On Wednesday morning, the McNeese State football team donned full pads for the first time in fall training camp.
Things got a little heated toward the end of practice, more than likely because of the full pads and the hitting, which amped up from the first few days of practice with either just a helmet or helmet and shoulder pads.
First-year Cowboys head coach Sterlin Gilbert said he wants his team to always compete, but he also wants to make sure they walk the fine line of competing without going all out and teammates potentially fighting or hurting each other.
"That's a fine line in this game," Gilbert said. "It's a hard game to practice and guys got to learn how to do that. It's something we're coaching on a daily basis. You've got a bunch of competitive guys out here playing a contact sport. They know when we're letting them loose, when it's a thud. We've got to know and continue to understand how to practice."
The first day of full pads is generally when players start to separate themselves because they can do more hitting. The restrictions on full-contact portions of practice has drastically lessened the amount of contact compared to how it was in the past, but it's still arguably the best time to evaluate the players.
Among the players who enjoyed having full pads and who is said to have had a good start to fall camp is junior wide receiver Trevor Begue. The Lafayette native and St. Thomas More graduate is looking to improve on a sophomore season which saw him haul in 23 receptions for 240 yards and three touchdowns.
As a whole, the wide receiving corps and passing game struggled for various reasons. But an infusion of talent into the wide receiver room — transfers Rhashid Bonnette (Louisiana Tech) and Davion Curtis (Temple Junior College) among the additions — has Begue and the offense brimming with confidence about how they will perform this season.
"Competition brings out the best in everybody," Begue said. "We're going to need a lot of receivers in this offense because we're high tempo. We're going to need a lot of guys so we're going to need a deep room. You want to be pushed. That's all you can ask for really."
Along with the transfers (Bonnette and Curtis) and some of the returning players from last season (Begue and junior Cyron Sutton), the Cowboys have seen true freshman Mason Pierce emerge as an explosive playmaker. Late in Wednesday's practice, Pierce broke a long touchdown reception that hyped up the offense.
Gilbert has said he will play a true freshman if he feels he's earned it. At least in the eyes of teammates, Pierce is showing that he deserves it.
"He's shifty," Begue said. "He's one of those guys, you just have to get him the ball. Just give him a little bit of space and he'll turn it into a 60-yard touchdown like he did (on Wednesday)."
The emergence of the wide receivers is something appreciated from the other side as well. When senior cornerback Colby Burton was asked about how the wide receivers are doing and how that affects them, he was complementary and happy with the competition they bring.
"We've got guys like Davion, Roddy (Rhashid Bonnette) coming here with speed, some speed we haven't had in awhile," Burton said. "Guys like Begue, Cyron, we have some depth at the offensive side. We're going to give guys problems on the back end when we play teams."
The Cowboys will practice from 9-11:30 a.m. today with no media permitted. The team will celebrate its FanFest from 4:30-6 p.m. Sunday.