Panthers wrap up seasonal workouts with spring game


Rob Le Cates

Eastern Head Football Coach Chris Wilkerson talks to the team after the Alumni Social Spring Game Saturday afternoon at O’Brien Field. Wilkerson said he was impressed with the team’s energy and enthusiasm, feeling the whole effort put forth as a team.

Autumn Schulz, Assistant Sports Editor

After a month of preparation, the Eastern football team hosted their annual Alumni Social Spring Game Saturday afternoon where spectators got a taste of what the 2022 season could hold for the Panthers.  

Head coach Chris Wilkerson said that he was very pleased with the performances on both sides of the ball and that the atmosphere at O’Brien Field was great.  

“I am really pleased with the guys’ effort, the enthusiasm, the energy, their communication,” Wilkerson said. “Most importantly, the atmosphere was great for them to see how many alums came back and certainly 10 of the 19 signees that were here on campus again today for additional visits. To watch the guys, the improvement that happened this spring was good to see. I think we got out of here fairly healthy so that’s another big thing. We know we have a lot of work to do before Sept. 3, but very excited about the day and future of Panther football.” 

There were many alumni in the stands and future players on the sidelines as the blues took on the whites. Wilkerson, also an Eastern alum, said that seeing the alumni return was a very humbling experience.  

“It is exciting, it is humbling, to see guys that you have super strong relationships with and connections with and to see how much this place means to them,” Wilkerson said. “For them to come back the way that they did is very humbling, and I am just so grateful for their trust to take care of our football program and excited about delivering for them at the same time.” 

Now that the spring season has officially concluded, the Panthers will now shift their preparations to get ready for the regular season. Wilkerson said that they will mainly focus on conditioning between now and September.   

“It’s going to be very much focused on foundational conditioning. They had played 17 games in nine months and so we had some limited opportunities to actually condition,” Wilkerson said. “We have done a lot of speed, agility, quickness stuff but the conditioning part of it we know we got some work to do between now and preseason, so that will be the big focus during the summer. Some point late in the summer we will get into what we call football school, where we will get to reteach things again.” 

As the afternoon ended, Wilkerson announced the five team captains that will lead the Panthers this fall. Those slated in the captain positions are sophomore linebacker Colin Bohanek, sophomore safety Jordan Vincent, graduate student tight end Jay Vallie, redshirt sophomore Jaelin Benefield, and junior defensive lineman Tim Varga. They were voted captains by their teammates. 

Vallie said that being voted by his peers to be a captain meant a lot to him and he hopes that we can live up to what they expect from him.  

“To be voted by my peers to be a captain is very humbling, very proud of the work that I have done. I feel like these guys respect me, they have good feelings and my thoughts and my vision for success for the team,” Vallie said. “I think they value my thoughts. I think the relationship that I have with the players and the coaches, I think that I am a good middleman to mediate the gap that there is when we are not altogether. I am very thankful that these guys think of me in the way that they do, and I hope that can live up to what they expect.” 

Defensive coordinator Adam Gristick said that seeing Vincent being named one of the captains was an emotional moment because Vincent has suffered injury this spring.  

“I almost shed a tear for the kid because being a captain last year and not even putting on a uniform one time this spring, coming back from shoulder surgery,” Gritstick said. “For him to have that respect without even playing a snap this spring is a testament to the kid. He is an outstanding human and an outstanding football player.”   

As the regular season approaches for the Panthers, Vallie said that one of the main goals for the team is to become more confident, and summer practices are the perfect opportunity to do that.  

“For a team goal, just building confidence. Over the summer we are going to have a lot of guys that are here working hard, bonding, getting all of our stuff together,” Vallie said. “Going into the season, just knowing what we know and being confident and playing hard because confidence is 90 percent of the game, and the rest of the 10 percent is just reactions.” 


Autumn Schulz can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]