At 2-0, 49er football appears to have struck gold
When recruiting high school football players to a college program that for all practical purposes doesn’t exist, it’s important to get young men to embrace the potential of pioneering, Charlotte 49ers coach Brad Lambert said.
Lambert is trailblazing, too, this being his first time as a college head coach, leading a Charlotte team that played its first-ever football game just shy of two weeks ago.
N.C. Central would lay claim on some new territory as the first football team in history to beat Charlotte with a win on Saturday in the Queen City (12 p.m., NCCUEaglePride.com).
While NCCU is relatively new to Division I football, with 2011 marking its first time on the Football Championship Subdivision level, this is Charlotte’s first season of football, period.
“The one thing that resonated well with the kids in these first two classes was the power of being first,” Lambert said. “There’re not many chances you have in your life to be the first to do something, especially in college football.”
The 49ers came out of the gate and struck gold, beating Campbell 52-7 in Week 1 and seven days later dusting Chowan 47-7.
Charlotte is averaging 479 yards of total offense per game, putting points on the scoreboard all nine times its been in the red zone.
Those lone two touchdowns the 49ers yielded suggests something about their defense that is allowing the opposition 243 yards per game.
NCCU has to deal with that.
“They’ve put up some points and done well defensively against their opponents,” NCCU interim coach Dwayne Foster said. “They’ve recruited very, very well. They’re well-coached.”
Lambert spent the last decade as an assistant coach at Wake Forest, the past three seasons there as defensive coordinator. He said he joined Charlotte in March 2011 with the groundwork in place in terms of budgetary issues having been thought out, including logistical matters such as an on-campus game field.
The 49ers play in Jerry Richardson Stadium, named — after a donation of $10 million — in honor of the owner of the National Football League’s Carolina Panthers.
Lambert said he arrived in Charlotte and was able to get right to work on his construction project, selecting a coaching staff to help him build a team.
One of the selling points for recruits was knowing they’d get playing time since they essentially would be the depth chart, and there was the whole deal of breaking in brand-new helmets and shoulder pads and whatnot, Lambert said.
Of course, all of the school records are up for grabs.
There is no shortage of redshirt freshmen on the 49ers roster. The team spent the fall of 2012 working out and scrimmaging against each other without the constraints of NCAA limits on practice time. Charlotte football didn’t become an NCAA sport until July, Lambert said. But with a limited number of bodies, there only was so much practicing the 49ers could do without getting burned out, he said.
Those workouts were productive, but practice pace is a whole lot different from game speed, Lambert said.
“That was the unknown factor for us in the first game,” Lambert said. “Our quarterback never played in a college game. I didn’t know if he was going to throw it in the stands or not.”
Redshirt freshman quarterback Matt Johnson (6-3, 230) has thrown the ball in the end zone for scores. He’s hurled eight touchdown passes with no interceptions in 68 attempts.
It’s early, though. Charlotte’s inaugural season has a ways to go.
“The problem is they’ve played two games,” Lambert said about his team. “So it’s still a learning process for a lot of our guys.”
NCCU’s experience and success on the FCS level will challenge the 49ers, Lambert said.
Charlotte will play as an FCS independent team before moving up to the Football Bowl Subdivision when it joins Conference USA for the 2015-16 season.
Lambert said his team really isn’t on the FCS level as far as maximizing the 63 scholarships the NCAA allows. He said the idea is to spread out the scholarships to build continuity in the program, as opposed to there being a wholesale exhaustion of 49ers’ eligibility. Plus, it costs money to feed, house and otherwise accommodate players, so there are monetary considerations with that, too, Lambert said.
FBS teams are allotted 85 scholarships.
“We’re not even a full FCS team yet. We’ll get there over time,” Lambert said, appreciating that he and his assistant coaches get to establish 49ers football culture. “Right now, we have a lot of young guys, and we’re just trying to bring them along.”
NOTES — Three former area high school stars are members of the 49ers inaugural team. They are redshirt sophomore defensive end Fletcher O’Neil of East Chapel Hill, redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Zach Thomas of Cedar Ridge, who transferred from Lenoir-Rhyne, and redshirt freshman offensive tackle Casey Perry of Hillside.