Only 82 days after playing North Dakota State in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision national championship game, coach Rob Ambrose and Towson will open their spring practice season today at Johnny Unitas Stadium at 5:30 a.m.

This marks the fourth consecutive year that the Tigers will stage their practice sessions in the early morning.

"I truly believe that the early-morning practice sessions helped us during our playoff run last season," said Ambrose, who is starting his sixth season as Towson's head coach. "We practice when no one else practices, and it has become a point of pride for our players. Since we practice in the early morning, we are exposed to conditions that other teams don't deal with. As a result, when we ran into snow at Eastern Illinois and very cold weather at Eastern Washington, we were not concerned."

The Tigers are scheduled to conduct 15 practice sessions over the next four weeks. Towson will work out at 5:30 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays and 8 a.m. Saturdays. The spring season concludes with the Tiger Bowl set for April 26 at Unitas Stadium.

The Tigers have only three starters returning on offense: wide receiver Spencer Wilkins (Mount Hebron), guard Sam Evans (Loyola) and fullback Emmanuel Holder (Calvert Hall).

On defense, the Tigers are in better shape, with seven starters returning, led by senior cornerback Tye Smith, a fourth-year starter.

"There is no question that we lost a lot of talent and experience from last year's team," Ambrose said. "Of the eight starters we lost on offense, two of them [Terrance West and Eric Pike] were consensus first-team All-Americans. In addition, five of those eight were all-conference performers."

In addition to the 19 seniors that are gone, the Tigers lost West, who declared for the NFL draft after setting FCS records with 2,509 rushing yards and 42 touchdowns.