Eagles dodge rain to get to work for Mack
That moment when rain pushes back the first day of football practice:
“We’ve got to get on the grass some kind of way,” first-year N.C. Central coach Jerry Mack said shortly after 3 p.m. Friday.
NCCU was supposed to start practice at 3:30 p.m. Soaking rain flipped the script.
But make no mistake, the Eagles were going to work Friday.
“Rain, sleet or snow, we’re going to practice,” Mack said.
Having the East Carolina Pirates waiting in Greenville on Aug. 30 can create such a sense of urgency, although NCCU senior defensive end Ty Brown would tell you Mack’s intense like that all of the time.
Football players at Duke and North Carolina can go hard in indoor practice facilities when the weather outside is frightful. NCCU doesn’t have that option.
But Mack a while back after he was hired in December said he told his assistant coaches that neither facilities, a lack or resources nor anything like that would be viable excuses for NCCU not being one of the best teams in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and, for that matter, in all of the Division I Football Championship Subdivision.
So four hours after the regularly scheduled practice time, the Eagles were flying around O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium preparing to be better than 5-7, their overall record last year when they couldn’t figure out how to finish games, Brown said.
Last season, NCCU would be either right there with teams or sometimes beating them at halftime, only to fall apart in the third and fourth quarters, Brown said.
Some of that had to do with the Eagles not being in good-enough shape to close out games, Brown said. They’re in shape now, he said.
“We’ve been running,” Brown said. “When I say running, it’s not 10-yard sprints. It’s been 10 400s on the track.”
Everything’s fast with Mack, Brown said. The Eagles are always on the clock with him, whether it’s being on time for team meetings, being punctual for practice, everything. That ideally will translate to playing fast in games, which gets back to finishing, and it’s why Mack’s not tolerating any loafing from anybody, Brown said.
“If we do, we’re off the field and might not see the field again,” Brown said.
Of course, the concept of playing fast didn’t originate with Mack. That kind of talk is on the lips of coaches all over the country.
“I think the key is being able to play fast and also being able to look back sometimes and make the right decision to put our young men in the best situation,” Mack said.
The ideal goal here for NCCU is to win the MEAC championship that guarantees a spot in the FCS playoffs, which would give the Eagles a shot at an FCS national title.
But the MEAC’s coaches and directors of sports information predicted that NCCU would finish eighth in the league. There’s no playoff berth with that kind of production.
“I think it’s obvious motivation for our young men,” Mack said. “They work just as hard as anybody else in the country. For them to get picked eighth, I think that is a sense of motivation for those guys.”
That’s bulletin-board material.
“It is in the locker room. I will tell you that,” Mack said.