JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Members of the Jacksonville football team reported back to campus Wednesday to begin preparations for the upcoming 2016 season. The roster is flushed with a mix of veterans and newcomers, and new Head Coach Ian Shields aspires not only to have his team game ready for the season opener at Liberty on Sept. 10, but to see the team bond throughout the month. To ignite that process, the Dolphins are traveling to Camp Blanding, about an hour southwest of campus in Starke, Fla., to begin their preseason training camp.
"We're excited about this season and to bring in the newcomers to blend them in with the veterans," said Shields. "The first order of business is bonding our team and that's our top goal coming into training camp as to truly become a team. Camp Blanding provides an excellent opportunity for that and our staff is excited to see the impact its people and setting has on our team."
The Dolphins will undergo the typical rigors of training camp, however the addition of team building exercises molded from Camp Blanding and guest speakers with strong military backgrounds will intensify the bonding progression.
"Bonding doesn't happen by suggestion or casually. We've got to come together as one and play at one. By the time camp ends and we step on the field at Liberty, we need to understand who we are, what we do, and how to get there. We're on a journey and mission to get that done."
Jacksonville returns key contributors from last season on both sides of the ball, led by Preseason All-Pioneer Football League choices Ulysses Bryant at running back and Grady Redding at linebacker. Shields will call upon those seniors and others to lead the freshman class through the grind of training camp and increase the team's cohesion.
"On both sides of the ball there's probably too many names to mention," said Shields about the quantity of Dolphin leaders. "Defensively, Justin Horton has a strong presence and is talented. Redding returns as an all-conference linebacker and is an exceptional player. Armani Sampson, Emon Smith, and Tyler Havenner are talented and have played a bunch."
"Offensively, Bryant is a returning all-conference running back, three guys on the offensive line, Jake Dempsey, Andrew Guthart, and Robert Ritterhoff, played extensively a year ago. Notably, Rylan Wells has played well at quarterback in his cameo appearances in the past backing up Kade Bell. He has talent, and fits the style of play of our spread-option offense as a true dual-threat player. Jamal Adjamah at running back played well a year ago and is going to get better, and Frantz Caudio and Pernell Rattray are explosive players. Brian Burnett and Prince Gray are perimeter players who can run."
Upon arrival, the Dolphins received their room keys, forms, and equipment. After concussion testing and physicals, they heard from a variety of members from the JU Athletic Department. Following conditioning testing Thursday, the Dolphins will load buses and head west to Camp Blanding until Monday.
JUDolphins.com will provide daily updates from Camp Blanding, and for a behind-the-scenes look, following the Dolphins on Twitter at @JU_Football.