The teacher inside Curt Cignetti is excited to get spring ball going, even if Mother Nature doesn’t seem to want to cooperate.
Cignetti and his IUP Crimson Hawks will begin their monthlong series of spring practices Wednesday afternoon at Miller Stadium with hopes of shaking off the winter rust and getting in shape for summer camp and the fall season. The fourth-year IUP coach is eager to get back on the field and teach fundamentals — something all coaches tend to get excited about, even if the players do not.
“No question, spring ball is great,” said Cignetti, who has a 28-7 record in three seasons at IUP. “It’s a great opportunity to teach. It’s always a lot of fun.”
The Crimson Hawks, who went 9-2 last season and finished second in the PSAC West, will take the field for practice three or four times a week for about four weeks, with the goal of getting players into their proper positions, seeing what kind of depth is available and in some cases, settling a position battle.
It’s just a shame the spring weather hasn’t shown up yet — the early forecast for Wednesday is for temperatures in the high 20s. Nonetheless, the Crimson Hawks are forging ahead.
One position where a starting job is up for grabs is at quarterback, where two-year starter Mike Box has departed after his senior season, leaving a pair of inexperienced backups to carry on.
The incumbents are sophomore Logan Weaver, a graduate of Indiana High School, and redshirt freshman Eddie Stockett.
Cignetti said both will get a chance to show their skills. Weaver will get a head start by working with the first-team offense because he has more experience with the program. But Stockett will also get some reps with the first team.
“This is the first opportunity for Logan and Eddie to get a lot of reps,” he said. “I’m excited to see how they will develop.”
There’s also a potential wild card in the mix: Chase Haslett, the son of former IUP All-American Jim Haslett, is expected to transfer into the program from Illinois over the summer. Once Haslett arrives, he will join the competition to be the starter when the season begins Sept. 6, at home against St. Augustine’s.
The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Haslett, who played high school ball in Clayton, Mo., will earn his degree this spring at Illinois and then come to IUP with two seasons of eligibility remaining. He took a redshirt in 2010 and then was a backup on a crowded Illini depth chart the past two years. He did not see any game action.
“The quarterback competition will be ongoing through the fall,” Cignetti said.
Other positions where healthy competition will be held include offensive line, where three starters graduated; wide receiver, where there are only three players with much college experience on the roster; and defensive line, where three senior starters departed.
“You’re always excited to get back on the field,” Cignetti said. “It’s an opportunity for everyone to improve, and it’s an opportunity to develop some young players.”
• There are 64 players on the spring roster: 33 on defense, 28 on offense and three specialists.
• Steve Franco, who spent most of last season as the No. 3 quarterback on the roster, has been moved to defense, where he will compete for a starting job at safety. He’ll be coached by his older brother, Johnny, who joined Cignetti’s staff during the offseason.
• The team added about a dozen walk-ons over the winter following a series of on-campus tryouts. They’ll mostly be asked to lend depth at certain positions, but Cignetti said there are a few who could potentially see playing time down the road.
• Among the players who will sit out spring ball because of injuries are: cornerback James Griffin, fullback Dom Maggio, safety Kole Kraut and defensive lineman Dom Toney.
• A handful of underclassmen are no longer on the team for undisclosed reasons, including wide receivers Rashard Hendricks and Chaz Cheatham, linebacker Allen Holman and tight end Khaliq Coleman.
• Cignetti said there will not be a spring game, but the team will hold at least one intrasquad scrimmage before the spring session ends.