The home stretch of spring ball is approaching for Ashland University's football team, and that means the annual Purple & Gold Spring Game and golf outing are close at hand.
Ashland's 72-man spring roster will round out a month of practices with the annual spring game on April 13 at 1 p.m. at Jack Miller Stadium/Martinelli Field. On April 12, the AU Football Alumni & Friends Golf Outing will tee off at 10 a.m. at Ashland Golf Club.
Eagles head coach Lee Owens said the format of the spring game is yet to be determined, but it most likely will be offense vs. defense, rather than a drafting of teams as in recent years.
"It's been good," Owens said of the team's spring practices to date. "We've been frustrated at times offensively, but we have to remember we're going against one of the top defenses in the country.
"We're excited about how good we can be on defense. We have a chance defensively to be every bit as good as we were last year, if not better."
Ashland has seven of its 11 defensive starters back for 2019, in addition to seven of 11 starters returning on offense. One of those offensive starters coming back is quarterback Austin Brenner, the 2018 Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year.
"The highlight of our spring has been Austin Brenner," Owens said. "He may be the fastest player on the field. He's playing like a veteran. He's leading the team. That's the highlight for us.
"It's been a good spring for us. There's obviously players not here that are going to be a big part of what we do in the fall, but the guys who are here are doing a great job, and carried over the attitude and the work ethic that we saw last season."
In 2018, Ashland was 6-4, with all four losses coming by a total of 21 points to top-25 outfits. In 2019, the Eagles' schedule features 11 opponents with a combined 2018 record of 73-52 (.584).
"We weren't that typical 6-4 team," said Owens. "We had some big wins. We're excited about next year. Our guys are confident. They've worked really hard."
This year's honorary coaches for the spring game are Ralph Tomassi and Dr. John Flora.
"From when I started coaching here, they were the two guys that were the most supportive and most loyal to this football program," Owens said. "They were just behind us, and both of them are such an important part of us being able to build to where we are today.
"Ralph is the founder of the Gridiron Club, and John Flora's name is on my office door as a sponsor of this facility. No one bleeds purple and gold football more than John Flora and Ralph Tomassi."
Prior to the spring game, there will be a VIP Reception for invited guests at 11:30 a.m. in the VIP Room in the Troop Center, then awards and recognition at 12:45 p.m. The reception will highlight Jeff Grubich, a former Eagle wide receiver and current head football coach at Kenston High School, as the Dr. Fred Martinelli Coach of the Year honoree; former All-American center Dominic Giunta, and Kay Jenney, Troop Center Administrative Assistant and Gridiron Club secretary, as the Golden Helmet Award winner.
Giunta will be added to the wall mural inside of the Troop Center as an AU All-American.
"Coach Grubich is coming off a state-championship run. He is being recognized all over the state," Owens said. "But he's excited about this recognition, and he should be. It's his school, and it's great to have coach Martinelli on the field to give that award.
"Kay's been a rock around here. She's the one who keeps us all going in the right direction. She's been a big part of keeping our Gridiron Club organized. The members of that club thought her contributions over the years, let's recognize her."
At halftime of the game, the Eagles will have their academic awards recognition – consisting of honoring the program's two 2018 Academic All-Americans (Travis Downing and Isaiah Stiverson), Stiverson as a 2018 fall GLIAC Commissioner's Award winner, 2018 GLIAC All-Academic Excellence and GLIAC All-Academic award winners, junior linebacker Clay Shreve as the Lee Owens Academic Award recipient, and recognition of Ashland faculty members invited to the game by the players.
At the spring game, AU's Student-Athlete Advisory Committee will have both a 50/50 raffle during the contest, and a corn hole tournament starting at 11 a.m. on the front lawn of the Troop Center.
Admission for the spring game is a donation to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which also will be the beneficiary of monies raised by SAAC's 50/50 and corn hole tourney.
The golf outing will have registration and range at 8:30 a.m. on April 12, followed by the shotgun start in a scramble format at 10 a.m. Dinner and golf prizes will begin at 3 p.m. Cost to play in the outing is $125 for an individual, $500 for a foursome and $550 for a foursome which includes a hole sponsorship. Hole sponsorships are $100 for a course display, and $250 for a display on the course, an invitation to the VIP Reception and recognition on the scoreboard at the spring game.
Scheduled to play in the golf outing is former AU All-American tight end and current Chicago Bear Adam Shaheen.
Sponsors for the Eagle football weekend are Ohio Health, the official health care provider for Ashland University athletics, Mansfield Distributing and AstroTurf.
For more information on the golf outing and the spring game, contact Jenney at 419-289-5475 or firstname.lastname@example.org.