere and others.
"We're just all trying to get on the same page with some new things," Sincere said. "We've got to take baby strides to get where we want to be. We have a new scheme that we're trying to work on. We're just all going to come together and make strides as a team to get where we want to get as a unit."
Friday's workout was just the beginning and they've still got plenty of time to shore up rusty parts of their game before the season opener on Sept. 8 against Incarnate Word at Bowers Stadium.
Aside from getting everything down pat in the playbook, the other big goal for the Bearkats is to ensure that all of their players remain healthy through the next four weeks.
"We've got an old team and most of the guys have been starting for about two or three years now, some of them," Taylor said. "We're just trying to stay healthy and if we can stay healthy through camp, I think all the pieces will fall into place and we can have another great season."
After another day of working out in helmets, the Bearkats will put on shoulder pads Sunday morning for their first dose of contact drills leading up to their scrimmage next Saturday.
Little Kat Camp - Saturday morning, the Bearkats will be out on the turf at Bowers to host the third annual Little Kat Camp, which is free to all youngsters ages 5 to 12. Players will work with campers at different stations to teach fundamentals of passing, running, catching, blocking and tackling. Little Kat Camp is set to begin at 9 a.m. and be finished at approximately 11:30 a.m. Participants in the free youth clinic are asked to bring practice clothes, cleats, gym shorts, a T-shirt, socks and athletic supporters.
Season Tickets for Sam Houston State football are on sale now online at www.gobearkats.com/tickets or at the SHSU athletic ticket office located in the Ron Mafrige Field House in the south end zone of Bowers Stadium. The ticket office telephone is (936) 294-1729 and office hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.