OGDEN — Following a somewhat tumultuous offseason, the Weber State University football team was just glad to take the field on Monday for the first day of fall practices in preparation for the 2012 season.
"We finally get to go coach," interim Weber State head coach Jody Sears said. "… Our kids are starting to learn, I believe, how to handle adversity, change. As coaches, we're always looking for moments to teach, we're always looking for life lessons that we can teach.
"… It's exciting, but there's a lot of work to be done."
Indeed, to say that the Wildcats were glad to get down to the business of football on the field would be an huge understatement. After all, their offseason was anything but status quo.
First, John L. Smith abruptly resigned as WSU's head coach after less than five months on the job, taking over at high-profile Arkansas when Bobby Petrino was fired following some off-the-field shenanigans.
Sears, who had only been on the job a couple of months as the Wildcats' defensive coordinator, was quickly elevated to the interim head coaching position upon Smith's departure, and a few players subsequently left the program as well.
Tragedy struck the Weber State family in June when assistant coach Ted Stanley's wife, Jocelyn, died of complications from childbirth, four days after giving birth to the couple's first child — a girl, Emmerson Stanley, who was born healthy in Ohio.
Then last week, just a few days before fall camp was about to get under way, offensive line coach Cecil Thomas left the WSU program to take the head coaching job at Granger High School. He'll be replaced by former Washington State assistant Steve Morton.
"We had a lot of changes, a lot of adversity, and I think it's going to turn out for the best," said senior defensive end Trevor Pletcher, one of the team's co-captains. "I like what we have going right now.
"We have a lot of new guys that are going to have to come in and play, at least a few, and I think they're going to be able to do it. They're pretty athletic."
Pletcher said that all the offseason adversity "brought us all together pretty close. … We got rid of people that we thought were causing us problems, and what we have left is the guys we all want here. And we all agree on that. … The only thing that matters to us is we just want to win."
Weber State returns 14 starters and 36 lettermen off last year's team that finished 5-6 overall and 5-3 in the Big Sky Conference under coach Ron McBride. Ten players who earned Big Sky All-Conference honors last season also return, including sophomore fullback Tevia Tolutau, who was named to the first team. Junior running back Josh Booker, senior offensive lineman Tytan Timoteo and Pletcher all return after earning second team all-conference honors a year ago.
Also back are six Wildcats who received honorable mention all-Big Sky honors last season, including junior safety Tony Epperson, senior quarterback Mike Hoke — who returns from offseason shoulder surgery — senior tight end Brian Jankowski, junior wide receiver Shaydon Kehano, junior linebacker Anthony Morales and junior safety Willie Okwuonu.
Also returning for the Wildcats is senior running back C.J. Tuckett, who rushed for over 460 yards and eight touchdowns in Weber State's final two games last season.
The Wildcats kick off their 2012 season on Sept. 1 at Fresno State, followed by another road game the following week at BYU. Their home-opener will be Sept. 15 against McNeese State, followed by their Big Sky opener against Eastern Washington on Sept. 22, which is also WSU's Homecoming game.