SALISBURY, Md. – Gene Chizik once said, "Tradition never dies" and that will be the moto for the 2018 Salisbury University football program. Head Coach Sherman Wood knows the challenges as new players within several skill positions will become first-time starters. "We continue to provide the great tradition we do during practice," Wood said. "We are going to have to make practice fun, motivational, and plenty of positive reinforcement." Drills and technique work are going to be at the forefront to help make camp fun but at the same time give the coaches an opportunity to take it to another level to get the most out of the players and optimize their potential and ability.
With a young team, Wood and the coaching staff are emphasizing the importance of minimizing mistakes. "Last season, I thought we hurt ourselves in which led to a couple of defeats," Wood said. "When you have a young team you need to protect the ball, do not give up big plays, and simply execute our game plan throughout the preseason and season," Wood said.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Sea Gulls will be replacing key departures from the 2017 squad and the most important and arguably the one in the spotlight more than any is the quarterback position. Sophomore Jack Lanham ascends into the starting position after receiving some playing time during his freshman year, in which he stared in the Sea Gulls' ECAC Bowl game against Ithaca College. Lanham finished the 2017 season completing 42.1 percent of his passes for 154 yards and connecting for one touchdown.
"He's a competitor and a fighter. He has leadership ability and we hope he brings that out more than anything," Wood said.
Wood knows the challenges with a new and young starting quarterback but believes that he and staff are prepared to work with Lanham and get him ready for the upcoming season.
"It all starts in practice," Wood said. "Our practices will have to be a little different. We have to put the first-time starters in game-like situations as much as possible to give the team an easier path going into football games this season."
The Salisbury staff will also be focusing heavily on drill work but also keying in on the mental side.
"Whenever you are working with young people you have to focus on the mental aspect of the game and keep everything positive," Wood said. The coaching staff wants to make sure players like Lanham can polish their skills in drills and perfect practices to make everything more game like.
There will be new players surrounding Lanham offensively at the skill positions but according to Wood while they may be new they are experienced, especially when you are looking at players like super back Kadarrius Campbell.
"Campbell has been a mentor to a lot of our guys throughout the spring and this camp," Wood said.
Slot Michael Fowler is another player that Wood brought up as someone who can help lead the offense and bring a level comfortability to Lanham and the unit.
"These guys know they will have to support Jack and the rest of our quarterbacks" Wood said. "Again it starts with practice, meetings, and in camp overall."
The one unit that remains a constant coming into this season is the offensive line as four of five starters return from the 2017 squad.
"When you feel like you have a young offense you tend to lean on your offensive line. We have four of five returning starters on the offensive line, so we will be leaning on them more than ever before," Wood said.
It is a unit that is led by senior Andrew Houck, who along with his teammates helped pave the way for the eighth ranked rushing attack in the nation last season racking up 3,121 total yards, an average of 283.7 yards per game, and 37 rushing touchdowns.
One the areas Wood is really excited to watch and see is the defensive line.
"They are a special kind of group and they bring a lot of enthusiasm," Woods said.
Players such as Matthew McFarland and Isaac Johnson are key pieces to that unit and tone setters for not just the line but the entire defense and overall team. Wood knows the unit doesn't get a lot of glory but "they are the meat of what is going on during practice."
"You know what to expect from Shane and Tommy is the nicest person off the field but he is so intense once the helmet comes on," Wood said.
The defense will look to improve on their outstanding 2017 campaign in which they allowed an average of 276.5 yards per game, which ranked 23rd in the country and a 105.5 rushing yards per game mark which ranked in the top 50 in the nation. The defense also held opponents to an average of 13.9 points per game, which ranked 15th in the nation while surrendering an average of 9.8 point per contest in New Jersey Athletic Conference play.
It may be a forgotten part of the game for some teams but not on the Eastern Shore where Wood is a stickler for perfection on the special teams side of the ball. However, this year will be a challenge as two of the premiere special teams leaders graduated, Alex Potocko and Tim Steindl, leaving holes at the kicking and punting positions.
"One of the things we did from a recruiting perspective was to make sure we had young kids under the tutelage of both Steindl and Potocko," Wood said.
These are positions that need to be treated the same way as the quarterback position, according to Wood.
"We have to first make sure they are in game situations in practice to help build confidence and let them see things," Wood said.
The staff knows they need to be positive and patient with these players and put them in position to be successful.
The Sea Gulls will see all 10 opponents from last season and will play three times under the lights in 2018 including a Friday night home opener against Albright College on August 31.
"We can't take anything for granted this year on the schedule," Wood said. He and his staff they know that as a program Salisbury couldn't ask for a better schedule in 2018. Starting with the Friday night opener where the stands will undoubtedly be full and the coaches can't let the emotions get too high or too low.
After Albright, Salisbury enters its bye week and will open NJAC play on September 15 against Kean University before hosting The College of New Jersey one week later under the lights on Saturday September 22.
"Kean is a dark horse and a quality program," Wood said, "they are always big and competitive."
Wood believes his Sea Gulls can be in great shape heading into rival and Route 13 opponent Wesley College before closing out the season at Frostburg State University in the Battle of the Regents Cup.
The constant message to the team is "not to take anything for granted," Wood said. "We need to have a great camp, not a so-so camp, but a great camp and pay attention to detail. We want to be in the best shape ever and execute in every aspect of the game from start to finish."