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Football: Locals adjust to speed at UL practice

STM products Fleming, Kelley learning drills

There was never a question that Grant Fleming and Lance Kelley were physically ready to handle college football.

What they may not have been ready for was the pace of UL’s first practice session, and the speed at which things took place Saturday in the Ragin’ Cajuns’ fall camp opener.

"It was a lot more up-tempo," said Fleming, who worked with the safeties during Saturday’s two-hour session. "You definitely had to pay attention a lot more."

"You don’t walk anywhere out here," said wide receiver Kelley. "It’s a big adjustment … it’s more intense and fast-paced."

The two St. Thomas More products and the only two locals in UL’s spring signee class hit the ground running with 102 teammates Saturday. In their first collegiate practice, they began pairing up the physical with the mental aspects learned from playbooks and meetings.

"The coaches made it easy to understand," said Kelley, an All-State selection who had significant yardage rushing, passing, receiving and on both kickoff and punt returns as a Cougar senior. "But you have to listen and keep your ears open."

Kelley was listening to new Cajun receivers coach Daryl Mason, a veteran of over two decades of college coaching and one who has seen many first-time freshman struggle on opening day.

"I knew he had good size going in, but I was impressed with the way he ran and caught," Mason said. "He’s a good athlete. The toughest thing for the young guys is the tempo … they’re not used to going that fast and pushing like that, but he handled it well. He didn’t have a lot of reps, but he went hard."

Fleming, also an All-State pick and a three-time 5-4A All-District selection at STM, made an instant impression on safeties coach Tim Rebowe during Saturday’s drills.

"He picks up on things well," Rebowe said. "He’s sharp and he understands what we’re trying to get accomplished. You can tell he has a good background.

"He got a bunch of reps, and he wasn’t a fish out of water. He was vocal and took charge. He made the checks and got us in the right calls."

Fleming isn’t that far behind even the veterans since UL’s defensive scheme has changed since the 2006 season, but he said that Saturday was a learning experience.

"The coaches did a good job of teaching it," he said, "but I know I learned a lot just from being out here today. We’re all learning a whole new defense, and I’m getting a lot of help from the other safeties."

"It’s so important to get a good foundation on the first day," Rebowe said. "You hear a lot of guys saying that they have time to catch up. But if you don’t get it right and you forget the basics, you end up getting lost when we start adding more to it."

Neither of the two got lost on Saturday, even with their units making rapid-fire changes in field position including one quick session in the new indoor facility for each position group.

"I just tried to stay with the other receivers," Kelley said. "I kind of kept an eye on the guys like Derrick (Smith) and Jason Chery and kind of went where they went. They’ve been around for a while, so I figure if they’re in the wrong place they’ll get in trouble first."

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Brad Kemp/The Advertiser

Lance Kelley, left, and Grant Fleming stand on the sideline during UL’s first football practice on Saturday.