Union College football ready for the annual spring game

BARBOURVILLE, Ky. – After 13 practices, the Union College football team is winding down spring practice and gearing up for Saturday’s Spring Game.

The Spring Game is set for Saturday at 1:30 p.m. at Williamson Stadium.

Head coach Zak Willis said the Bulldogs are ‘right on schedule’ with where they need to be as camp comes to a close this week.

“The defense started out ahead of the offense, which is a good thing,” Willis said. “Obviously, we played a lot of freshmen (on defense) last year, which was tough but will pay dividends this year.

“Yesterday,” he continued, “the offensive passing game looked a lot better and they’ve been able to run the ball well the last few days.”

Willis said it’s normal for the defense to start out ahead of the offense, and it is what you want to see as a coach.

“Offense is much more complicated,” the Bulldog coach noted. “There’s a lot more responsibility on that side of the football, and you have two huge developmental positions.”

The two developmental positions Willis alluded to are the offensive line and the quarterback position. He said kids need time to learn to play the line. As for the quarterback position, Willis feels Union is in good shape with Chandler Whittlesey.

“We have an advantage there in Chandler, who’s continued to be a great play caller and has done a great job for us on the field,” Willis added.

In two seasons under center, Whittlesey has thrown for 3,372 yards and 30 touchdowns while rushing for 841 yard and nine scores.

Confidence in the offensive line is growing, especially the return of three starters in Mike Livingston, Steven Bailes and Ty Robinson. Willis said the trio has all-conference caliber material, “maybe all-American caliber” talent.

Senior junior college transfer Garfield Dandridge and red-shirt freshman Keith Neal have made a big impact at running back, while Kyle Keplinger and Jalen Ashby has stood out at wide receiver.

Defensively, Willis said the bulldogs have been much more disciplined.

“Defensive players have certain players they watch and they key on, just like a quarterback does on offense,” he said. “And we’ve been much more disciplined. Our tackling is getting better. The one area we probably need to continue to work on is escaping blocks and getting off of blocks quicker.

“The school of hard knocks has made us a better defensive unit.”

Junior college transfer Serge Vita and Josh Rocker have made an impact on the defensive line, while Jake Averhart and Josh Cole have been solid at linebacker, especially with all-conference linebacker Jake Johnston out for the spring.

In the secondary, Willis said the entire unit has looked sound.

“They’ve all done a great job, but I will say our impact player back there has been Doug Jeter,” Willis commented.

The only thing that could put a stop to the Spring Game is the weather. With a forecast for rain, including thunderstorms, for Saturday, Willis said it will be a game-day decision on what the team will do.

Should all go according to plan, the Bulldogs’ No. 1 unit will face the rest of the team with the team being spotted 28 points to see if the No. 1 unit and catch up. The first half will be played like a normal game, but a running clock will be utilized during the second half.

Union will have a full crew of Mid-South Conference referees to officiate the game.

“My goal is to have good, solid football and no injuries,” Willis said.

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