BOILING SPRINGS - Head coach Ron Dickerson, Jr., led his first Gardner-Webb squad onto the field Saturday morning at 9:00 am, putting the Runnin' Bulldogs through a fast-paced, spirited first practice.
Excitement was palpable among the Runnin' Bulldogs, who enter the 2011 season projected to finish fourth in the Big South Conference standings. Faces new and old worked quickly and sharply despite the typical early-August humidity.
The 'Dogs went through individual and team drills for just over two hours.
"We are very happy to be out here," said Dickerson, who took over the Gardner-Webb program in January. "The effort was good. Our young men came in to camp with a great attitude. It's only the first day of many important days as we get ready for the season."
In addition to a high level of energy and excitement, improved depth and size on the offensive line for the 2011 season was the most noticeable development Saturday. A total of 13 players are slated to compete for snaps up front - with eight weighing at least 290 pounds.
The other side of the trenches should present opponents with difficulty as well. Preseason All-Big South selections Matt Goods (6-2, 275, RSo.), Preston Pemasa (6-2, 250, So.) and Jordan Woods (6-3, 245, Sr.) return and will be bolstered by returning squad men Hudson Smith (6-1, 230, RSo.), Tyler Hough-Jenkins (6-4, 260, RFr.), Dylan Taylor (6-0, 265, Jr.) and Zach Shelton (6-1, 245, So.). Newcomers Shaquille Riddick (6-7, 220, Fr.), Kapono Asuega (6-0, 280, Jr.) and Theo Johnson (6-5, 260, Jr.) will also factor into the mix up front defensively.
Quarterback Chandler Browning (6-3, 225, So.) entered camp Saturday in the best shape of his college career, building on momentum gained with a strong showing during spring practice. The 'Dogs also welcomed quarterbacks Lucas Beatty (6-2, 185, RFr.), Exavier Johnson (6-3, 200, Jr.), Jordan Paul (6-3, 180, Fr.) and Nat Dunlap (6-2, 170, Fr.) to camp - with Johnson showing off an explosive and accurate arm Saturday morning.
Gardner-Webb will continue working toward its 2011 season opener throughout the month of August. The 'Dogs open at home on Saturday, September 3 at 6:00 pm against Brevard (N.C.) College.
Gardner-Webb has recruited well in the offseason in the football-crazed states of California and Florida. The Runnin' Bulldogs have eight men on the 2011 roster from California and nine from Florida.
Local kicker Trever Austin (5-10, 190, Fr.) has a golden opportunity to earn a starting spot early in his career, with the departure of veteran kicker Ryan Gates. Austin was an All-State selection as a senior at nearby Crest (N.C.) High and earned a spot in the 2010 Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas. Austin was rated as one of the nation's top-20 kickers in the Class of 2011.
Lineman Maurice Bryan (6-2, 265, Jr.), who worked with the offensive line during spring practice, has moved back to defensive tackle.
A complete, updated camp roster will be available online at GWUSports.com Monday, August 8 in both PDF and html format.