Eastern Michigan players love practice at Ford Field

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

Detroit — Eastern Michigan’s football team switched up its normal practice routine on Monday, taking the first of what it hopes are several trips to Ford Field this season.

Roughly 200 spectators were on hand to witness the team’s ninth spring practice, including fans, local high school coaches and potential recruits, many on official visits with their families.

It was an idea that began taking shape a few weeks ago. And as word started trickling out, many players couldn’t help but count down the days.

“We were excited,” redshirt junior quarterback Brogan Roback said. “At first, we didn’t know it was true until it started going around that it was a for-sure deal. We were stoked.

“All day, that’s what was on everyone’s mind was getting here. Nothing but excitement, nothing but guys getting ready to improve and showing what they got in an NFL stadium.”

It was a unique opportunity that worked out quite well, considering Eastern Michigan hasn’t been able to practice indoors because of structural damage to its practice facility and has been practicing outside exclusively, albeit weather permitting.

“It was good for us to be in a different venue. We talked about it just because we’re going to be in so many different situations and scenarios this fall,” third-year coach Chris Creighton said. “We’ve got Friday games, Tuesday games, Wednesday games and Saturday games all at different kickoff times. As we’re maturing and growing as a program, this is great for opportunity for nine out of 15 (practices) to get on a bus and go to a different venue. It was really good for us in that way.

“Of course, it’s fun to be in this awesome venue so it’s a neat experience, but even more meaningful for us is all of these different challenges or experiences will help us in the fall.”

For many players, Monday marked the first time being able to suit up and take the field at a professional stadium.

“We came here last year just kind of walking around, kind of getting the vision of making that path coming here to Ford Field for the (Mid-American Conference) championship,” Roback said. “It was my first time running around, throwing the ball around in here. It was a good feeling.

“This is a great venue close to home but this is where we want to be in December, so it’s a good time to come here, practice and get our minds right.”

Roback added it wasn’t just a typical practice, but a taste of what could possibly lie ahead.

“It’s awesome. It’s good for us players,” he said. “It’s something that motivates everyone, whether that’s playing at the next level or playing in a bowl game here or for the MAC championship.

“Football blesses us with a lot of opportunities and this is just one of them.”

While Eastern Michigan has posted a 3-21 record (1-15 in MAC play) the past two seasons under Creighton, Roback hopes those in attendance learned about the amount of sweat that’s put in behind the scenes.

“The amount of wins might not show that but we work and that’s something we can show outsiders, even our own fans or just to the public,” Roback said. “We do work, we get after it and we have the mindset and the players to make plays to get Ws. That’s one way to showcase those things in a different atmosphere other than just a game.”

Eastern Michigan will conclude its spring practice on Saturday, April 9 with its annual spring game at 3 p.m. at Rynearson Stadium in Ypsilanti.

EMU also was the second local college team to take over Ford Field this past week, joining Michigan, which practiced there Saturday in front of an estimated crowd of 6,000.

And while the season doesn’t kick off until Sept. 3 against Mississippi Valley State, Creighton hopes the trip to Ford Field will help leave a lasting impression and inspire his team.

“Internally, there’s some real genuine excitement about the steps we’ve taken in building things the way that we believe in and believe will ultimately be successful,” Creighton said. “I think that we’re going to see another big step forward (this year).

“Our seniors are dead-set on going and winning a bowl game. ... All of that is a long ways away but is there some visualization in some of these guys as they walk out here, getting off the bus? I don’t know how it couldn’t.”