Mason Mills awakened Wednesday morning with a purpose. The day he’s waited months for had finally arrived and he couldn’t wait to get started.
“It’s an exciting time, for sure,” said the senior quarterback for the University of San Diego football team.
August 7 marked the Toreros’ first fall practice day and the countdown to the start of USD’s 2013 season — which opens with an Aug. 31 non-conference road game against Cal Poly San Luis Obispo — will accelerate with anticipation.
“It’s a lot different than spring ball when you wake up, you’re looking forward to fall camp, but it’s lifting weights instead of practicing and getting ready for Cal Poly.”
Mills knows what’s ahead. He’s been getting prepared mentally and physically for all of the games, nonconference and those in the Pioneer Football League (PFL). He and a big group of returners took part in a two-hour morning workout to, as Mills called it, “get the kinks out and get our rhythm back.”
On Wednesday afternoon, meanwhile, freshman running back George Liang, who played at San Diego’s Del Norte High School, got his first taste of college football, Toreros style.
“It’s unreal,” the 6-foot, 215-pound athlete noted after Wednesday’s first practice exclusively for first-year players. “It’s everyone’s dream here to play college football. I’ve worked hard to get here, we all have. Our high school coaches told us it would be like this, too. Players are faster, they’re among the best around and everyone’s a lot bigger. You come in and you’re not guaranteed a starting spot. You’re starting at the bottom and you have to work hard to work your way up.”
Mills and Liang were among an estimated 110 players in camp — returning and new — to suit up for first-year USD head coach Dale Lindsey, a former AFL and NFL player and a veteran coach in the NFL, college and high school for more than 30 years. Lindsey (pictured below) was a linebackers’ coach for USD in 2008 and returned last year as defensive coordinator.
The first fall camp day for Lindsey, who was promoted in late December when Ron Caragher left to take the head coaching job at San Jose State, featured passionate words about dedication to a program that’s won a share of the PFL title the last two seasons. A preseason poll among PFL coaches gave the Toreros the status of league title favorite this year.
“We do take every game one at a time, but do we talk about the Pioneer Football League and talk about the three-peat,” Lindsey said. “We were voted by the coaches as the preseason favorite. It’s nice, but it doesn’t mean anything. It puts a target on our backs, but I like that. I’d rather be voted first than be last. The expectation at the University of San Diego is always to win the conference. And this year, with the FCS (Football Championship Subdivision) playoffs on top of that, it’s a bonus.”
Lindsey is referring to the PFL’s inclusion in the expanded FCS playoff format starting this year. The champion of the PFL, which this year expands to a 12-team league with the addition of Mercer (Macon, Ga.) and Stetson (DeLand, Fla.) universities, will earn an automatic berth into the FCS postseason field.
While Mills and Liang are players on opposite ends of college football from an experience standpoint, they’re both conscious about ingredients for the Toreros’ bid for success.
Liang is already enjoying the team’s camaraderie, which helps with team chemistry and serves as a foundation for a winning attitude.
“We get together as a team and I really like that I can be around the team the whole time. Everybody knows each other. It’s like family,” Liang said.
Mills, who has been USD’s starting quarterback the past two seasons, is happy with the bevy of returning talent as well as a few notable additions.
“It’s a veteran group that’s back on both sides of the ball. We’ve got guys like (defensive tackle) Bennie Harris who’s back after a year away, there’s a great offensive lineman, guard Daniel Murray (a transfer from University of Cincinnati), who fills a key spot, and, as you saw today (in practice), we’ve got talent at wideout and in the backfield. It’s definitely an exciting time for us, especially with the playoffs on the line.”
No doubt about it, USD football is wide awake and ready to go this fall.
— Ryan T. Blystone
Interested in attending the Aug. 31 game at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo? Sign up now for the USD pre-game tailgate party, organized by USD’s Central Coast Alumni Chapter and USD Athletics Development.