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Norfolk State begins spring football practice: ‘We’re off to a good start.’

NORFOLK — Norfolk State started its spring practice bright and early Friday morning at Dick Price Stadium.

“After the season we had last year, it feels great to be back out here,” head coach Dawson Odums said. “I really think we return a lot of quality pieces of the puzzle. You know how the world is now, you go through spring ball and never stop recruiting. But I feel good about this group that’s going through spring ball and their offseason work ethic and their dedication to being better. We’re gonna see what these 15 practices look like this spring, but we’re off to a good start.”

Odums and the Spartans added 27 newcomers to the roster with the 2024 signing class, including 13 mid-year signees. After wrapping up winter workouts, Odums said he’s pleased with the makeup of the roster as spring ball starts.

“I think it’ll give us a chance to win,” Odums said. “We’re looking for some key positions to get better, but it gives us a chance to win. I think when you return as many D-linemen (as we did) — and we added to that — and as many O-linemen (as we did) — and we added to that — and we still got some more pieces that’s gonna join us in the summer. So I feel like we could be really, really good, especially if we come out of the spring healthy.”

Staff turnover

Several NSU assistants left during this offseason’s coaching carousel. Notably, the Spartans lost offensive coordinator Ray Pickering, cornerbacks coach Frank Wilson, offensive line coach Trumaine Watson and wide receivers coach Vincent Marshall.

At first glance on Friday, those positions all seemed to be filled, but Odums said he couldn’t share the names of the new coaches until paperwork for the hires is complete.

“Everybody should be in town ready to roll later on this weekend,” Odums said of his coaching staff. “Hopefully tonight, tomorrow, no later than Sunday, we’ll have everybody here ready.”

The Pilot did spot Jason Phillips out at practice during the portion the media was permitted to view on Friday. Phillips was reportedly hired as the Spartans’ new offensive coordinator from Alcorn State in late January and his Twitter bio says he is Norfolk State’s new OC.

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Key member of the secondary back

Odums and defensive coordinator Steve Adams will return both members of their talented secondary dynamic duo.

Devon Allen entered the transfer portal in December but was back with the team during Friday’s practice. Allen, a second-team All-MEAC player last year, had at least one suitor after entering the portal but ultimately decided to return to Norfolk State.

“Just being here on my team, honestly,” Allen said of his decision to return to Norfolk State. “Just finishing off with my team. The people who I compete with and work out with and stuff like that.”

Odums said he’s excited to have Allen, who ranked No. 1 in the MEAC for pass breakups last season, back.

“I gave him a window and he tested the market and that market is not what he thought it was going to be,” Odums said. “… I’m excited. For him coming back and playing here, and really finishing it off from where he started is a testament to those guys.”

Allen will reunite with Terron Mallory, last year’s MEAC leader in interceptions. The two were among the top-graded cornerbacks in all of FCS last year by Pro Football Focus. Mallory thinks that not only the secondary will be good this year, but that the defense as a whole could take a leap.

“We have a definitely talented freshmen class and sophomore class, our underclassmen are really good,” Mallory said. “I feel like someone’s gonna step up in a secondary, whether that’s at the safety position to fill a void or — we also have some transfer linebackers. So it’s a new team, new goals and a new mindset.”

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Where’s Otto?

Norfolk State ran some team drills that gave a glimpse of the Spartans’ early spring depth chart as the portion of Friday’s practice in front of the media ended.

Noticeably absent was last year’s starting quarterback, Otto Kuhns. A Norfolk State Athletics spokesperson told The Pilot Kuhns is “temporarily away from the team.” Kuhns has started 18 games in two years at Norfolk State and ended last season with 1,244 passing yards, 12 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

Cameron Sapp took the first few reps at quarterback on Friday. Sapp transferred to Norfolk State last year after three years at Florida A&M. He appeared in seven games for the Spartans last season and started two, finishing with 553 passing yards and six touchdowns.

Michael Sauls, (757) 803-5774, michael.sauls@virginiamedia.com