I took the first drive up to Higher Ground this afternoon and am happy to report the drive wasn't too bad at all and the accomodations look pretty impressive.
Reports are the first dinner was delicious with homeade fried chicken, mashed potatoes and corn. Cornhole, weights, visual acuity tests and training areas are all set up inside a large activity center that has doors that open to the field.
Alongside the field a campground-like picnic area is set up where the Bearcats put out a small pool used as a cold tub after practice. Apparently, each player receives his own 10-pound bag of ice to put around him. Recommendations of a media cold tub were made, then immediately rejected. Thank goodness.
But outside of the surroundings there were some interesting sights and sounds from the first day of Higher Ground, here's a quick roundup.
--- Intensity? Check.
The first practice in full pads this fall brought no lack of energy or physicality. In fact, it even went too far at times. After one goal-line play, sophomre DL Brandon Mills went after OL Alex Hoffman. Mills got into Hoffman's face with some pushing and shoving and eventually had to be restrained and pulled away.
That type of competitiveness and fire can be good, but coach Butch Jones realizes it went a bit too far at times.
"We got to get it a little under control," he said. "We got some competitive individuals. They have to know that there is a line and not to cross that line. Also, I think it is excitement. The thing that I like is we get after each other, but once the double horn blows we are teammates and it is all about team."
While there was some chippiness, WR Vidal Hazelton delivered some unadulterated violence on junior DB Wesley Richardson. Granted, Richardson is giving up 15-20 pounds on Hazelton, but the transfer from USC took a slant and truck-sticked Richardson as he attempted the tackle. The speed and size combination Hazelton showed on that play alone is part of what makes him so dangerous.
--- Pretty much every coach is losing his voice.
--- Jake Rogers connected on about a 52-yard field goal toward the end of practice. He knocked it down the middle and even had some to spare. He split the uprights with the entire team surrounding him three times during the final minute of practice, only missing once from about 35 yards out.
--- I am working a few different stories, one of them being on LB Maalik Bomar. He's stepping in at the outside linebacker position as JK Schaffer spends more time in the middle. However, I found out today that Bomar put on 22 pounds since the end of spring football. And he looks ripped.
Also, in talking with strength coaches Dave Lawson and Mike Szereszen, they informed me that the other major weight gainer this offseason was Walter Stewart, who put on about 25 extra pounds in preperation for spending more time working with his hand on the ground at defensive end. He's now listed around 235.
Stewart will be particularly fun to watch to see all the different ways in with the Bearcats utilize him.
--- Safety Dominique Battle is currently out with a hamstring injury. Asst. coach Kerry Coombs said he wasn't sure how long he would be out, but didn't make it sound like it was a major injury at this point.
--- I conducted a 7-minute, 23-second interview with Coombs while the asst. head coach worked out with freeweights and did situps on a inflatible ball without pausing. You could almost feel him putting on pounds of intensity. The guy is a machine.
--- During a red zone possession of the 1s vs. 1s conclusion of practice, the Bearcats pushed it in when Zach Collaros connected with TE Ben Guidugli at the pylon. Guidugli has become sort of the forgotten man among the talented skill players for the Bearcats, but will almost certainly play a major role in the red zone this year. That was example No. 1.
Chris Crawford at Bearcat Insider has a story on Guidugli and his role if you want to read more.
--- Tommy G was there and talked with co-DC Tim Banks.
--- Also, the voice returned to his blog for the weekend, as Dan Hoard posted a blog on the connection between Zach Collaros and Dan LeFevour. Good to see my sketched bald head won't be the only one on the site for a few days.
--- I hope everybody has a good weekend, I will leave you with this sweet performance by Arcade Fire on The Daily Show Thursday night. Enjoy it.