Eastern Illinois players had their first chance to hit the practice field in preparation for the 2009 season as they practiced under the lights at O'Brien Field on Saturday evening. The decision to practice at night allowed the Panthers to avoid the heat advisory that had hit central Illinois during the day.
"It turned out to be a great night for practice," said long time EIU head coach Bob Spoo as he met with members of the media prior to the first practice. "We are working on improving from last year's season and that means improving in the fundamentals of blocking, tackling and maintaining control of the football."
The first day of practice was done in helmets and shorts as the Panthers work towards the first full day of contact practice on Wednesday. EIU will practice again on Sunday evening and then host media day and a free kid's clinic on Monday afternoon at 1 p.m. at O'Brien Field.
With the transfer of Iowa quarterback Jake Christensen to the mix, Eastern Illinois will open fall camp with the quarterback position as a focus for the second year in a row. Last season the focus was on who would win the back-up position while this year it will be a three-man race for the starting spot. The Panthers return senior Bodie Reeder who was a starter last season and for the final eight games of the 2008 season. Christensen was a starter at Iowa in 2007 and started two games for the Hawkeyes last season before deciding to transfer at the end of the season. In addition to the two seniors, redshirt freshman Doug Reynolds will also challenge for the spot after taking a majority of the snaps during spring workouts.
"I'm excited to get back on the field and play football," said Reeder prior to the start of practice. "Our team was not happy with the way that last season ended and as a senior class we want to return this program to the playoffs. I think as a player you always want to have competition, its what makes you better."
The Panthers will also be looking for some battles at wide receiver. EIU returns one starter from last season in junior Charles Graves. In spring camp sophomore Lorence Ricks stepped up to assume a starting role to open camp. Beyond that EIU will have a large group of incoming freshmen and returning reddshirt freshmen who will battle for that last starting spot and challenge the two incumbent receivers.
The only other position that appears to be open for competition on day one of camp is at defensive line. The Panthers lost three All-OVC starters in Pierre Walters, Donovan Johnson and Jeff Sobol to graduation. The lone returning starter in senior Andre Lima at defensive tackle. Look for Trevor Frericks and Spyros Bazigos to compete on the interior line while the defensive end competition is wide open.
Construction is underway on the new video scoreboard being installed for this season at O'Brien Field. The support beams for the board were cemented into the north endzone last week with the frame work expected to start going up on Tuesday. EIU purchased the new video/audio system for O'Brien Field which will be used for home football games, home track meets and the IHSA State Track Championships. The board was developed by Daktronics, Inc.
The 2009 season opens in less than a month with a Sept. 3 game against Illinois State in the Prairie State Rivalry. Kick off is at 7 p.m. on Thursday night. Season and single game tickets are now on sale at (217) 581-2106 or online at www.eiupanthers.com