Let's be honest with ourselves -- it's early into the Geoff Collins era at Temple. Very early.
And Saturday's annual Cherry and White spring game was a big scoop of vanilla on a wet, dreary April Saturday afternoon, just over four months until the start of training camp and just over five months until the Sept. 2 season opener at Notre Dame.
But while Saturday was just the scantest of glimmers into what Collins and offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude have in store for the new-fangled Temple offense, it was still hard to deny what may have been a glimpse of the backbone of the Owls' offensive plans -- a power running game led by two experienced upperclassmen in Ryquell Armstead and Jager Gardner.
Both junior backs left their marks Saturday in White's 17-14 win over Cherry in a game that was straight-up offense (Cherry) vs. defense (White).
"We established the run today," Collins, who spent time as defensive coordinator at both Florida and Mississippi State before coming to Temple, said after the annual exhibition.
"The big thing for us offensively is that we want to be able to impose our will whenever we want to. And that means being physical, being tough and really getting after people. … But Rock (Armstead) and Jags (Gardner), those are guys who create their own holes.
"I thought Jager had a great day today. He looked like a PlayStation 4 character out there, juking and hurdling people. He was phenomenal."
The speedy Gardner, a 6-foot-2, 214-pound slasher, was the star Saturday with nine carries for 67 yards and a touchdown. On one of those carries, he completely hurdled a helpless linebacker in the middle of the field en route to a 23-yard gain. Gardner also made a tough back-shoulder grab down the sideline on a long pass play.
Armstead, the 5-foot-11, 205-pound lead horse of the Owls' running back core, didn't see as many touches and had just 10 yards on four carries. But considering the sloppy conditions and the Owls' need to keep him healthy, it's easy to see why he was limited.
But both in recent years have proven they can achieve success on the field, even with the success of Jahad Thomas, who racked up 2,599 yards and 38 touchdowns on the ground over the last two seasons before graduating.
Armstead rushed for 919 yards and a team-high 14 scores last season. As the third back last year, Gardner ran for just 111 yards and two scores. But he does hold the school record with a 94-yard TD scamper at SMU in 2015 and coaches will tell you all about the electric style he can bring. Now he has an opportunity to show it.
And the Owls will undoubtedly lean on both Armstead and Gardner even more this season offensively as they break in a new starting quarterback. Four-year starter Phillip Walker, who re-wrote the program record books with 10,669 passing yards and 74 TD passes, has also graduated.
Does that add more pressure onto the shoulders of Armstead and Gardner?
"I enjoy being an upperclassman and know I have to be a leader in the room," Armstead said. "I know the offense like the back of my hand. I've got to make sure my guys are up to par with the offense.
"I still believe we have to balance. We have to run the ball when we have to and we have to pass the ball when we have to. So just being balanced, going fast when we have to and slowing it down when we need to will help any quarterback that's in."
"I don't feel any added pressure," Gardner said. "I've been here since my freshman year. I didn't redshirt. So I feel that me and [Armstead] work off each other. We just build off each other. We're going to take it one day at a time and get better, each of us. So there's not going to be anything new for us.
"It's not going to get any harder or any easier. We're just going to change a little bit of the things up. Just have to get used to some stuff we haven't done before. It won't get any harder. We just have to focus on the stuff we have to do now."
As for that tricky quarterback situation …
Many pundits have pegged redshirt freshman Anthony Russo as the leader in the clubhouse. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Russo, an Archbishop Wood grad who originally committed to Rutgers before decomitting and then receiving heavy interest from Les Miles and LSU before inking with Temple in 2015, has all the physical tools of a pro-style quarterback.
He took the opening snap Saturday, and was efficient, albeit not spectacular, going 7 for 11 for 70 yards. Again, the ugly, rainy conditions likely played a hand there. His prettiest completion of the day came on the back-shoulder throw down the sideline to Gardner.
The QB who stuck out the most Saturday was true freshman Todd Centeio. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, native went 9 of 13 for 110 yards and lovely fade to the corner of the end zone to wideout Marshall Ellick for an 18-yard score. He hit Ellick for 43 yards down the sideline earlier in the day. More than that, his calmness was on display with smart checkdowns and scrambles.
After the game. Collins was predictably tight-lipped about the QB battle.
"That's a great question and I knew I was going to get that," Collins said when asked who would start at QB if the Notre Dame game were Sunday.
"They were all out there competing today. I think Todd Centeio did a good job out there. Russo was putting some nice balls out there, too. … There are plenty of reps to go around.
"It was clean, the optics were good today and we got to see the guys really spin it out there."
