One played offense, the other defense. Now they’re coaching that same football program.

N.C. Central coach Trei Oliver and offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach Moses Ware were college teammates in the late 1990s.

Oliver was a safety and Ware played wide receiver for the Eagles. Ware was a few years ahead of Oliver, but the two had their battles in practice. After practice on Monday NCCU practice Oliver joked that he used to destroy Ware, and Ware countered by saying he made the younger Oliver carry his pads to the locker room.

To settle it on Monday, Oliver challenged Ware to a one-one-one rep right there on the field, the former defensive back against the former wide out. Ware kindly declined.

The chemistry between the former teammates could be crucial to the Eagles’ success in 2019. Oliver came to NCCU after several years as a defensive coordinator at Southern University. Ware is back in to Durham after eight seasons at Bowie State, where the Bulldogs produced one of the most potent offensive units in Division II football.

Under Ware, the fourth-leading receiver in NCCU history, Bowie State topped the CIAA in passing offense for four straight seasons, and in 2017 led the nation in scoring (54.5 ppg) and total offense (566.3 ypg).

Oliver has a defensive background, so it was important that his first offensive coordinator hire would be someone would could get his players to pass the ball and score. Being someone who coached and played defense, Oliver knows what types of plays are difficult to stop and which schemes keep him up all night preparing.

“It’s not really just one thing,” Oliver said about Ware’s style. “With your concept and your playbook, you have to understand how to attack people. It’s not going to be just one play this week or one play that you magically make up. Understanding what defenses try to do, how to attack them and how to exploit it, that’s the biggest thing.”

By his own admission, Ware says he’s not an “offensive genius.” His Bowie State team had no problem putting up points, but Ware said the result is based on the entire offensive staff, along with having great offensive players.

A big reason Ware hopes his offense thrives this season is the communication between Ware and Oliver. With Oliver being a defensive guy, Ware can pick his brain on how to find vulnerabilities in opposing offenses.

“He can tell me where to attack,” Ware told The News & Observer on Monday. “We’ve had conversations like that. We’ve had conversations on what option football does to him, what tempo does to him.”

N.C. Central returns its top eight receivers from the 2018 season, giving Ware plenty of options in his game plan. While at Bowie, Ware had four players with at least 45 catches. His leading receiver for the Bulldogs had 72 grabs in 2018. NCCUs top returning wideout, junior Nique Martin, had 32 catches last season. When Ware took over, however, he was really impressed with what NCCU has returning on offense.

There are experienced players at wide receiver, and in the backfield with junior quarterback Chauncey Caldwell and redshirt junior running back Isaiah Totten. Ware also has sophomore tight end Sherman McLeod, who caught nine passes last season and finished with three touchdowns.

The offensive players are aware of how their new offensive coordinator likes to get everyone involved, which means there could be an increase in production from everyone this season.

“I just feel like we are passing a little bit more than last year,” sophomore wide receiver Tyler Barnes (18 catches, 203 yards, 1TD) said. “As a receiver I love to block, but I like getting the ball also. Overall, we are spreading it out, everyone is getting their touches.”

Last year the Eagles finished fifth in the MEAC in scoring (26.4) and total offense (347.8). NCCU was sixth in the league in passing offense, averaging 190.8 yards per game.

“We have to give these guys a system that’s going to give them an opportunity to make plays,” Ware said. “And let’s just see what happens. With these guys it should be easy to score points, easy to move the ball.”

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Sports reporter Jonas Pope IV covers college recruiting, high school sports, NC Central and the ACC for the Herald-Sun and The News & Observer.