Miami University football coach Chuck Martin would love to have more of a traditional spring game.
However, the RedHawks’ head man sees the benefits of closing the spring with a public practice, which they did Saturday afternoon at Ben Roethlisberger Field inside the David and Anita Dauch Indoor Sports Center.
“I’d love to have a spring game, but it’d only last about 20 minutes because we have guys banged up,” Martin said after a session that included individual drills and some 11-on-11. “We wanted to get some work in and be smart.”
Being able to play it smart is one of the benefits of returning 17 starters from a squad that turned an 0-6 start into a 6-6 regular season and a 17-16 loss to Mississippi State in the St. Petersburg Bowl.
The turnaround was on the minds of those who greeted the team as it went through one last spring drill.
“I think they were all hiding in closets the last five or six years,” Martin said with a laugh. “It is good to see the excitement come back and to have those expectations.”
Miami fans aren’t the only ones coming back with expectations.
Quarterback Gus Ragland has witnessed the change in atmosphere around the program as he prepares for his first full year as the starter.
“It has been night and day,” Ragland said. “We have seen what confidence can do and expectations and we didn’t have that weight on our shoulders this year. There is way more energy, more enthusiasm. You can’t imagine the difference.”
Ragland has shown marked strides from 2016 when he threw for 1,537 yards and 17 touchdowns including 257 yards on 21 of 29 passing and two scores in the bowl game.
“I really wanted to learn to recognize defenses better,” Ragland said of his spring focus. “I needed to get better at learning when to check plays and wanted to grow as a student of the game and I think I did that.”
Miami returns four of its five offensive lineman and has welcomed Lakota East High School graduate Jarrett LaRubbio, a transfer from Kentucky. LaRubbio, who had been a guard, made the move to right tackle to round out the starting unit.
“Moving from guard to tackle was the biggest jump for me because it is playing a new position for the first time,” LaRubbio said. “Everything here has been really high energy.”
LaRubbio said being closer to home and the system the RedHawks have in place drew him home from Kentucky.
Maurice Thomas, a sophomore running back from Talawanda, feels the year of experience under his belt has helped him. He showed signs in live competition Saturday even though skill players were not subjected to contact.
“I think the big change for me has been my knowledge of the game and getting used to the speed,” said Thomas, who rushed for 267 yards on 37 carries as a freshman. “The experience slows everything down and that has really helped. I can play without thinking.”
Miami opens the season at Marshall on Sept. 2 before hosting Austin Peay in its home opener Sept. 9.