Dedication is the key: Coach Jerry Mack on NCCU football

May. 21, 2014 @ 06:18 PM

Done right, the game of football has a lot to offer a kid, the NFL notwithstanding, first-year N.C. Central coach Jerry Mack told the Durham Sports Club at Croasdaile Country Club Wednesday.

Mack pressed rewind on his mental highlight reel, pausing to break down the story of NCCU defensive lineman Antonio Brown.

“I think Antonio had more of his former teammates die in one semester than I’ve known in my whole life,” Mack said.

Brown’s from an area in Jacksonville, Fla., where the streets are not just mean but downright angry, Mack explained. Yet that’s home for Brown, who throughout the year would express his desire to return, Mack said. Mack said he told Brown that it would be in his best interest to stay in Durham this summer, and the coach told the young man he’d find the resources to make that possible.

That’s how football can help a kid.

“I’m just going to be honest with you,” Mack said. “We’re not going to have many NFL players at North Carolina Central. Our guys are not at that caliber yet. We’re recruiting to that.”

But NCCU’s football players could earn degrees and otherwise build their caches toward becoming productive citizens, Mack said. He said his players could leave school as Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champions who were one of the best Division I Football Championship Subdivision programs in the country.

Mack said that would require the sort of mentality that had him choosing to sleep several nights a week in one of the football offices at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff just for the sheer sake of having an opportunity to be successful.

It’s sacrifice plus passion, Mack said.

“You don’t watch the clock. You must go in to work and work from sunup to sundown,” Mack said.

That’s how a team overcomes a talent gap. Mack said he accepted the NCCU job in December thinking the Eagles had more oomph in the nest than they actually did. But he said he learned while working with the football staff at the University of Central Arkansas that a coach must maximize what he has.

Of course, NCCU has talent. A kid from Forest City named Adrian Wilkins comes to mind.

“When he touches the ball, it is dynamic,” Mack said.

In other words, Wilkins is going to touch the ball a lot this season, Mack said.

Last year, Wilkins scored five touchdowns on either kickoff or punt returns. He’s an NCCU guy who actually could play in the NFL, along with NCCU’s Ty Brown, Mack said.

Ty Brown last year was a linebacker who’d sometimes put his hand in the dirt and rush the passer. This season, Brown is going to chase the quarterback on every play, in keeping with Mack’s defensive philosophy:

“Hit the quarterback and hit him a lot,” Mack said.

NCCU was 5-7 a year ago.

“There’s only a small difference between winning and losing games,” said Mack, recalling last season when he was coaching wide receivers at the University of South Alabama.

South Alabama was 6-6 a year ago, losing five of those games by two points or less.

Winning is about exploiting matchups, and Mack told the Durham Sports Club not to be surprised if they come to NCCU’s O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium and see Ty Brown — the fierce defender — also using his 6-foot-4-inch, 245-pound body on the offensive side of the ball.

“That’s a matchup issue if I line him up at receiver and we throw the fade to him,” Mack said. “He’s going to have an opportunity to make money one day playing the game of football.”

Besides, there’s too much specialization in football these days, Mack said.

“The name of the game is get the ball to the playmakers, let them do what they do,” Mack said.