BY JOE BYRD
ASSISTANT SPORTS EDITOR
About 160 Tusculum football players reported to camp on Tuesday, and the Pioneers are ready to get down to the business of challenging for a South Atlantic Conference championship.
"Today is always a thrill to see your returners come back, see what they look like and get your new players in here and try to put faces with names," said coach Frankie DeBusk. "We have so many new players it's hard to know exactly who they are when they walk in the door, but it is a very exciting time."
Last season was disappointing for Tusculum as the Pioneers went 3-8 overall, 2-5 in the SAC. DeBusk feels like in 2012, the team has a chance to be a lot better.
"I am always a glass half full kind of guy," he said. "I feel like we've got a chance to win a bunch of football games. We are so thin at a couple of positions, we can't afford any injuries. If we can stay healthy and keep some guys on the field, I feel like we have a chance to win a bunch of games."
The players began checking in on campus Tuesday morning and had team meetings and physicals later in the day. Much of today will be spent doing baseline testing for concussions with conditioning set for this evening.
The Pioneers have their first practice of camp, in helmets only, on Thursday. They go to full pads on Monday.
Tusculum is picked to finish sixth in the SAC preseason poll, but the Pioneers have a league-best nine on the preseason all-conference team.
Junior defensive back Kaytron "Jelly" Becton believes the Pioneers will be better than predicted.
"This is going to be a big season," Becton said. "It's going to be special. Today is very big. I'm happy to see all my teammates. I'm happy to see what everybody's been working on over the summer."
Work has been what the Pioneers have been doing over the summer.
Several of the team members spent time locally this summer working out and practicing on their own. Others worked out individually or in small groups at home.
Now, it's time for the team to come back together as one.
"We are too excited to be back," said junior DB LiRonta Archie. "It's been too long of a wait. I've been impatient. I've done nothing but work all summer, work hard. I want to rub that off to everybody on the team; work. It won't come easy."
DeBusk said the Pioneers have a lot of work to do between now and the season opener on Sept. 1 at Urbana.
The main focus of camp is clear.
"We are going to be more physical than we have been the last few years," the coach said. "That's been my fault as a head coach. We have to get more physical. What we do on offense hurts our defense trying to be physical because we throw it so much.
"We've created some drills and different things to make us a much more physical football team."
Tusculum's football team will also be visible in the community during fall camp.
The Pioneers will attend church as a team on Sunday at Trinity United Methodist and then attend First Baptist next week.
"Both of those places are so kind to have us," DeBusk said. "It's the two times a year I require our kids to go to church. I think it's important to have a church home. If they are looking for something spiritually, it gives them an opportunity to do that.
"Both churches feed us lunch. We'll take 175 people to be fed. That costs a lot of money and a lot of time. I really want to say thanks to both churches for reaching out and doing that for us."
Tuesday was also check-in day for Tusculum's women's soccer team and athletic trainers. The Pioneer cross country team, men's soccer and volleyball teams report on Friday as all of Tusculum's fall sports programs prepare to begin their 2012 seasons.