It was too hot to worry about uniforms or numbers. So Howard University's first full summer practice was played real cool yesterday: shirts and skins. Real thin shirts and burning skins.
Many of the players came with nearly or totally bald heads -- another way to battle the heat. "Thank God Coach (Floyd) Keith scheduled the afternoon session for 6 p.m.," said lineman Craig Cason. "Two-a-days can be bad enough, but when it's this hot you think you're going to die."
Despite the heat, the practice on the Howard Stadium field was spirited. Keith, starting his third season, was beginning preparation for the team's Sept. 12 opener against Cheyney State. Howard is coming off its best football season in five years, and if Keith can find a place-kicker, his team may be the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference favorite this fall.
Of the 29 freshman who practiced for the first time with last season's players, several are potential punters or place-kickers. But no one is likely to replace graduated senior Howard Ward, who handled both duties last season with excellence.
"Ward was a rare bird," Keith said between sessions of the first of three two-a-day practices. "If I have to single out one main concern at the start, it would be place kicking." Keith said freshman Perky Warner and sophomore Duke Amayo are the two leading candidates.
Yesterday's morning session was spent exercising the players in remedial drills before a seven-on-seven passing drill for the upperclassmen.
Bison followers might think Keith has a bigger concern at quarterback, where last season senior Ron Wilson became the school's all-time leading passer and was the MEAC offensive player of the year. But discussing his quarterbacks, Keith laughed.
"I feel as good about my overall quarterback situation now as I have any year since I've been here," he said. "Ray Gray (who practiced as No. 1 yesterday) can be as good as any quarterback in our conference.
"Now, whether the quarterback will be the conference player of the year is another story. Because of our offense, the quarterback can have a different role than Ron Wilson had last year, but still be just as effective. Ray's strength is passing."
Howard's strength probably will be passing, too, although Keith insisted the running game will be an integral part of his attack. Split end Tracy Singleton, the best receiver in the conference in 1980, appeared to be in mid-season form.
If Gray is not as effective as expected, Keith will promote sophomore Sandy Nichols or either of two freshmen, Tom Young or Brian Sloane from McKinley Tech.
Yesterday, however, the defense seemed to be much more advanced than the offense, preventing Gray from getting off a pass in the alloted four seconds several times in the brief passing drill.