Spring football practices – tools for the upcoming season
April 26, 2023
Prior to their annual spring game on the 15th of April, Southern Illinois football had 14 spring practices. Each year, spring preparation shows the Salukis what they have improved on since last season and what they will continue to work on when summer camp and fall rolls around.
Spring practices started bright and early at 6 a.m. on March 23, and the Salukis took full advantage of the short time they had for spring training.
“Every practice is an opportunity to get better, it’s simply putting in the work each day,” said junior receiver Izaiah Hartrup.
In the 2021 season, Hartrup’s freshman year, he tied with Avante Cox for second on the team in catches, totaling 43. He posted 502 yards receiving and three touchdowns through the air, dabbled a little in the ground game, with 75 yards rushing, and even returned some kickoffs, with 200 return yards off nine attempts.
In the 2022 season, Hartrup was looking to be quarterback Nic Baker’s number-two option behind Cox until a hamstring injury at the beginning of training camp. After missing the majority of last season, Hartrup is ready to get back on the field.
“That was probably one of the hardest times of my life, so being back here, you don’t take it for granted,” Hartrup said.
It’s given Hartrup the opportunity to become more of a leader among his teammates. After losing their top receiver and one of their biggest leaders on the team in Cox, Hartrup has a position to fill that will bring him a lot of opportunities throughout this upcoming season.
Fellow fifth-year receiver and Avante’s twin brother, D’ante’ Cox, has also taken on a bigger role this spring.
“The biggest thing I improved on over spring was stepping up and being a leader. Since I have been here for three years I’m looking to lead by example,” D’ante’ Cox said.
When it comes to improvements made this spring, the spring game showcased it all. Since the beginning of spring practices, SIU’s defense has learned a new scheme, with a new defensive coordinator at the helm, and the offense has been focusing on the small details like being on the same page and working as a unit.
“All these individual periods and technique and fundamentals that spring ball is really developing, now you gotta put it out there on film in the game and let us see the work that’s been put in,” head coach Nick Hill said.
Hartrup followed with, “I feel like the team has improved a lot in terms of just working hard. I feel like everyone has been putting in a lot of work.”
Southern has seven starters on offense returning from last season including D’Ante’ Cox, Hartrup, Baker, running back Ro Elliott, guards Chase Evans and Jake Green, right tackle Abdul Toure and center Jacob Caughell.
Defensively, the Salukis also have seven starters returning including all conference linebacker Branson Combs, safety PJ Jules, safety Clayton Bush, cornerbacks David Miller and DJ Johnson, linebacker Zach Burrola and defensive tackle Kam Bowdry.
Looking forward to what they need to continue working on when summer and fall training comes around, D’ante’ Cox said that, as a team, they have to improve on finishing drives and executing plays.
Looking back to last season, both of these have been an issue for the Salukis. Starting last season 0-2 with a 35 point loss against Incarnate Word and then to close rival Southeast Missouri with a tough 31-34 loss that went down to the wire. The Dawgs finished their season with a four game losing streak against South Dakota, Northern Iowa, North Dakota State and Youngstown State.
“I feel I can improve on everything, there’s always room to get better overall. Over break I’ll continue training, staying active over break is always important. I feel the team can get better at playing as one unit. Just like every other year we have a new team so it’s about to come together,” Hartrup said.
Not only is spring training and the scrimmage an opportunity for the Salukis to showcase what they have improved on since last season, it is a great way to get the community out and a way for them to interact with the team.
Before the spring scrimmage, the Dawg Pound set up a free cook out for anyone in attendance of the game, and there were pre-game interviews with some of the players.
“I enjoy being able to interact with the community, if it wasn’t for them there wouldn’t be Saluki football so I appreciate all the love and support we receive from them,” Hartrup said.
In terms of this upcoming season, the Salukis are going to continue working on skills that they need to improve and putting the pieces together.
“We have the pieces to be really good and we are ready to overcome the challenges from last season,” D’ante’ Cox said.
Hartrup said, “I think the fans can expect a good football team that’s going to compete. We will determine wins and losses in the fall, but the goal, as always, is to win every game.”
Following summer training camp, Southern Illinois will start its 2023 season at Saluki Stadium with a 6 p.m. game against Austin Peay on Sept. 2.
Sports reporter Joei Younker can be reached at [email protected].
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