Gus Ragland has been playing football for a long time, but he is quick to admit there hasn’t been a season when he’s more looked forward to the start of fall camp.
“Not just me,” Miami’s fourth-year junior quarterback said. “Everybody is extremely eager to get started. It seems like this off-season lasted forever. We’ve put in a ton of hard work, and knowing that we’re finally going to put a lot of the work to use has us eager to get started.”
Ragland and his fellow RedHawks are scheduled to open camp on Sunday with a two-hour practice at 9 a.m. That is the first of 15 sessions with four days off over 19 days before Miami starts on Aug. 25 to get ready for the Sept. 2 opener at Marshall. The RedHawks’ home opener is scheduled for Sept. 9 against Austin Peay.
The 6-foot-1, 215-pound Ragland is one of 17 starters returning from a team that started 2016 0-6 before reeling off six straight wins to end the season — all six wins coming after he took over at quarterback. Fourth-year coach Chuck Martin relishes having so much experience with which to work.
“We get to accelerate everything,” Martin said. “We can begin doing (playbook) installations on days 1-2-3 this year. When the (starters) are out there, we could go play some football. The first year, we were trying to just get kids aligned and get into the proper stance. We’re so far past that.
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“The other thing is it allows the young kids to be kids. We’ve been playing those kids. We’ve been throwing them out there. The positive with that is they got an opportunity. The negative is we were throwing them to the wolves. Now, we’re not throwing them to the wolves. Hopefully, we’ve got a few kids we can work into the mix. If not, they have a chance to be backup guys or play on special teams.”
Being able to avoid making younger players who are perhaps less physically mature go against bigger, stronger and older opponents has Miami looking at its healthiest fall camp in years.
“Right now, we’re pretty good,” Martin said. “We’re close to all hands on deck.”
Ragland, who suffered a knee injury during 2016 spring practice that cost him the first half of the regular season, has shed his knee brace and is more mobile, he said.
“I feel like I’m in the best football shape of my life,” he said.
Martin’s primary concern going into fall camp is making sure complacency doesn’t creep in among his RedHawks.
“I’m not saying we’re going to be complacent,” he said. “We went 6-2 in the (Mid-American Conference) and played well against Mississippi State (in the St. Petersburg Bowl) and everybody’s excited. Everybody’s jacked up about Miami football. (Fifth-year senior cornerback) Heath Harding has never felt that in his time here. When people keep telling them how good they are, it’s always a concern that they think the next step is just going to happen.
“We have enough physical talent to be a good football team. What stands in the way of this is complacency – taking your foot off the gas. Teenage kids can get lazy quick.
“I’m comfortable. We’ll see how comfortable the kids are with me.”
Ragland is an example. Even though he threw for 17 touchdowns and one interception last season, Miami’s coaches have found flaws.
“There are always little things to work on — always something to get better at,” Ragland said. “I’m working on my footwork and getting the ball out faster and my arm strength and the mental part of seeing the defense and making checks. A big part of my off-season has been focusing on making checks instead of needing the coaches to do that.”
Ragland believes Miami being picked in the annual MAC media pre-season poll to finish second behind “Battle of the Bricks” rival Ohio in the MAC East Division will help solve any complacency issues.
“I’m glad they didn’t pick us to win it,” he said. “I think them picking us second keeps us under the radar a little bit. I think everybody on the team knows how good we can be, but we still have something to prove. We haven’t won anything. This is just another thing to keep a chip on your shoulder.”