by Paul Peck, Buffalo Sports Page
The UB Bulls used the midway point of their training camp to hold their annual media and picture day. Based on the first dozen practices and the season expectations, there were plenty of smiles.
The start of camp has been exactly what a conference favorite wants: crisp practices, star players standing out, young players emerging and very few injuries.
During a 25 minute media briefing, UB Head Coach Lance Leipold touched on a number of issues about the team and the season.
*He agrees that this season feels different than his previous three in Buffalo. Last year, coming off a 2-10 season, there were a lot of unknowns. This season, with a lineup mostly set and a number of star players emerging, the Bulls have as few unknown as any team in the Mid-American Conference.
“Heading into it, there’s a lot more confidence all the way through the program, from the locker room to the staff room,” said the six-time Division III national championship coach.
*Even though the team ended on a three game winning streak, Leipold cited two early season losses as the point when he knew his team had turned a corner. A season opening ten point loss at Minnesota, and a week three four point loss to Army revealed a team character that did not accept losing and was willing to keep fighting.
“Tough losses for us that showed our character. The post game locker room dejection and tears showed me how important it was to win games for this team. They would not be satisfied to play games close.”
*Leipold says this is the smoothest camp he’s had in his four years with the Bulls.
*17 NFL teams have had scouts attend Bulls practices so far. WR Anthony Johnson, LB Khalil Hodge, C James O’Hagan & DE Chuck Harris are all on the scout’s radar, with Johnson being mentioned as a possible first round draft pick. Just a junior, QB Tyree Jackson is already being touted as a top prospect for the 2020 Draft.
*Leipold says the team will be smart about Jackson’s running from the QB position. In last years’s first four games before he was hurt, Jackson ran for 227 yards and 4 TD. When he returned from a knee injury, he didn’t have one called QB run.
“We have to be wise with that. We can’t play or coach hesitant, we have to balance that. You saw a different quarterback late in the season, and that’s part of the maturation process.”
*There was plenty of praise for senior center O’Hagan. A three year starter, Leipold said O’Hagan has taken 99% of the snaps in those three years.
“He’s passionate. He loves the game. He’s in the office more than any other player in this program.”
*Leipold named some young players who are emerging as serious challengers for playing time. LB James Patterson has been with the starters, and so has S Tyrone Hill. Receivers Charlie Jones and Isaiah King will provide depth behind a strong starting group. Kevin Marks is in the mix at running back, and so is DT Eddie Wilson on the defensive line.
*Leipold talked for the first time about college football’s new redshirt rule, which allows a player to appear in up to four games without burning his redshirt and a season of eligibility. Leipold sees the opportunity for young players to see game time early, or late in the season. He’s happy it will keep those young players engaged all season long, knowing they have a chance to play.
The Bulls open the season at home on September 1 vs Delaware State.