JSU moves practice up today, Fan Day set for Saturday

 The threat of afternoon showers forced the Jacksonville State football team to move practice up on Thursday, an adjustment that resulted in one of the Gamecocks' best practices under head coach Bill Clark.

The weather didn't just reschedule the Gamecocks' practice time, it also forced them to change the theme for the day. Clark felt his team took the updated theme and ran with it.

"We got up this morning and saw the radar, and you just have to make adjustments," Clark said. "We go over something different every day and today's word of the day was focus, but we had to change it to improvise.

"We had to improvise today and they handled it extremely well. It was probably one of the best practices we've had since I've been here, and I'm not afraid to say that because the energy was there. We're learning how to practice, we're learning what we want and if we can keep doing that we've got a chance."

The Gamecocks worked out on Burgess-Snow Field on Thursday after using the practice field twice on Wednesday. They ended the workout with some simulated drills that resulted in a very enthusiastic and upbeat end to the day.

"That's what you want," Clark noted. "What do you do in the fourth quarter? What do you do when the game is on the line? That doesn't mean everything, but it's something. You've got to have concentration and all of those other things that go with it, but I like it. It's still supposed to be a game and it's supposed to be fun. It's a serious game for us, but we still want to enjoy it."

One of the Gamecocks' most experienced offensive groups got a lot of work in those drills, where the running backs continued to open the eyes of the first year head coach. The group is led by Jimmy Ogle, the only returning coach from last year's staff, and it has picked up early in camp where it left off in a 2012 season that saw it run for almost 200 yards per game.

Junior and Preseason All-OVC pick DaMarcus James returns after leading the team in rushing a year ago with 867 yards, and the native of Demopolis, Ala., has shown the new head coach what has made him successful throughout his football career.

"Obviously, DaMarcus James is a guy that everybody knows because he comes to work every day," Clark said. "He was a great high school running back and, as I've said 100 times since I've been here, it was great to know that this guy was on our team. He comes to work every day, he's solid and he does all of the things that you want a running back to do."

Sophomore Troymaine Pope played a backup rols as a true freshman in 2012 but still managed to run for 240 yards and a score. Clark thinks the sky could be the limit on the potential of the Anniston, Ala., native.

"Troymaine Pope could really be something," Clark said. "He really could. Today, he came to work. It's always a question of whether you come to work every day, and our expectations are super high. If he does that, he could be as good as there is in this league. I really believe that."

Fellow sophomore Miles Jones is the only other returning back with any rushing yards to his credit last year, and the Acworth, Ga., native is stepping up his efforts to become an even greater piece for JSU in 2013.

"Miles Jones has taken some big steps," Clark added. "We have to have a No. 3 guy. He's learning to pass protect, which is what a good running back does first. He's protecting the ball and doing a lot of other things, so he's stepped up. We also have a lot of younger guys in that position coming on."

JSU opens the season at Alabama State on Aug. 31 in Montgomery. Fans can purchase tickets to that game or to any of the six home games in 2013 from the JSU Ticket office by calling 1-877-JSU-TIXX or by visiting the Gamecocks online at www.jsugamecocksports.com.

Tickets will also be on sale at the team's annual Football Fan Day on Sunday at 2 p.m. at JSU Stadium. Admission is free and fans can meet the 2013 Gamecocks, as well as Cocky, the JSU Cheerleaders and the Marching Southerners. Free football schedule posters will also be available.