The return of football will bring obvious changes to the East Tennessee State athletic department. There will also be some subtle differences in having football players on campus again.
Nobody understands that better than Lee Morrow, ETSU’s longtime strength and conditioning coach. He has missed the attitude and energy that dozens of those guys brought to his work every day in the weight room.
“Lifting is part of football life, and it’s fun for them,” said Morrow, proudly wearing an old ETSU football t-shirt in the Dome last week. “It was like a big party in the weight room when football was here. Paul Hamilton used to call it ‘bang and clang.’ Those weights moved with vigor when those guys were here. You had to hold them back.”
Morrow’s workload changed dramatically when the program was dropped in 2003. So did the psychology of the athletic department as a whole.
“I think the other athletes enjoyed having the football players here,” said Morrow.
Now everyone is waiting to see how things unfold under president Brian Noland’s leadership.
Noland announced the process for starting a new football program on Tuesday, naming former Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer as a special assistant to interim athletic director Richard Sander. A head coach could be hired within a month, and the university plans to be playing in the 2015 season.
“This fills a tremendous gap, for me and a lot of others,” said Morrow, 58. “I’m too old now to be the strength coach for football; that will likely be somebody else. But I’m ecstatic to see it back and anxious to see how all the parts fit together.”
n The ETSU tennis teams had a chance to make a statement last weekend in Florida, and they did just that.
Stung by an early loss to North Florida — only their second in the regular season in eight years in the Atlantic Sun Conference — the Bucs routed Stetson 6-1 and then went to Florida Gulf Coast and shut out the Eagles. Both teams had been previously unbeaten in conference play.
The Lady Bucs, meanwhile, blanked Stetson and beat Gulf Coast 5-2. They are now the only undefeated women’s team in the league.
“We had to make it happen,” director of tennis Yaser Zaatini said Wednesday. “We’re always striving to be the best we can be, and that means always having to prove ourselves. Every time we step on the court, we get blasted with everybody’s best tennis.
“I keep reminding our guys and girls that they’re buying into the tradition of the program here. There’s a responsibility that goes with that.”
The A-Sun championships will be on the ETSU campus in just over two weeks. The Bucs have won six titles in a row, but for once they may not be the team to beat coming out of the regular season.
North Florida is currently 4-0, while ETSU and Stetson each have one loss.
“When you talk about the tournament and the standings, I don’t think North Florida is going to lose between now and then,” said Zaatini. “We just have to run the table and be playing our best tennis at tournament time.”
n Zaatini will have a chance to show off his new outdoor facilities when the A-Sun teams convene here on April 19. He’s still trying to warm up to the surroundings, out near Summers-Taylor Stadium.
“We’ve played two matches there and we’re 0-2, so I’ve not been enjoying it too much yet,” said Zaatini, referring to losses to North Florida and Dartmouth. “It’s beautiful, and the concept is fantastic. There’s so much potential to it. But a lot still needs to be done. Right now it’s tennis courts with the potential to be a great facility.
“I know it’s hard with all the budget restraints, and I appreciate the efforts greatly, but we still need to grow it.”
n To say the softball team savored its sweep of Tennessee Tech on Tuesday would be an understatement.
The Bucs rallied in the opener at Basler Field with six runs in the bottom of the seventh to tie the game, then got a walk-off homer from freshman Bethany Cowart in the eighth for a 9-7 victory. In the second game, they built a 4-0 lead and held on to win 6-5.
ETSU (10-21) entered the day having lost six in a row and 15 of its last 16.
“We needed a sweep like that to lift some spirits,” coach Brad Irwin said Wednesday. “We seem to have a flair for the dramatic this year; we’ve played several close games and extra innings. We’ve just been on the wrong side of things.”
Now the Bucs have to concentrate on winning conference games – any conference games. They’re in the cellar right now with their 0-11 start.
Lipscomb (6-6) will be in town this weekend for a three-game series.
“I think it’s just a confidence thing,” said Irwin, whose team went 1-17 in the league a year ago. “We’re a little apprehensive and don’t play carefree. And then comes a day like yesterday. It’s hard to put a finger on it.”
n ETSU should get back to winning conference baseball series this weekend when it visits last-place Northern Kentucky.
The Bucs won their first A-Sun series against USC Upstate but have lost their last two, against Florida Gulf Coast and North Florida. All have been by 2-1 counts.
They tuned up Wednesday night with a 3-0 shutout of Tennessee Tech in a nonconference game at Thomas Stadium. That snapped the Golden Eagles’ 14-game winning streak and left the Bucs with a 15-11 record.
Logan Rice (2-1) combined with three relievers on the shutout. Clint Freeman picked up his third save with two innings of work.
The Bucs have a good chance to build some momentum this weekend in Highland Heights, Ky.
Northern Kentucky is floundering in its first season in the A-Sun, with a 1-5 conference record. The Norse are 3-24 overall.