Just getting back on the practice field for the first workout of preseason camp had the Bulldogs of South Carolina State excited about the upcoming season.
Friday's opening practice was moved from the morning hours to the middle of the afternoon, avoiding all but a light sprinkling of rain for the first day hitting the field.
After a brief time inside Oliver C. Dawson Stadium, all players in garnet and blue moved drills out to the practice fields for the remainder of the session. Workers, meanwhile, made repairs to the artificial turf surface of Willie E. Jeffries Field.
Apart from a muscle cramp or two, players ran through drills and 1-on-1 competition among all position groups with a focus and no real setbacks.
"It's one of the most enjoyable days of the year, the first day of practice," Bulldogs head coach Buddy Pough said, entering his 18th season as the leader of the football program at his alma mater. "You really get a chance to see the look in these guys' eyes, the ones you've been recruiting.
"They think they're the best thing since sliced bread, and they get out here and they see that there are other guys out here who can really play. They've got to figure out how to fit into this deal and carve a little niche for themselves. It's an eye-opening experience for them and for us too."
One player who didn't have to find his place to fit in with his position group was Alex Taylor, a 6-foot-9, 310-pound redshirt senior right tackle on the offensive line. Taylor is the lone Bulldog on the preseason All-MEAC team.
"Personally, I'm aiming to improve from being Third Team All-MEAC last season to being First Team All-MEAC and win offensive lineman of the year," Taylor said, having transferred to Orangeburg to play basketball for the Bulldogs two seasons ago, after starting his football career at Appalachian State. "I'm trying to work on leverage, since I'm a tall guy, and better myself in the run game.
"We finished the season strong last year, so we'd like to have good carryover from that and start strong this year. Day one was good; I was waiting on this ever since the spring. I'm ready to get this season rolling... and help our offensive side of the ball look good and be successful."
Taylor, a Moncks Corner native, arrived in Orangeburg two years ago in football shape at 320 pounds. Then he dropped 40 pounds to play basketball at 280 pounds. Now he has bulked up to 310 pounds for football.
"He (Taylor) is a big part of the overall process as far as being able to go out and push people around and have success running the football," Pough said. "The camaraderie and the combinations of what he and the other linemen can do will make up our offensive line.
"He is a smart guy and a big, talented individual. More than anything else, we are trying to be a cohesive group in a way that those guys can go out and dominate some."
The Bulldogs have been historically known for dominating on the defensive side of the ball. Senior starting defensive end/joker linebacker Bruce Johnson believes the 2019 version of the unit will post solid performances.
"I'm happy to be back out here and see all of our guys running around; I feel good about trying to win a championship," Johnson, a former Greenwood High School standout, said. "Once we put the helmets on and step on the field, like today, we practice like we are the No. 1 defense in the nation. It's not about trying. Trying to be great was all summer, lifting weights and running.
"It's all about improving some each day. Today was an effort day, learning day, technique day. The whole vibe is different for this team. Last year was so many young guys, but they grew up so fast. So, with that, we hit the practice field today and we were clicking and making things happen."
Throughout this preseason, Pough and his coaching staff have a vision for what this team could become for this fall's schedule of competition.
"We have a thought that we want to move around better, be faster, be more hard-nosed; it's about discipline and know-how," Pough said. "If we can get those things accomplished in the right way, it will come down to having the right people in the right places."
The plan is to have those people in place for the season-opener at home against Wofford College at 6 p.m. on Saturday, August 31.
Day two of preseason camp for the Bulldogs gets underway Saturday with practice at 9:30 a.m.