NCCU’s Mack debuts at annual Pigskin Preview
New kid on the block. Youngest dude on the dais. A relative boy among men.
Those specs fit first-year N.C. Central coach Jerry Mack, on the roster for the first time at the Bill Dooley Chapter Pigskin Preview at Embassy Suites on Thursday.
“I have a daughter that’s older than he is,” East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill said.
Mack is 33, and he became the third-youngest active head football coach in Division I when NCCU athletics director Ingrid Wicker-McCree hired him in December.
No doubt about it, Mack’s young, but any moisture behind his ears is sweat from putting in work, McNeill explained. McNeill said Mack was working on him, schmoozing, trying to get an edge, McNeill quipped.
“He tried to trick me,” McNeill said. “I see his strategy, so I’ve got to watch him.
“When he got the job, I knew right then — I started tuning in to him.”
McNeill’s Pirates and Mack’s Eagles open their seasons against each other on Aug. 30 at ECU’s Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in Greenville (8 p.m., ESPNews). Things will get real serious between now and then, but the Pigskin Preview was a time for hamming it up with veteran broadcaster Don Shea, who moderated the event that also included North Carolina coach Larry Fedora, Duke coach David Cutcliffe and N.C. State coach Dave Doeren.
Shea asked Mack about one of the most unusual things his wife, Starlett, ever asked him. Mack went down memory lane to a time when he and Starlett had just started dating. It was that time when she explained how she liked football well enough, guys with big muscles in tights and all. But Mack said Starlett just couldn’t understand why the players were on the field fighting over a quarter, a mere 25 cents.
Starlett was referring to the gridiron battle that ensues after the coin toss, Mack said.
After the referee flips the coin when it’s time for NCCU and ECU to knock heads next month, the football at some point is bound to end up in the hands of Adrian Wilkins, an Eagle who can fly. He’s dynamic, to say the least, according to several outlets that have tagged him as someone to be reckoned with this season. The guy scored five touchdowns on either kickoffs or punt returns last season. Nobody else in the Football Championship Subdivision of Division I did that.
“The proof is in the pudding,” Mack said.
Wilkins lines up at wide receiver, too, and NCCU will have four returning starters on the offensive line potentially blocking for quarterbacks Quinn Billerman and Malcolm Bell, Mack said. Both of those signal callers could line up under center for any team in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and handle business, the coach said.
Bell started some games last season. Billerman is new to the program, one of Mack’s recruits.
NCCUs defense will have an experienced secondary and a platoon of linebackers to throw at teams, although the Eagles will be young along the defensive trench, Mack said.
NCCU a year ago was 5-7 overall, 3-5 in the MEAC.
McNeill shared a little bit about his squad. He talked about the need for the Pirates to be focused after a successful 10-3 season that culminated with a 37-20 win over Ohio in the Beef `O’ Brady’s Bowl at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Then McNeill stopped sharing.
The real young guy in charge of the Eagles was in the room, still working.
“I’m ready to get out of here so I can get away from him,” McNeill said.