Collins has a few more months to see the quarterbacks spin it some more before the most important decision his infantile collegiate head coaching career is due.
When Carolina Hurricanes forward Bryan Bickell last stepped onto this 200-foot-by-85-foot sheet of ice in South Philadelphia on Oct. 22, his body was failing him and he didn't have a clue why.
His hands, once strong enough to sport three heavy, diamond-encrusted Stanley Cup championship rings from his Chicago Blackhawks days, were now struggling to function with a lightweight composite hockey stick.
His feet, which once guided him to becoming a skilled power forward, weren't working the way they once did.
Such instinctive hockey activities that had come so naturally since his days growing up in the northern frontier of Orono, Ontario -- a suburb about a 45-minute drive east of Toronto -- were now so inexplicably challenging.
That October night, when the steel blades of his skates left the Wells Fargo Center ice -- the same ice upon which he lifted Lord Stanley's cup for the first time -- never did Bickell, a 10-year veteran, think the end of his NHL career could be realistically near.
"I would wake up and the one side of my body would just be in pain," Bickell said. "And I didn't know why. I didn't know what was going on."
Not all that long ago, the Flyers' Jakub Voracek lived through a similar personal situation, although from afar.
Voracek, the Flyers' playmaking winger, was forced to sit back and watch, his skilled hands basically knotted behind his back with an imaginary tether, as his sister, Petra, struggled with mysterious pain and difficulty performing life's simplest tasks.
Though Bickell and Voracek don't know each other well personally, the two players now know they share a bond that goes beyond any blue line or goal line in any rink around the world -- the fight against multiple sclerosis.
On Nov. 11, three weeks after the Flyers topped the Hurricanes, 6-3, at the Wells Fargo Center, Bickell, 31, publicly announced he had been diagnosed with MS, dealing a stunning gut punch to the hockey world.
Two years prior, then-39-year-old Petra, after seeing world-renowned doctor Pavel Kolar in the Voracek family's native Czech Republic, was struck with the same life-altering MS diagnosis.
"[Dr. Kolar] checked her hip and he didn't like something about it," Voracek said. "So he did a CT scan of her brain right away. That's how they found out.
"Thank God she went to him because she could've been treating something else for two or three years. [Dr. Kolar] called me and broke the news to me. I called my dad right away. So obviously, that was a tough time to find out."
According to the National MS Society, MS is a disorder during which the body's central nervous system (CNS) -- the brain, spinal cord and optic nerve fibers -- is attacked after an abnormal response by the body's immune system. Those attacks focus on the myelin and nerve fibers in the CNS, creating a build-up of scar tissue that distorts nerve impulses to and from the brain and spinal cord. The MS Society estimates approximately 2.3 million people worldwide have the condition.
But facts and figures aside, here's the disorder in simpler terms: scar tissue forms on the nerves of the brain and spinal cord, causing a variety of symptoms including pain ranging from minimum to debilitating, numbness and tingling, weakness, fatigue, vision and equilibrium issues and cognitive problems, just to name a few symptoms. If left untreated, the results can be crippling.
Thus explains the pain Bickell was going through. Thus also explains the pain Voracek's sister was going through.
While many of the symptoms are seen outwardly, the scariest factor is that the parts of the body most affected are the most important -- the brain, spinal cord and the rest of the CNS.
"At the beginning at first, you know what it's about, but you don't know exactly what it is," Voracek said. "So you start learning through the process what it's about and how it affects your life.
"It's not easy. There's only so much you can do. It's tough. It sucks, but that's the way life goes. Life comes and goes with bad and good things. It is what it is.
"The first thing I told my sister was, 'It could be worse.' When you think about it, there's people dying three months after they have cancer or something like that. On the other hand, we've been lucky it's not something worse. But on another hand, it's going to be a long, hard road."
It's a road Bickell has been on for the last several years, although his condition was diagnosed only a few months ago.
The 6-foot-4, strong-as-an-ox 223-pounder was at the top of his game with the Blackhawks from 2010-2011 to 2014-15 when he totaled 60 goals and 67 assists.
He'll forever be remembered in Windy City folklore for his memorable 2013 playoff run that was capped by the tying goal with 1:16 left in Game 6 of that year's Stanley Cup Final against the Boston Bruins. The Blackhawks scored 17 seconds later and lifted the Cup for the second time in four seasons.
A few years later, Bickell wasn't his usual productive self on the ice. Chicago, always desperate for salary cap space, sent Bickell down to AHL Rockford after 23 games with just two assists to start 2015-16.
But Bickell really wasn't feeling like himself off the ice and was diagnosed with vertigo during the 2015 playoffs. Once the calendar flipped to 2016, Bickell was then diagnosed with an ocular issue. But he fought through and returned to Chicago for two games in late last April, going pointless in both.
The cap-crunching Blackhawks dealt Bickell and Teuvo Teravainen to Carolina last summer in exchange for two draft picks. A classic salary dump. But it turned out to be a classic salary dump that became a twisted blessing in disguise for Bickell, as it led to a much-sought-after final answer.
Still not feeling like himself seven games into the season, he was pulled off the ice by the Hurricanes to see doctors. The blanks can be filled in from there.
A physically gifted NHL player revered by many as a larger-than-life figure now faced the harsh reality of the game he loves leaving him way before he was ready.
But he also now faced the frightening reality of a potentially crippling disorder haunting he and his family for the rest of his natural life.
The news hit the NHL world hard, but especially Voracek, who has such a deep, personal connection to both the anguish and uncertainty Bickell was going through.
"I've never met Bryan, but when I found out he has MS, you think about all the things and how it must be for a professional athlete to deal with," the Flyers' winger said.
"Playing hockey, it's something you've been doing all your life. He's such a young guy. He's in his prime years basically, still. With something like that, it can't be easy to deal with."
Petra's 2015 diagnosis spurned Voracek into action. He was getting restless with just looking on as Petra dealt with all that MS dishes out. He figured if he was unable to help physically in the here and now, he wanted to do something that could make an impact in the long-term battle against this foe.
But this foe is unlike any hockey player he'd ever punched in the mouth during one of his NHL fights. This had to be a unique tactic that could not only help bring down MS but could also bring care and joy to the people in the Czech Republic who are tasked with the condition's daily battles. According to a 2015 study, roughly 13,000 people in the Czech Republic have MS.
So the wheels in Voracek's head got to spinning and an idea began to spawn to life.
In September 2015, the Jakub Voracek Foundation started blazing its trail in the effort to end MS once and for all.
"It's been great. We help a lot of people," Voracek said of the foundation, which Petra runs during the season while Jake is working his day job with the Flyers. "Every once in a while, my sister sends me emails from the people that we help. It just makes your day better. Thanks for that, thanks for this. Thanks for helping find the right medication.
"People can't get certain things they need because the insurance only covers a certain amount of people. There are a lot of people, especially in the Czech Republic -- the medication they need, they're out of it by April or May and there's nothing you can do until the next January. In the span of that eight months, that disease can spread big time and can get as painful as it gets. We try to help those people that don't have the opportunity to get those meds or the wheelchairs or the stuff like that they need."
The foundation is heavily involved in MS fundraising efforts in the Czech Republic. Last offseason, Voracek and the foundation hosted a soccer tournament that featured Czech athletes and celebrities. They'll be doing that again this summer on June 24.
Starting last season, Voracek has pledged $1,000 to the foundation for each point he records. Last year, he posted 11 goals and 44 assists, so the total came out to $55,000. That rose to $61,000 after 20 goals and 41 assists this season. Do the math and that's $116,000 Voracek has donated over the last two seasons.
Voracek, who inked a long-term extension with the Flyers two offseasons ago, said it's something he'll do every season for the rest of his career.
"I think, as athletes -- let's be honest, we make good money. Why not? We might as well do it," said Voracek, a recent first-time father who one day envisions bringing the foundation to the U.S. as he plans on raising his son, Jake Jr., here.
"Donating the money is something that's not going to hurt me, let's be honest. And it's something that's going to help other people."
Voracek's agent is former Flyers defenseman Petr Svoboda, who was a member of the Flyers' teams of the late 1990s, including the 1997 team that sent a jolt through the hockey-crazed city with its run to the Stanley Cup Final. Svoboda was also a member the 1998 Czech team that won gold at the Nagano Olympics and scored the only goal of the Czechs' gold medal-clinching victory over Russia.
Last year, Svoboda donated his Olympic gold medal to Voracek's foundation in an effort to raise money. It's still up for auction as the high bids continue to roll in.
"We're just waiting for the highest stake so we can raise as much as possible," Voracek said.
"Back home, the gold Czech medal is very popular because there was only one goal he scored and it was in the final game against Russia. It was the first Olympics the Czech Republic ever won. So it's a high stake and it's going to help a lot of lives."
Voracek noted that although she often feels fatigued and has "on and off days," Petra, now 41, is doing well and the medication she receives is working just as her doctors hoped. She stays active, which Voracek feels is an integral part of her progress.
