Snow dusted the turf at JSU Stadium on Tuesday, but the field should see a little more action than that soon enough.
Jacksonville State sits less than a week away from its spring football season opener. After going 3-1 in four fall games, the Gamecocks will play a seven-game spring schedule. Like other FCS leagues, the Ohio Valley Conference elected to push its football season to the spring, although schools were allowed to play non-conference games in the fall, as JSU did.
For JSU, the spring slate begins Sunday at Tennessee State at 2 p.m. The home opener is set for Feb. 28 against Tennessee Tech at 3 p.m.
Head coach John Grass hosted a news conference with reporters Tuesday morning, and here are five things to know as JSU prepares to restart its football season after the equivalent of 16 straight bye weeks:
Jacksonville State worked out inside Monday, but John Grass is hoping for more outside work as the week goes along.
He figures the weather will be dry Sunday for the game in Nashville but unpleasant. Weather.com is reporting the high is expected to be 40 degrees with wind of about 10 miles per hour.
"I think it's good for us to get out in the elements like this," Grass said. "It's not going to be too pleasant getting out and practicing in it. Our guys' mindset has been pretty good. Most of the time our guys would rather be 90 degrees in practice instead of cold. But, they've handled it pretty well since they got back in January."
As for gameday, Grass is more concerned with the wind than the cold.
"When you're in the high 30s or low 40s, it can be pretty pleasant, but if you've got a wind of 10 miles an hour-plus, it makes it difficult," he said.
2. Zion Webb
Grass said quarterback Zion Webb is ready to go. With starting quarterback Zerrick Cooper out for the spring after suffering a broken leg Oct. 23 against Florida International, Webb is the projected starter. He played through a shoulder injury in 2019 and played through having torn cartilage in his knee in 2020.
"He is well and doing good, and we're looking for great things from him this spring," Grass said.
Grass said Webb had some shoulder soreness after practice on occasion last year, and with the injured knee, he nearly sat out that last game. Instead, he played much of the game in relief of Cooper. In a 19-10 win, he rushed for 15 yards and completed 12 of 17 passes for 103 yards.
"He didn't dress out that week and then went ahead and dressed out to play with a knee brace on," Grass said. "He was able to do it in that game. He's fully back over the (knee injury)."
Grass has said often that it was an advantage to play four games in the fall, while five of the other seven OVC teams playing this spring didn't.
Still, that also means Tennessee State has four games of video from the fall to scout JSU, while JSU has nothing to see since the 2019 season on Tennessee State.
"Yeah, the tape is almost two years old or a good year and a half old. … It's hard to look back at the tape and really have an idea of what they're going to do schematically. Even personnel-wise, you have no idea, so this first game, I think it's advantage for them that they get four games from the fall to see our team."
4. Handling the spring
Grass readily acknowledges there is no blueprint on how a team should handle the pandemic.
"So, you just kind of do what you feel like is best at that time you know, for your team to move them forward and kind of deal with it as you go and adapt and overcome," Grass said. "That's about all you can do, but I feel like our team has grown from this and a lot of different ways."
Still, he said his biggest worry is the development of younger players. Spring practice last year was only two practices before the pandemic shut down JSU sports. This year, spring practice will be seven games instead of the regular 15 practices of teaching.
5. National coverage
With no FBS football this spring, the FCS is getting some additional attention this spring. That includes Jacksonville State, which received a visit from a Sports Illustrated writer this week.
"We're looking forward to that publicity and getting that story out there," Grass said. "And, it will be a unique story as well."