David Legree is clearly happier – and healthier.
Legree, Hampton University's senior quarterback, wore a big smile above his No. 8 jersey before the start of the Pirates' spring game on Friday. He laughed and joked with his teammates during a warm-up game of catch, moving easily on the legs that took so much abuse last season.
"I'm good," Legree said. "I'm back."
Legree threw for 1,679 yards and nine touchdowns last season, accounting for 176.7 yards of offense per game, even though knee and ankle injuries limited his practice time for much of the year. That is, until a season-ending knee injury to backup Herb Bynes in a Nov. 6 loss to Bethune-Cookman made Legree HU's only option.
Legree, and Hampton, limped to a 1-2 finish, part of a larger 1-4 skid to end the Pirates' second straight 6-5 season. Legree had offseason ankle surgery, and this spring, "he's healthy," HU coach Donovan Rose said. "He looks like a changed guy."
Just in time, too. Legree, who split time with Bynes as a sophomore after transferring to Hampton from Syracuse in 2009, knows the clock is ticking on his college career.
"It's more intense, because it's my last one," Legree said. "Sophomores are like, 'I know I'm coming back.' Seniors, there is no coming back. Every day of spring practice is a last day of spring practice."
Legree's senior season will feature his third offensive coordinator at Hampton in Willie Snead, who replaces Fred Kaiss, who lasted one season after replacing Terry Beauford. Quarterback coaches have also been shuffled along the way, leaving Legree learning yet another system – Snead's spread attack - in spring ball.
Not that he's complaining.
"I feel like that's showing versatility on my part," he said.
The Pirates, ranked 103rd out of 117 FCS (formerly I-AA) teams with a meager 17.45 points per game last season, hope to show a little more versatility themselves under Snead, who comes to HU from Muskegon Heights High in Michigan, where he went 16-8 in two seasons after winning a state title at Holland Christian in 2008.
"This offense is a lot of play-action fakes and zone reads," Rose said, who predicts a high completion percentage for the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Legree "because we throw so quick. (Legree) is definitely the general. In this offense, based on (defensive) formations, he can call the play. It's almost like a Peyton Manning."
Legree likes what he's seen of Snead's offense on film, especially how quickly the ball leaves the quarterback's hands. By contrast, HU film from last season shows "a lot of broken plays," Legree said, often ending with him scrambling for tough yards. "We've got some playmakers. It's time for them to do some running around."
Junior running back Jeremiah Schwartz, who saw scant playing time last year after transferring from Iowa State, did his share of that in Friday's spring game, scoring two early touchdowns. Schwartz is getting the bulk of the carries in spring ball, with reigning Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference rookie of the year Antwon Chisholm, who rushed for 607 yards last year, sidelined until fall practice after arthroscopic knee surgery in February.
Legree, who opened the spring game by putting too much air under a deep ball, completed some crisp slants to the wideouts he'll need some time to find behind an offensive line that lost seniors Michael Ola, Trey Fowkles and Jamal Lewis.
Snead said the line is at "about 75 percent" right now and could use some added competition, though he's pleased with what he's seen from players already in-house, including returners David Luckett at center and Scott McNichols at left tackle.
"When you're 6-5, you can see the targets. It's just being able to get it to them," said Snead, who is also encouraged by what he's seen of – and heard from - Legree.
"He's been great," Snead said. "We talked before I took the job, because it was important that we have a great relationship. He's been excited, and he wants to learn.
" … It's a fun offense. Everyone will get a chance to touch the ball. We run at a fast pace and we like to score points."
That would be a welcome change for Legree, who became used to fielding questions about the Pirates' offensive futility – especially in light of an HU defense that ranked third in the country in allowing just 271 yards per game – last season
"It was a lot of criticism because we weren't getting the job done," Legree said. "We scored like 11 points a game. That's not enough, especially with what our defense did."
Things weren't quite that dire, but last year's offensive numbers – which also included just 302 yards per game, 93rd in the nation, and 156 passing yards, 94th – fueled Legree's determination to improve in his final chance.
Spring practice has featured regular phone calls between Legree and his wide receivers, including seniors Dyrri McCain, Isaiah Thomas and P.J. Hicks.
"There's one guy saying, every day, 'Let's go out there and throw the ball,' " Legree said. "I'm trying to worry about my team, getting them better and getting myself better. We have one common goal - to win the (conference) championship."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun