LEWISBURG, Pa. – Members of the 2014 Bucknell football team assembled together on the Christy Mathewson-Memorial Stadium turf for the first time Monday afternoon as the Bison opened preseason camp in preparation for the Aug. 30 season opener vs. VMI.

Monday’s practice session was relatively brief as coaches ran the players through position group skills, conditioning testing and a handful of plays under the sunny skies in Central Pennsylvania. The field temperature on fifth-year head coach Joe Susan’s watch read 96 degrees, giving the players a challenge.

“Being able to stress them in some of the heat and then bringing them right back to where they have to focus after we did our conditioning drill is something that allows them to begin to grow in terms of mental toughness,” commented Susan.

Monday marked the first day of a five-day acclimation period mandated by the NCAA. Bucknell’s first two practices must be without pads. Days three and four will feature the players in shells, while full pads are permitted for practice number five on Friday.

Susan noted that 76 of the 80 players that took part in Monday’s conditioning drill met their goals. Only four did not.

“That’s obviously four too many, but for the most part, our guys are in great shape,” said Susan. “It’s a tribute to their work ethic. It’s a tribute to what (strength and conditioning coach) John Field does with them in the weight room and on the track.”

The veterans on the team, which is picked to finish fourth in the Patriot League Preseason Poll, are also a factor in the excellent shape in which the players arrived to camp.

“I met with the seniors individually yesterday,” noted Susan. “We’re going to rely heavily on them. We will rely on them to take over the parts of the team they can control, like showing the younger guys how to do things and talking to the young guys about expectations. One of the most refreshing things is when we are in a walk-through period and hearing them talk football. That’s what we want them to do and it’s obvious it is something they have bought into.”

While the seniors will lead the team, Susan expects some members of Bucknell’s 25-person freshman class to earn playing time.

“It’s hard to tell when we’re in shorts and helmets, but in terms of athleticism and football IQ, I think we have upgraded,” said Susan. “That’s the nature of every recruiting class. We have to be able to upgrade the program with every class we bring in. It will be great to see these guys when we ultimately start playing football on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.”

Bucknell returns 17 regular starters and six All-Patriot League players from last year’s squad that defeated nationally ranked Lehigh and won five of its final six games. The Bison will be on the field for practice each of the next 20 days, including Tuesday’s 3:45 p.m. session.