When Trei Oliver took the North Carolina Central job in December he looked at the roster, immediately scanning it for a certain jersey number.
Oliver’s eyes quickly looked for No. 31 to see who would be wearing that number. That particular jersey sparked Oliver’s interest because it’s the jersey number he wore when he played at NC Central.
He wanted to make sure his number was being well represented with his first squad.
“When I got the roster the equipment manager put this little kid in 31 and that was the first number I was going to ask about,” Oliver told the media at his weekly press conference. “I think we gave 31 to the right person.”
Currently wearing jersey number 31 is Brandon Codrington, a 5-9, 170 pound freshman from Raleigh’s Broughton High School. Codrington is listed as a defensive back on the Eagles’ game day roster, but has found his niche as a kick returner.
Last Saturday against Delaware State Codrington made the biggest play in his young career. With the game tied at 23 with 50 seconds remaining, Codrington fielded a kickoff at his own 25-yard line and wasted little time getting up field. The end result was his first kickoff return for a score, the game-winning touchdown in the 30-23 NCCU victory.
“It feels surreal,” Codrington told the N&O on Wednesday. “My teammates were telling me before (the play) that they knew I was going to do it. I guess I was just like ‘yeah, yeah’ but when it actually happened, I felt like I was on cloud nine.”
On a team that features more than 30 freshman, Codrington has been part of a sudden youth movement on the football team for Oliver, the first-year head coach.
“We have a bright future,” Oliver said. “ I said from day one here that we are a very talented, but young football team. These young guys are fun to be around.”
Oliver expects Codrington to grow into his role as a defensive back as he gets older, but for now he is the No. 1 guy when it comes to handling punt and kickoff returns. Codrington wasn’t the day one starter at that position, but Oliver was looking for depth and one day the coaches told Codrington to come to practice early and field some kicks. He got his first return action in the second game of the season against Towson and has been the main guy since.
Codrington has nine punt returns for 61 yards, but has been more dangerous returning kickoffs, averaging 25.4 yards per return, good for second in the MEAC.
While getting on the field at your position as a freshman is a challenge, Codrington was able to use his return skills to find a way to help the team right away.
“I wanted this spot,” Codrington said. “I had confidence in myself.”
As a senior at Broughton, Codrington finished with four interceptions, was second on the team in tackles (88) and averaged 24.6 yards per return.
Oliver said what caught his attention about Codrington was his elusiveness and willingness to hit the hole. That was on display in his big return against the Hornets. Jordan Freeman, the other NC Central kick returner on the field, told Codrington to follow him, and once the freshman saw daylight, he was off and running.
After he broke through the first line of defense, Codrington collided with his own teammate, kept his footing and outran one DSU defender on his way to the end zone.
Cordrington never stopped running once he dropped the ball on the turf after he scored. He kept going right to the sideline, where the first person he spotted was freshman offensive linemen Corey Bullock who told Cordrington before he took the field that he was due for a score.
After adjusting to the speed of the game and everyone being so athletic, Cordrington said he feels like he has settled into a groove at the college level. Now if he can just get his head coach to stop giving him a hard time about that jersey number. After his start to the season, Oliver might cut the new 31 some slack.
“Yeah, I’m on him,” Oliver said. “But he’s a little faster than the old 31, much faster.”
- NCCU (3-5, 2-2) at Howard (1-7, 1-3)
- Saturday, 1 PM, Washington DC
- TV: ESPN3
- Audio: NCCUEaglePride.com