The defense picked off four passes and caused four fumbles in route to a 50-29 victory. (Ben Kleppinger)

By Clayton Ward

It’s that time of the year; baseball is in full swing, talk of alternate endings to the Final Four are beginning to fade from people’s minds and football is back in the limelight. Eastern’s 2008 spring game brought fans into Roy Kidd Stadium to watch the Colonel defense, called the maroon team, force eight turnovers on their way to a 50-29 victory over the offense, which was called the white team (see box below for points system).

“Pretty typical for the defense to be ahead of the offense. just offense takes a little more time to mature than defense,” Head Coach Dean Hood said. “You can make a mistake on defense and there’s the ball, go run, go get it.”

About half of Eastern’s new defensive package has been assembled and was ready to go in time for the spring game, Hood said. The basic 4-3 scheme hasn’t changed from last year. The defense will be based around occasionally bringing in an extra defensive back to run a nickel package.

Senior Brandon Gathof, who totaled 91 tackles and five interceptions last year at strong safety, had a pick in Sunday’s game.

“Once we got a grasp of the defense, everybody was just able to go out and play football,” Gathof said. “Were attacking the offense this year, instead of sitting back seeing what they will do to us.”

Gathof said the defense isn’t more complicated, just different. Last year the on-field calls revolved around the linebackers, this year’s calls are geared more toward the safeties.

Sophomore big-man Yameen Thomas put plenty of highlights on the spring game film Sunday. The 241-pound defensive linemen had an interception, an 18-yard return and a forced fumble, which nearly gave the defense a touchdown. He topped his spring performance off with two fumble recoveries.

“[The defense] has been going out there and executing, flying from sideline to sideline,” said freshman wide receiver Shannon Davis. “With offense, all 11 guys have to contribute to the play. If one guy messes up it messes up the whole play.”

The offense started off slow. The first quarter was riddled with incomplete passes and runs for short yardage, no yardage or negative yardage.

A solid running game kept the offense moving early in the game. Thanks to 17 carries each by junior running backs C.J. Walker, who had 71-yards on the ground, and Aaron Bradley, who collected 88-yards, the Colonels had one constant on offense.

Walker was given the ball on the eight-yard-line to cap off an 11-play drive in the start of the second quarter. Two defenders snagged Walker by the arm and jersey, but he broke through and outran the remaining defenders to the corner of the end zone for the offense’s first touchdown.

“We have a lot to learn; I mean we’ve got to execute better but it’s been a productive scheme from what we’ve put in so far,” Walker said. “We did a really good job on both sides of the ball getting after each other and working hard.”

Last year’s starting quarterback, junior Allan Holland, did not dress for the spring game. This gave backup sophomore Cody Watts and redshirt freshman Trevor Hoskins a chance to display their abilities.

Some looked at Holland’s absence as a “glass half full” kind of situation.

“You can look at it as a blessing in disguise because they were able to get a lot of reps this spring,” Gathof said. “I think it’s only going to help us with the way they played and the reps they got this spring. it will only help us come fall.”

Hoskins threw three interceptions to Eastern’s defense and Watts played the majority of the game, throwing 13-for-21 with one interception. Watts matched his 21 pass attempts with 21 run attempts—–the most carries of any player in the spring game.

“The new offensive coordinator helped me come a long way,” Watts said, explaining his transformation into a passing quarterback. “Hopefully I can go in and be a 50/50 type of guy, an every-down kind of guy instead of a runner, and that’s what I look to be.”

Hood said he looked at the spring game as a success and a high point in what has, so far, been a coaching job of paperwork instead of fieldwork for him.

“This job wasn’t a whole lot of fun until we got out there and started coaching some ball,” Hood said.

Hood made it clear he was ecstatic with the players and how they performed in the game.

“The kids have good chemistry, they’re hard workers,” Hood said, “and I think we’re going to see some good things.