With plenty of new faces, mixed with some of the familiar ones, the UTPB football team held its first fall practice for the 2023 season Wednesday morning at Falcon Field.

The new faces include not only the incoming transfers but also head coach Kris McCullough who is entering his first season with the Falcons.

McCullough comes in after serving as the head coach at East Central University last year.

He replaces Justin Carrigan who became the school’s Deputy Athletic Director.

It was the team’s first time on the field since the spring workouts earlier this year.

UTPB football players run during practice Wednesday at Falcon Field. Michael Bauer|Odessa American

“With spring ball, obviously, you have those emotions of ‘man, I’m excited to be back out here.’ But now that it’s the start of the season, it’s a whole new level,” McCullough said. “It’s a new level of excitement but a whole another level of work because we know the challenges ahead of us. We know the expectations we set for ourselves. We have to go out and win every single ball game but it takes a lot of heart and hard work and a lot of preparation going forward.”

While McCullough has been preaching team culture with the Falcons, he also emphasized turnovers and ball security as some of the things he wants to see from his offense and defense.

He pointed to East Central Oklahoma’s stats last year as the team led the rankings in turnover margin.

“If we can have great ball security and take care of the football and not turn the ball over, and the defense creates turnovers, we’ll be fine,” McCullough said. “At my previous institution, we were number one in the country in turnover margin at all levels. I’m trying to replicate that again this year. If our defense can get takeaways and give our offense the ball again and give our quarterback Kenny Hrncir the ball, then I can promise you a lot of points.”

Hrncir is one of the 30 players who transferred to UTPB during the offseason and eight of which followed McCullough from East Central Oklahoma to Odessa.

UTPB quarterback Kenny Hrncir looks for an open receiver during a play at practice Wednesday at Falcon Field. Michael Bauer|Odessa American

“The biggest key is making sure you have buy-in from your players,” McCullough said. “Our players have fully bought in. they’ve put in all the extra work that they need to get to the level that we need to be for the next practice. These guys are doing everything that you want a school and a university and a team to win.”

With it being the first week of practice, McCullough said one of the challenges is just getting the players back into the groove.

“Obviously, the intensity is there,” McCullough said. “We all love football. We love being out here. The intensity’s here. its how we practice because we have a bunch of new guys and we’re teaching them how we do things and move to each station.”

Officially, it might be called the start of Fall Camp but with the heated conditions outside being as high as 106 degrees, it is still very much summer.

“The biggest challenge is the heat,” McCullough said. “That’s why we’re going 9-11 a.m. Early, the conditions are good but late in the practice, it gets hot and takes a toll on your mind but that’s how a game is. We’re trying to get everything as game-like as possible.”

UTPB quarterback Kenny Hrncir looks for an open receiver during a play at practice Wednesday at Falcon Field. Michael Bauer|Odessa American

The Falcons will open their season against NAIA Texas College on Sept. 2 at Astound Broadband Stadium in Midland.

McCullough is no stranger to Texas College’s head coach Jarrail Jackson.

“Texas College is an opponent that has a good head coach,” McCullough said. “Jackson’s been in a lot of great places. He’s a good friend of mine. They’re going to come in with a lot of intensity. … They’re going to come out fired up. We just have to control our emotions and take it one play at a time.”

UTPB will then face Western Colorado on the road Sept. 9 before traveling to Southwest Baptist in Bolivar, Mo., Sept. 16.

The Falcons will begin Lone Star Conference play against West Texas A&M in Midland Sept. 23.