BOILING SPRINGS – With its annual team meeting at 2:30 pm Monday, Gardner-Webb football officially logged in for 2016 preseason camp with a full roster of 95 student-athletes.
The Runnin' Bulldogs will get down to business with a conditioning test early Tuesday morning and will hit the practice fields for the first time Tuesday at 3:00 pm.
"This time of year brings with it great excitement and anticipation," said head coach Carroll McCray, who is in his fourth year in charge of a rebuilding process at his alma mater. "Each one of these young men with us today will play a role in pushing our team forward. We will obviously concentrate on installation and schematics and conditioning as camp unfolds, but we will focus intently on improving our ability to compete with great teamwork and to finish games with great energy, grit and determination."
Student-athletes started the check-in process around 10:00 am on Monday and went through an array of administrative tasks before heading off to lunch. Many of Monday's arrivals had been on campus for summer workouts just two weeks ago, but it was the first time that all 95 men were in the same location. That roster number will expand to more than 100 once classes begin on August 24.
Gardner-Webb added five men to its recruiting class over the summer, including three transfers from the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS).
The transfers include tight end Caleb Chapman (Ft. Myers, Fla. / Akron), receiver Braylin Collins (Duncan, S.C. / Eastern Michigan) and quarterback Ramsey Rigby (Elba, Ala. / Troy). True freshman offensive lineman Daniel Smith (Williston, S.C. / Williston-Elko HS) signed with the Runnin' Bulldogs in June as well.
Chapman (6-3, 230, R-So.) played quarterback during his two seasons with the Zips and led Class 2A in passing yards per game as a senior at Evangelical Christian (Fla.) School in Ft. Myers – earning honorable mention All-State honors. He passed for 2,161 yards and 22 touchdowns in only nine games as a prep senior.
Collins (6-1, 180, R-Fr.) redshirted during his freshman season in Ypsilanti, Mich., and held offers from a host of schools after a standout career at nearby Byrnes (S.C.) High. The speedster (4.45-second time in 40) was rated as the No. 4 receiver in the Palmetto State as a senior and averaged 19.3 yards per catch that season. He held scholarship offers from Gardner-Webb, James Madison, Liberty, Towson, Youngstown State and South Carolina State before signing with Eastern Michigan.
Rigby (6-1, 190, Fr.) enrolled at Troy one semester early in January and participated with the Trojans under center during spring practice. He transferred to Gardner-Webb in late June and enrolled in summer classes to begin work with his future teammates in Boiling Springs. As a high school quarterback, Rigby starred at Elba (Ala.) High under his father, Ed Rigby, and led the team to a 14-1 mark and a Class 2A state championship in 2015. Rigby earned All-State honors after passing for 2,287 yards and 30 touchdowns in 2015 – forging a crisp 221.45 passer rating in the process. He also earned All-State honors as a junior and finished his career with 7,356 yards and 95 touchdowns through the air.
Smith (6-4, 270, Fr.) is an athletic tackle who was a Class 1A All-State selection by the S.C. Coaches Association in 2015. He cleared a path for a 2,000-yard rusher as a senior and led his Williston-Elko Blue Devils to a 17 wins over his last two seasons combined. An agile big man, Smith covers the 40-yard dash in 5.2 seconds and was named team MVP twice in the sport of tennis.
Gardner-Webb welcomes back 21 starters from its 2014 squad along with 54 returning letterwinners. Linebacker Aaron Cook (6-1, 235, Sr.), tight end Mike Estes (6-4, 240, Gr.) and linebacker Chad Geter (6-2, 253, Gr.) each earned All-Big South honors last season. Center Caleb Smith (6-3, 328, Gr.) joined Cook and Geter on this year's preseason All-Big South Conference team announced on July 26 in Charlotte.
Quarterback Tyrell Maxwell (6-2, 220, Jr.) returns after becoming the first man to lead the team in rushing (794 yards) and passing (994 yards) in the same season. In fact, Gardner-Webb returns each of its statistical leaders in seven main categories from the 2014 season – passing (Maxwell), rushing (Maxwell), receiving (Estes), tackles (Geter), sacks (Geter), interceptions (Cook, Angel Guzman and Spencer Havird) and scoring (Paul Schumacher).
After Tuesday's afternoon practice, Gardner-Webb will begin its traditional camp schedule, with morning practices beginning on Wednesday. Team photo day is set for Thursday afternoon, followed by single practices on Friday and Saturday mornings. The Saturday session will be the team's first in full pads. The 'Dogs will have their first two-a-day practices on Monday, August 15 – with those days alternating through Monday, August 22.
Full pad scrimmages are currently scheduled for Tuesday, August 16 and Saturday, August 20.
Regular practice schedule begins with the start of classes on August 24, with preparations for the season opener at Elon becoming more intensive. The Runnin' Bulldogs travel to face the Phoenix on Saturday, September 3 at 3:30 pm to begin the 2016 campaign.