Big Rapids, Mich. - The 106th season of Ferris State University football is officially underway as the Bulldogs held their first practice Thursday at FSU's Top Taggart Field.
The Bulldogs, who reported to camp this week with more than 100 student-athletes on hand, practiced for the first time on the Mondo Ecofill artificial surface at the stadium on campus. The two and a half-hour workout was spirited and much work was accomplished despite the fact players were only allowed to wear helmets per NCAA regulations.
"It was awesome to be out there again with the guys and I thought our team spirit and camradiere was stronger that it has been in the past so it was a great first day," said head coach Tony Annese, who will start his third season at the Bulldog helm this fall. "Some of our veteran guys who have been here in our system the last couple of years have really stepped up and are taking charge of this team, which is important to see as we move forward."
Prior to Thursday's opening practice, the Bulldogs spent time on Wednesday and Thursday morning with various team and position meetings in addition to physicals, equipment check out and more.
FSU's second practice will take place on Friday afternoon and the Bulldogs will continue single practice sessions on the turf until the first two-a-day workouts are allowed. Based on the NCAA's acclimation period, all players must wear helmets only the first two practices followed by two days of half-pads work with the first day in full gear coming on Monday and the first two-a-day session on Tuesday.
Ferris' three-week training camp period will not only feature practices and scrimmages, but also meetings, lifting, conditioning, testing, orientation sessions and more leading up to the season opener.
The Bulldogs return nearly 50 letterwinners and at least 14 starters from a year ago when they finished with a 8-3 overall record and narrowly missed receiving the school's first playoff bid in 17 years.
Among the returnees for the Bulldogs this campaign are seven preseason NCAA Division II All-Americans, including four from the defensive unit in junior end Justin Zimmer (Greenville), senior defensive tackle Corey Stone (Sterling Heights/Stevenson), senior linebacker Darnell Morris (Detroit/Inkster) and senior defensive back A.J. McEwen (East Grand Rapids).
The offensive unit is represented by Preseason All-America quarterback and returning Harlon Hill Trophy candidate Jason Vander Laan (Frankfort, Ill./Chicago Christian) along with junior lineman Adam Bennett (Romeo) and senior receiver Jake Lampman (East Lansing/Haslett).
Ferris State wrapped up a successful 2013 campaign and the second season under Annese's direction last fall with a 8-3 overall record along with a second-place 8-2 finish in the GLIAC North Division standings.
The Bulldogs' eight-win campaign last fall was the school's first since 2006 and only the second in the program's last 16 seasons. Additionally, Ferris State's eight league wins in 2013 were also its most since 1996. FSU's eight league wins in 2013 were also its most since 1996 and the Bulldogs beat rival Grand Valley State for the second consecutive year to hold onto possession of the Anchor-Bone Trophy.
FSU also inked a highly-regarded 35-member recruiting class on National Signing Day in February. The talented class of 33 prepsters and two Division I transfers came on the heels of a stellar class a year ago that was labeled as the best in the nation.
The Bulldogs will begin their 106th season of varsity competition this coming fall with their sights set on competing for a potential GLIAC Championship and a NCAA Division II Playoff berth after posting only the program's second eight-win season in the last 16 years during the 2013 campaign. FSU opens the 2014 campaign with a non-league contest at McKendree (Ill.) on Thursday, Sept. 4, before visiting Northwood for their GLIAC opener on Sept. 13 in Midland.
FSU's 2014 home opener at Top Taggart Field will be on Sept. 20 as the Bulldogs entertain archrival Grand Valley State in the Anchor-Bone Classic with kickoff set for 7 p.m. (ET).
Both season and individual game tickets for all 2014 home contests are now on sale and can be purchased thru the FSU Athletics Ticket Office by calling (231) 591-2888 or online at StarTickets.com. For more information, please visit FerrisStateBulldogs.com.