IUP FOOTBALL: Hawks dealing with high expectations
It might have been only the fifth practice of fall camp for the IUP Crimson Hawks, but head coach Curt Cignetti had high expectations Tuesday afternoon.
And when his expectations weren’t met, the third-year coach let his team know he was disappointed when he forced them to repeat a series of drills on the Miller Stadium turf.
That’s the way it is when you have high aspirations like the Crimson Hawks do.
“We didn’t have a spark,” a frustrated Cignetti said after practice. “We didn’t have a lot of life out there today. It seems like we have one of these a year. Today was that day.”
The good news, though, is that Cignetti is happy with where his team is, Tuesday afternoon notwithstanding.
“We’ve had a good camp,” he said. “I think we’ve gotten better every day. We’ve got a lot of new faces who are learning how we do things, and the guys coming back are in really good shape, which I’m pleased about.”
There are 83 players on the roster, and Cignetti said there are some good battles being fought for starting jobs as the team prepares for its Sept. 7 opener at Southern Connecticut State. How some of those battles shake out — at key positions like tight end, defensive end, safety and cornerback — will have a huge impact on the Crimson Hawks’ hopes this fall.
Some of those spots are likely to be filled by the transfers who have joined the team, but there are some young players progressing along to the point where Cignetti knows he and his staff will have some tough decisions ahead.
“There are position battles pretty much all over the field,” he said. “We’ve got good competition. There’s no entitlement here. Everybody has to earn their spot. I think we’ve got some good depth at some positions, but there are other positions where we’re still trying to figure out who the starter will be.”
IUP, which is ranked No. 10 in the AFCA preseason Top 25, appears to have a glutton of talent at several positions, most notably tailback and wide receiver.
In the backfield, senior De’Antwan Williams is leading the way, but he’s being pushed by senior Erik Finklea, a transfer from Miami (Ohio) and true freshman Israel Green, a phenom from Ohio who rushed for more than 3,800 yards in his two varsity season.
There are several other players who could be factors in the backfield, but the job appears to be Williams’, provided the NCAA grants him another season of eligibility. Cignetti said that he hopes to have the final word on Williams sometime next week. Until then, the former Rutgers transfer who rushed for 1,325 yards last season can practice with the team, albeit with an uncertain future.
At wide receiver, Pat Brewer and Terrill Barnes are entrenched as the starters, but a group of talented ball catchers is vying for playing time: senior Ben Simmen, juniors Salath Williams, Sean McVay and Drew Carswell, and freshman Rashard Hendricks.
“We have better depth,” Cignetti said, “but we have more question marks about who will start where than we did a year ago at this time.”
All this talent won’t matter if the Crimson Hawks don’t put the pieces of a good season together in practice.
So Cignetti granted his team a mulligan and then moved on. The season begins in 17 days, and there’s work to do.
“Right now it’s a grind,” Cignetti said. “Everybody’s tired. But we’ve got to push through it. Right now, we are creating our identity about what kind of team we are going to be. It’s not like you can flip a switch; you can’t turn it off and on. You’ve got to pay the price and push. Everybody is tired and sore. But the habits we create here in camp will carry us throughout the season.”