JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Entering his 3rd year as the Jacksonville University head football coach, Ian Shields explained that there are certain dates circled on his calendar that he looks forward to every season.
"First day in pads! It's like Christmas!" exclaimed Shields as his team left the practice fields on Wednesday.
Shields has only nine seniors to show the freshman the ropes as the pads came on. He and the Dolphins are relying on a junior-heavy class to lead the way on and off the field.
"We are building towards it and that's why they call it practice," says Shields who is 12-9 in his two seasons so far at JU. "We don't play a game for a couple of weeks but we have a good veteran group that are pointing the way forward."
One of those veterans that Shields is relying on is linebacker Caysaun Wakeley. The junior from Alachua started all 11 games for the Dolphins and was All-PFL honorable mention after 70 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and an interception in 2017. Wakeley says that as a veteran on this team, he knows that the underclassmen are looking to him as an example.
"Just give relentless effort at all times. You never want to be a bad example for the young guys, they feed off of that type of energy. You give them negative energy, that's what they feed off of and now you have a bad foundation. We know the expectations, we know we have to come out here every day and give it our all."
Part of that energy is getting used to the heat according to Wakeley. This being his third preseason camp with Coach Shields, he has some great advice for the freshmen coming in.
"As a freshman, I wasn't really big on water. Never was a water guy, but now as a vet, I will highly recommend that you stay on your fluids man. You come out here with this heat and this turf that make it hotter, I would highly advise to stay hydrated," says Wakeley.
Coming off of a 7-4 season and playing for second place in the conference on the last weekend of the season are things that Shields is leaning on, but not depending on for this year's team to be successful.
"Our identity is firmly in place, we know what to do and how to do it. We know what our style of play is and where the expectations are at so, we had a good year last year but our expectations are to win the PFL championship. We have some work to do to get that accomplished.
Shields and the Dolphins open their 2018 season against St. Augustine's on September 1st, followed by Mercer on the road the following Saturday.