The Runnin' Bulldogs worked for two hours in helmets only, running through a series of team and individual drills. A stiff round of conditioning closed out the day. Per NCAA regulations, the 'Dogs won't get into full pads until its Tuesday afternoon practice.
Gardner-Webb enters the 2012 season with more quality depth at several positions than one year ago, particularly at running back.
Preseason All-Big South selection Kenny Little (5-11, 214, RSr.) returns after gaining 1,042 yards last season, and hard-charging back Juanne Blount (5-9, 210, RSo.) is back at full strength after missing the final 10 games last season with an injury. Blount ran for 102 yards in last season's opener, and was Gardner-Webb's second-leading rusher as a freshman in 2010.
Scatback J.J. Hubbard (5-8, 170, So.) also returns after seeing spot duty last season and Gardner-Webb added a tremendous boost of talent in college-ready backs Dee Littlejohn (6-1, 230, Fr.) and Demetrius Fairley (5-11, 200, Fr.).
Littlejohn rushed for 2,072 yards and 36 touchdowns as a senior last season at Lincolnton (N.C.) High and set a Lincoln County record with 4,296 career yards for the Wolves. Fairley, who originally committed to FBS Western Michigan last summer, ran for 1,678 yards and 24 touchdowns for Garner (N.C.) High in 2011.
Both Littlejohn and Fairley led their respective teams to the state finals in 2011, with Lincolnton advancing in the 2A ranks and Garner advancing in the 4A ranks.
Gardner-Webb welcomed another decorated freshman back to campus this week, with Dinkin Miller (5-8, 170, Fr.) of West Rowan (N.C.) High joining the program. Miller led West Rowan to the Class 3A championship game as a senior and finished the 2011 campaign with 2,570 yards and 26 touchdowns.
The freshman trio combined for 6,320 yards and an eye-popping 86 touchdowns on the high school level last season.
Offensive Line: Gardner-Webb welcomes back five starters, and six players with starting experience on the offensive line. Preseason All-Big South selections Steve Demilio (6-5, 293, RSr.) and Jamie Dunaway (6-3, 290, Sr.) lead that group. Only one of the 14 offensive linemen on the 2012 roster weigh in at less than 280 pounds and six tip the scales at 300 pounds or better.
Quarterback: Four players suited up at quarterback for the 'Dogs on Friday – Exavier Johnson (6-3, 215, RSr.), Jordan Paul (6-3, 196, So.), Lucas Beatty (6-2, 218, RSo.) and Nat Dunlap (6-2, 183, RFr.). Johnson, Paul and Beatty each have game experience at the position from last season, and are expected to be in a good battle for the starting nod.
Tight End: Gardner-Webb enters the 2012 season with seven tight ends on its roster and all entered camp weighing more than 225 pounds. Three tip the scales at 245 pounds or more and two weigh in at more than 260 pounds.
Receiver: The Big South's all-time leading receiver – James Perry III – graduated after last season, and Gardner-Webb has a host of young talent vying for playing time at receiver heading into 2012. That group received a boost with the addition of Sarasota, Fla., native Jordan Jones (6-4, 212, Fr.) in July. Jones played his final two high school seasons at state powerhouse Tampa Catholic (Fla.) High, and played one postgraduate season at Fork Union Military (Va.) Academy.
The Runnin' Bulldogs also added transfer Rodney Watson (5-9, 180, RSo.) from South Florida to the mix at receiver. Watson starred at national powerhouse Lakeland (Fla.) High on the prep level and will work at both slot receiver and running back in 2012. The versatile athlete is the younger brother of former Carolina Panthers player Rod Smart and former University of Florida and current Pittsburgh Steelers player Chris Rainey.
Defensive Line: One of the team's deeper positions received a boost with the addition of defensive end O.J. Le'iatua Mau (6-2, 275, Fr.). Mau hails from Masefau, American Samoa, and is the farthest Runnin' Bulldog from his hometown – traveling nearly 10,000 miles to get to Boiling Springs, N.C.
Linebacker: Former quarterback Chandler Browning worked at middle linebacker on his first day at the position on the college level. The 6-foot-3, 250-pounder played the position previously as a freshman and sophomore at Broughton (N.C.) High. Browning, who has been timed as fast as 4.7 seconds in the 40-yard dash in previous years, was one of several new players working with the linebacker corps Friday.
One of the more interesting sights at Friday's practice was linebacker Michael Cunningham (6-0, 210, Fr.) working on an unusual skill for his position – fielding punts. The former Lincolnton (N.C.) High star should feel comfortable doing that job, however, as he returned six kickoffs and punts for touchdowns over his final two prep seasons.
Secondary: Returning starters Keon Williams (6-0, 170, Jr.) and Gianni Olivas (5-10, 192, Jr.) are the most experienced players in the GWU secondary, with Williams the team's top cover man and Olivas capable of playing either safety spot effectively. Newcomer Chad Geter (6-2, 220, Fr.) has impressive size at safety and has packed on 25 pounds of solid muscle since signing with GWU in February. Another newcomer with tremendous size for his position is cornerback Jonathan Sherrill (6-3, 192, Fr.), who starred as a safety and receiver at nearby Lincolnton (N.C.) High.
Gardner-Webb opens the 2012 season at home on September 1 against Wofford. Kickoff is set for 6:00 pm.