Hilltoppers embracing new techniques in spring practice

John Reecer

The WKU football team has been sharpening up in spring practice for the past two weeks as they get ready for the upcoming season, and new Head Coach Mike Sanford has been employing some new techniques with his new squad.

One such strategy is lessening focus on keeping the practice scripted as it has been in the past at WKU. Instead, Sanford and company let the Hilltoppers simply “play football” as they let different situations come up organically.

“Sometimes as coaches, we want to just have periods that are segmented,” Sanford said after practice on Friday. “But when you play the game and actually move the ball, a lot of those situations come up naturally, and players start to condition themselves mentally for those situations.”

Sanford said he got this technique from University of Oklahoma Head Coach Bob Stoops during Sanford’s time as an assistant at the University of Notre Dame.

“One thing they do in their practices is that they just play football,” Sanford said of Stoops’ team. “Whether it’s a live period or a tag-off period, they just allow those situations to come up organically.”

Sanford added that University of Michigan Head Coach Jim Harbaugh also uses this technique to keep practices fresh for his players.

“One time there was a practice early on in spring ball, and he was tired of scripting all the plays,” Sanford said of Harbaugh. “He didn’t want to follow it, so he tore it up, put the ball on the 20 and said let’s play ball.”

Another technique the team is using is the early usage of headsets in practice by coaches to better prepare the Hilltoppers for game-like situations.

“We just want to get our communication to a season-like level sooner than the season,” Sanford said. “It just allows us to communicate with one voice. We want to create that excitement and chaos at practice because players are going to have to respond to those environments to beat Illinois and Vanderbilt. We have to put them in those tense situations early on and get our communication from our coaching staff and from a play-calling standpoint where it needs to be.”

Last Friday’s practice was the Hilltoppers’ first practice of the spring in full pads, and Sanford was very pleased with what he saw on the field.

“Today was a great day,” Sanford said. “It was the first-day doing live football. Today we got a chance to see and evaluate who are our best blockers and who are our best playmakers when it’s a live, move the ball situation. We also wanted to see what kind of physicality we have on both sides of the football.”

In the session, Sanford said the defense came out strong and was able to limit what the offense was able to do. However, that other side of the ball would finish practice on a very high note.

“It was good to see the offense bounce back and have three touchdown-scoring drives to even things out towards the end of the day,” Sanford said of the offense. “I like where we are at as a team. Practices are extremely energetic and competitive. This is a group that loves playing football.” 

Reporter John Reecer can be reached at 270-427-8320 and [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @Reece_12_Falcon.