That's why he was thrilled to see Bickell called up to the Hurricanes prior to their game in Minnesota on April 4 following an AHL conditioning stint after a five-month hiatus from hockey. Voracek used the word "dedication" over and over and over again when asked about Bickell's return and the message it sends, especially to those with MS.
Whether Bickell realizes it or not, his valiant return through all devilish obstacles MS placed in front of him has made him a beacon of strength and courage for those battling the potentially debilitating disorder.
To come back from everything he's faced and play among the most physically demanding and grueling sports in the world, where constant motion is key and toughness is ingrained in the very DNA of the game, he's become an inspirational figure.
In the ultimate turn of hockey life irony, it turns out Bickell's last game was indeed at the Wells Fargo Center, just not in October. It was last Sunday's season finale between the Flyers and Hurricanes, the exclamation point on his comeback.
On the Saturday prior to the game, Bickell announced his intentions to retire when the final horn blared throughout the Flyers' home rink Palm Sunday night.
In a statement released by the Hurricanes and the NHL on Friday, Bickell said, "From where I was at my peak to where I am now, there's a difference in my game. I don't think I will ever get back to that point with the circumstances."
Bickell went out in style Sunday evening, as he scored his first career shootout goal, wiring a wicked wrister past Flyers rookie goalie Anthony Stolarz to give his team a 1-0 lead in the shootout.
On his way back to the bench after depositing the puck into the net one final time after doing so 85 times total in his career, Bickell bumped fists with Flyers players while skating by their bench and was then mobbed by his teammates in celebration once he reached them.
The roars from the Hurricanes' locker room after the game reverberated throughout the corridors of the Wells Fargo Center, as players celebrated their beloved teammate's achievement and career. After the game, a shiny gold personalized Hurricanes pro wrestling title belt the team gives out to the player of the game after each victory hung from Bickell's locker room stall.
"It's all been an emotional week leading up to this day. Seeing my family here and all the people who supported me through it all," Bickell said while fighting back tears.
"It feels kinda good when you think of it. It was special. The first time I lifted the Cup was here in Philly, so to end it here, it was nice. You kind of think of all the memories and all the support and the people who helped through the moment, it just all rushes to you at once. I'm just happy to have them support me and believe in me to do what I love.
"I think I sweat all the tears out, so I don't know if I have many left."
The Hurricanes won, 4-3, Sunday in a game that meant little more than sewing up positioning for this coming June's draft.
But the real winners Sunday night in South Philly were Bickell and all those he continues to inspire and all those who personally deal with MS in some shape or form.
Wayne Hardin, the winningest coach in Temple football history, has died at age 91.
The school's athletic department Wednesday announced the death of Hardin after he suffered a major stroke Tuesday, just three days after taking part in the Owls' alumni festivities during spring football practice.
Hardin spent 13 seasons (1970-82) at the helm of the Owls, leading them to an 80-52-3 record in that span. Those 80 wins at Temple surpass the likes of Pop Warner, Bruce Arians, Al Golden and Matt Rhule, the latter of whom was very close to Hardin. Rhule and Hardin were known to stay in touch regularly via email. Rhule on numerous occasions has spoken publicly about how much of a mentor Hardin was to him.
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is also known to consider Hardin as a heavy influence on his career.
Hardin, a Smackover, Arkansas, native, who played his college ball for Amos Alonzo Stagg at the College of the Pacific, came to North Broad Street in 1970 and led the independent Owls to a 7-3 record. The success of the program under Hardin would only grow from there as he led the Owls on a school-record 14-game winning streak that stretched across 1973 and 1974.
His most successful team at Temple came in 1979, when the Owls went 10-2, setting the then-school-record for wins in a season. That team was ranked as high as 17th in the AP poll that year. It was the first time the Owls had ever been ranked in any wire service poll. The Owls also beat California in that year's Garden State Bowl for the program's first-ever bowl game victory.
"Wayne Hardin is synonymous with Temple Football," Temple athletic director Pat Kraft said in a release. "He was a giant of a man who touched so many lives not only as a Hall of Fame coach but as an ambassador for the university. His love for life was only surpassed by his love for his family. Our thoughts and prayers are with them at this time."
Prior to coaching at Temple, Hardin spent six seasons (1959-64) as head coach at the Naval Academy, where he coached Heisman winners Joe Bellino (1960) and Roger Staubach (1963).
Between Navy and Temple, Hardin's career coaching record was 118-74-5.
Hardin was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2013, becoming only the third Owl ever to earn that honor.