JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Carson-Newman head football coach Mike Turner pointed to his team's enthusiasm and energy as hallmarks of Carson-Newman football as the Eagles' first-year head coach prepares to wrap up spring ball Thursday with the annual Orange-Blue Game.
Kick is slated for 3:45 p.m. from Burke-Tarr Stadium. The game will feature the first team offense versus the first team defense, second team v. second team, etc. The contest will operate as a game for as long as possible, but Turner indicated he may put his team through some situational moments if they don't occur naturally through the game.
Much like the rest of East Tennessee, Carson-Newman's spring practice period has been mired with bouts of flu. With double-digit absences some days because of illness, Turner has been enthused about his unit's positivity in the face of adversity.
"We've taught kids about effort and playing fast," Turner said. "They've responded to that with excitement, and to enjoy competing, and that's what we wanted to get out of this spring. That's been the greatest excitement for me, is watching them respond. What we've learned to do is the old term 'next man up.' When guys have been out with the flu, they haven't backed off one iota."
With the rash of illnesses Turner has seen plenty of players step up. He in particular singled out Jonathan Mason (Tallahassee, Fla.). The soon-to-be-senior has converted to tight end after making five tackles with a half sack in eight games last season.
"Jon Mason, you talk about taking the bull by the horns," Turner said. "He's a fifth-year senior who took a trusting deal to come back and play. He's established himself as a force at tight end."
Turner also pointed to the running backs and offensive line for the adjustments they've had to make.
"I've liked our young running backs who have come in and stepped up," Turner said. "We were able to function in a scrimmage last Saturday with an offensive line that didn't have a single player at a position they played in the last year. They had some breakdowns, don't get me wrong, but they also did some stuff that would enable us to compete."
Ultimately Turner is looking forward to having a full complement of players healthy.
"It's time to polish up some things in these final days," Turner said. "We'll be a little limited in the time for the spring game because of the number of healthy bodies we have. What we need is spring break. That way the kids can get out of here, get away from each other and get well. It's looked like we're a hospital at times with the number of players who have been wearing masks to try to keep from catching the crud."
Kickoff for the spring game is set for 3:45 Thursday. Highlights will be available at cneagles.com at the conclusion of the contest.