A long awaited return: The Buffs open fall practice after months of speculation


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West Texas A&M head football coach Hunter Hughes speaks to his team following the Buffs first fall workout Tuesday. [Jess Rice/ WTAMU athletics]

It was touch and go after a summer of uncertainty due to the ongoing coronavirus, however, the West Texas A&M football team opened 2020 fall workouts despite the Lone Star Conference’s decision to push football to the spring. Even with the NCAA cancelling fall championships at the Division II level, it didn’t stop WT President Dr. Walter Wendler, athletic director Michael McBroom and fourth-year head football coach Hunter Hughes from making sure football happened in Canyon as normal.

The Buffs reported 129 players to fall camp Tuesday as they get set for a makeshift five-game schedule which begins on Saturday, Sept. 19, when WT plays host to Oklahoma Panhandle State at 7 p.m. on J-Ferg Field at Buffalo Stadium.

“We looked at the safety and health of the players,” said Hughes, who is 17-16 during his first three seasons as head coach. “They wanted us to play eight to 10 games in the spring then come back two and a half or three months later and start again.

“I just don’t think that’s the right thing to do. If there’s an injury there’s no time for the player to recover so they can miss two seasons. We all felt like it was best to get things rolling this fall, and play as many games as we can.”

The best news for Hughes and his team is that all players can compete in all five games this fall and not have it count against their year of eligibility thanks to a ruling from the NCAA.

West Texas A&M quarterback Nick Gerber delivers a pass during fall practice Tuesday morning. Gerber threw for 2,016 yards last season as a sophomore. [Jesse Rice/ WTAMU athletics]

WT returns a loaded roster of 30 letterman off a team that went 8-3 a year ago.

Junior quarterback Nick Gerber is back under center for a second straight year, while Stratford graduate and redshirt junior Parker Hanna (6-foot-5, 315 pounds) is back for his third year starting at left tackle. Senior fullback/ tight end Jordan Johnson also returns as a major weapon.

Defensively, senior linebackers Hayden Dennis and Eric Collins make up a fierce group, and the ever-exciting Tobias Harris will begin his third year starting at cornerback, as well as a return specialist.

Harris, only a junior, already holds the school-record for punt return yards in a season with 436 yards he set in 2019, and career punt return yards with 756.

Though the team knows they will be playing for nothing more than pride this fall, Tuesday’s practice felt much more than just a workout. There was an intense energy of thankfulness in the air amongst all the players.

“It felt great just to be out here,” said Gerber, who threw for 2,016 yards with 16 touchdowns last year. “We didn’t get a full spring ball in March, so it’s been a longtime. I feel we all look good for the first day. I just can’t thank coach (Hunter) Hughes, Mr. McBroom and Dr. Wendler for making this happen.”

Dennis, a fifth-year linebacker that has played in 31 games, echoed Gerber’s comment.

“Everyone worked their tail off this summer to make playing a reality,” said Dennis, who ended last year with 118 tackles. “We trusted them and we’re excited to be out here playing.”

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