A combination of the heat on the turf at Bridgeforth Stadium and the second practice in helmets and shoulder pads led to an intense morning at James Madison Thursday.
"We were not happy with our season last year," coach Mickey Matthews said afterward. "That's my job as the head coach to make sure there's intensity on the practice field, and no one's satisfied. Because certainly we're not satisfied.
"I thought we did some good things today," he added. "I think our defense really flew around. We certainly made some errors, but they were playing very hard."
The team's first day in full pads, and with full tackling, is Friday. But the defense still set the tone Thursday with several big hits.
"It's a battle everyday; it's a fight," said senior running back Griff Yancey. "Hopefully we're just making each other better for our first game coming up."
"That's what we're looking for. The excitement, the eagerness turns up because we've got these pads on," said junior strong safety Vidal Nelson. "We're out here in our new stadium. So we're definitely excited to get to it."
At one point, Matthews himself had to separate Nelson and junior running back Scott Noble, after the two collided during a play.
Matthews spent several minutes sharing his displeasure with Noble, who was not part of the play, but hit Nelson after he scooped up a loose ball.
"It got a little hostile," said Yancey. "It's a little hot out here. But we're just working hard, competing."
Thursday's practice was also the Dukes' first at the newly-renovated Bridgeforth Stadium. The workout was moved from the Dukes' grass practice field because of Wednesday night's rainfall.
The first phase of the Bridgeforth expansion, the construction of a new lower bowl of bleachers on the stadium's west side, was recently completed.
"It's a whole new environment. Just looking around, it doesn't even look the same," said sophomore quarterback Justin Thorpe. "I can't wait to play in it."
"We've been peaking all summer. Now that it's all finished, it's great," said Nelson. "Running out here, it's something different. It's a bit overwhelming. But we're just ready to see those fans piling in."
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