BOZEMAN — While each of Rob Ash’s 35 fall camps as a college head football coach possessed differentiating characteristics, each has also held common themes.
“One of the really important things to me is always team-building,” Ash said of the process of drawing over 100 people onto the same page and uniting them behind a single purpose. “The spirit, the camaraderie, the unity, those are very important things throughout fall camp.”
Ash welcomes 14 returning starters among the 95 student-athletes expected to practice for the first time together on Sunday. The helmets-only session begins at2:30 pm, with practices on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday – all non-contact – beginning at 9:30 am. Those practices are scheduled for MSU’s practice field.
The assimilation phase of fall camp lasts four days, with the players getting a day off from practice on Thursday. After Saturday’s full-contact practice the team holds three two-a-day sessions before classes begin at MSU on August 24. Saturday, Aug. 22, marks the team’s major scrimmage of the fall.
Ash likes the conditioning work his team has done this summer, although NCAA limits and this year’s calendar restrict the amount of work for his squad, especially early. “The team has worked hard all summer and the reports are that they did a great job,” Ash said. “We’re not in full pads until Saturday (Aug. 14), but I think we’ll have a 30-minute live workout that day with officials. Classes start early this year so camp is a little condensed, but I thought based on having the bye week early this would be a good schedule for us.”
Ash noted the dichotomy between his team’s offensive and defensive units, with nine full-time starters returning on offense and that many missing on defense. In spite of the returning offensive firepower – quarterback Dakota Prukop and offensive linemen JP Flynn and John Weidenaar each earned preseason All-Big Sky honors – Ash said nothing will be given to the MSU offense.
“Dakota and the offense are a known quantity,” Ash said, “and they’ll have a target. Dakota won’t be an unknown this year, and team’s will have time to prepare.”
Five transfers bolster a Bobcat defense that welcomes back only three full-time starters. “My philosophy ever since I’ve been here is that we won’t bring transfers in unless they have a legitimate chance to compete for significant playing time. These five guys (linebackers Marcus Tappan and Zach Stern and defensive linemen Joe Naotala and Shiloh LaBoy, who have each spent the last several weeks on campus, and end Jessie Clark) have that opportunity.”
Ash is pleased to welcome back a starting quarterback, a situation he’s enjoyed in four of MSU’s five most recent seasons. “It’s a positive,” he said, “and Dakota is very deserving of all the preseason watch lists and honors. He’s recognized as one of the best quarterbacks in the country, and I’m very happy to have Jake Bleskin as an experienced backup.”
Ash calls the secondary situation – where only cornerback Bryson Keeton returns – as the most interesting fall position battle. “There is a lot to be decided at safety, where we have four players battling for two spots,” he said. “And I’m anxious to see how the cornerback opposite Bryson Keeton turns out. The other undecided positions aren’t as compelling because at linebacker and running back, for instance, we’ll rotate people. But the secondary will be interesting.”
Fall camp is highlighted by the annual Family Fun Day on August 22 from 2-4 pm, and leads to MSU’s season-opener against Fort Lewis on September 3 at 7 pm in Bobcat Stadium.
— MSU Sports Information