UNA football begins spring practice

FLORENCE, Ala. (UNA ATHLETICS) -- The University of North Alabama opened its 2018 Spring Football Camp on Tuesday in cool temperatures and high winds but head coach Chris Willis was excited to get started.

Willis, set to begin his second season at the helm of the Lions' program, returns 50 lettermen from 2017 and will have more than 80 total players back a year ago.

The Lions were on the field for two hours on Tuesday and will return to the practice field Wednesday at 3:30 for their second day of practice.

North Alabama will be off next week for spring break and will return to spring practice on April 2.

"We should have a better, much more competitive spring camp this year," Willis said. "We have more players back and have a lot more depth, which should create some good competition at every position."

UNA's Purple-White Spring Game is set for April 21.

UNA went 5-5 last season in it's final season of NCAA Division II football and suffered through the loss of three quarterbacks to injury during the season.

The Lions will compete as a Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) independent in 2018 before joining the Big South Conference in 2019.

Leading for the way among UNA's returning defensive players are All-American Chris Johnson,  All-Gulf South Conference linebackers Christian Taylor and Joshua Amanfo and All-GSC defensive lineman Maurice Burton, Jr.

In all, the Lions return 18 of the top 23 tacklers from a defensive unit that ranked among the best in the nation in 2017, allowing just 17.5 points and 286 total yards per game while forcing 25 turnovers.

On the offensive side, UNA returns four starting linemen and two starting receivers, as well as quarterback Rico Bruton who started six games last season.