---- — By Todd Stanford
For The Daily Item
LEWISBURG -- As Bucknell football's five-week spring practice draws to a close, head coach Joe Susan is invigorated by the work of his new assistants. Fans will be able to see the evidence of that work Saturday night at Christy Mathewson-Memorial Stadium in the annual Blue-Orange game at 7:30.
"The kids have been around here longer than some of the coaches," Susan said. "But the new coaches have really transitioned well, and they're role models for our players."
The Bison's new hires include defensive backs coach Eric Wicks, who was an All-Big East player at West Virginia, linebackers and special teams coach John Bowes, who previously was an assistant at William & Mary and offensive line coach Matt Applebaum, who played for the Redskins for three seasons and worked as an assistant at Miami (Fla.) before heading north to Lewisburg.
"Our players have really caught on to the way they're coaching," Susan said. "They've responded well."
This is an important year for Bucknell and the rest of the Patriot League: Beginning with the 2013 season, Patriot League teams will have football players with athletic scholarships on the rosters. The Bison will have 15 such freshmen in the fall.
"It's more competitive," Susan said. "(Scholarships) really help you in terms of attracting the position needs that you have and being able to build depth."
Of course, the freshmen aren't on the field for spring practice, which means the veterans have more of a chance to prove themselves. Thus far, Susan is impressed with the work of his offensive line.
"We had a couple birthdays on the offensive line, which we needed," Susan said. "We don't have a senior in that group."
He's also confident that the running game won't founder despite the loss of seniors Tyler Smith and Jeremiah Young. Charles Thompson, Matt DelMauro and Brian Regan are all hoping to fill the vacancy in the backfield.
"They've had a great spring," Susan says of his running backs. "I think part of it is attributable to the offensive line."
Brandon Wesley will be back again at quarterback. The rising senior from Plano, Texas, has started since his freshman year. He led the Bison to a 6-5 campaign in 2011 before a disappointing 3-8 finish a year ago. Rising junior Trey Lauletta -- who's started in the past -- could also see action in the fall.
"Both quarterbacks have had a real good spring," Susan said. "(Lauletta) has come a long way. He doesn't want to be a backup, and that's good."
Shamokin graduate Brent Forbes, a defensive end, is the only local player on the spring roster. Forbes, a rising senior, will be joined by another local player, Danville graduate Bret Berg, in the fall.