Spring officially began Wednesday afternoon, but the Illinois FCS programs all got an earlier start.
Eastern, Southern, Western and Illinois State began spring football practices as part of the process in which all four strive to shake off disappointments from last fall. None of the Illinois teams qualified for the FCS playoffs--marking the first time since 2011 that had occurred.
Last year's lapse
A year ago, Illinois State appeared to be a lock as the Redbirds flew to a 5-1 start. However, a four-game losing string sent ISU into a tailspin that resulted in a second straight season that ended without a playoff bid. Illinois State's 6-5 record included a season-opening win over non-Division I St. Xavier.
Western appeared to have built momentum for a playoff run, but the Leathernecks dropped their final two games (both two-point losses) and finished at 5-6.
Eastern lost its first four games and wound up with a 3-8 record, which led to the dismissal of head coach Kim Dameron. Former Northwestern assistant Adam Cushing was hired in December as his replacement.
Southern began the season with a rousing 49-10 romp at Murray State. The Salukis then dropped six straight games en route to a 2-9 record. SIU went winless at home, losing all five games at Saluki Stadium.
Much like baseball's spring training, optimism abounds in spring football camps.
"Tonight was a great start," ISU head coach Brock Spack said on GoRedbirds.com "I've told several people that this team is very deep at several positions, and that certainly showed tonight. I was particularly impressed with the wide receivers, running backs and offensive line. Each of those groups are strong and really athletic. This is going to be an interesting spring and we are certainly much further ahead than we were last year at this time. There's a lot of work to do still, but I like what I saw out there tonight."
In Carbondale, SIU head coach Nick Hill said, "We're six weeks into winter conditioning and lifting and it feels good to change up the routine. Everybody was excited and eager. Obviously, there's things you have to clean up on both sides of the football, day one-type things--new quarterbacks, new defensive scheme--but I like everybody's attitude and enthusiasm."
After Western revealed its fall schedule that includes six home games, head coach Jared Elliott said, "We are looking forward to the 2019 season and every opportunity that we will have as a team."
In Charleston, Cushing said, "We're going to win by being great fundamentally. Scheme can be overrated at times. We have really, really intelligent coaches and coordinators on both sides of the ball, but we're going to win by being great teachers out here on the field and getting the fundamentals where we need them to be to execute on a play-to-play basis."
Tentative spring games/final scrimmages
Former Illinois State running back Marshaun Coprich recently made his debut in the Alliance of American Football.
Coprich, the Redbirds' all-time leading rusher, was signed by the Birmingham Iron. Thus far, Coprich has rushed two times for seven yards; he has caught three passes for 18 yards.
Former Western Illinois center Jacob Judd is on the Arizona Hotshots roster.