Football Sports

‘In Fritz We Trust’: Spring practice marks noticeable shift in UH football

Willie Fritz coaches up UH players during spring practice. | Anh Le/The Cougar

Times are changing in UH football, and the team is only one week into spring practice.

Players have already noticed a striking difference in the energy and speed of practices compared to previous years, as new head coach Willie Fritz and his staff have begun implementing a disciplined, detail-oriented culture for a team that desperately needed it after a 4-8 Big 12 debut in 2023.

“As soon as you step on the grass and hear the first whistle it’s like full go, full go, full go,” said senior defensive end Zykeius Strong. “I’ve never been a part of a coaching staff that really amplifies every little thing. I’m really trying to emphasize that on the field, but mostly off the field.”

Throughout practice, coaches are active, encouraging players and maintaining their energy level. As each position group goes through its drills, Fritz can be seen walking to each group, observing and then coaching guys up on technique, spending seemingly equal time with each position.

Effort, discipline and ball security are paramount during practice. Every time a player has the ball — whether a play or drill is still live or not — they are expected to tuck it into their bodies and give the ball (with two hands) to a referee or manager. Yells of “Coogs don’t beat the Coogs!” and “Play through the whistle!” are repeated for the entirety of 11-on-11 drills. Anybody who fumbles the ball or doesn’t sprint back to the sideline fast enough during substitutions is forced to do a quick round of up-downs.

“Everybody’s out here competing,” Strong said, “Everybody has their best interest. Everybody’s just wanting to get better.”

That discipline is carried long after players enter the sidelines or exit the practice. When the team is out of meetings and workouts, the latter of which are tailored to each position group by Director of Strength and Performance Kurt Hester, players go through routine academic checks on class and study hall attendance. For returning players like senior cornerback Isaiah Hamilton, the new environment under Fritz is a welcome change.

“Everything is structured from the stretching lines to practice to dapping everybody up to school. It’s all like coming together and it’s like really gelling us together,” Hamilton said. “We didn’t have this type of structure and relationship with our teammates last year.”

Though the first practices under a new coaching staff normally come with plenty of adjustment, the buy-in from players since Fritz’s arrival back in December has seemed absolute.

Senior linebacker Jamal Morris is beginning spring practice with the third coaching staff of his college career, having transferred to Houston in 2022 after three years at Oklahoma. Morris, now entering his sixth season in college, has seen firsthand how the team has supported the head coach’s message.

We all love Fritz. ‘In Fritz we trust,’ that’s what we say. We’re having fun with him,” Morris said. “It’s the most fun we’ve been having at practice.”

For many players, new leadership means new opportunities as guys are able to make new first impressions with coaches and let go of any baggage from the previous regime.

Sophomore running back Parker Jenkins showed plenty of promise in his freshman year in 2023, breaking out with 176 yards on 33 attempts in two games against Sam Houston and Texas Tech. However, Jenkins’ playing time dropped off, only eclipsing double digits carries just twice the remaining seven games with the rationale of “saving” him for future seasons.

“Coming off last year, once I got my shot they were kind of like, ‘Let’s kind of save you,'” Jenkins said. “It kind of like bummed me out. I was like, ‘Why can’t I just, you know, stay in my groove?'”

Under Fritz and running backs coach Jordy Joseph, Jenkins feels fully backed by the team heading into his second season.

“I feel like it’s a fresh start,” Jenkins said. “They have a lot of trust in me, and Coach Fritz has been giving me keys and telling me just to be me, basically.”

Still, the first practices under a whole new direction have taken some adjustment. New coaches bring a new system, new terminology, new coaching styles and a totally different mode of operation. But a big helper in getting things to work as they need is Fritz’s winning pedigree.

Between a pair of AAC championship appearances in the last two years and his success at the Junior College, Division II and Division I-AA level, Fritz already brings plenty of proof that his way works.

“I’m buying into what he what he got going on. I really like his vision,” Hunter said. “He’s won in every place that he’s been at every level, so I don’t see why he can’t win here.”

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  • I wish the Coogs all the best 👍.
    Been a fan since the late seventies. The highlight of my life was watching them beat Oklahoma!Who’s house COOGS HOUSE 🏠.

  • I will reserve my enthusiasm until I see wins. I’ve heard all this before since Yeoman days. Hermann was a bright spot until he dumped us.

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