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Campbell's Redemption Search
The label “first-year” doesn’t apply to Campbell’s football team anymore.
The Camels, who completed their first season of football in more than a half-century last fall, are a lot of things on the eve of their second annual Orange-Black spring scrimmage. They’re a much more seasoned, experienced and veteran football team. They’re wiser, smarter and more mature. Not to mention bigger, faster and stronger.
Just don’t call them first-year.
“It’s a big relief to go ahead and get a year under our belts,” said redshirt sophomore linebacker Milton Brown. “Last season was something we had been waiting for a long time. We finally got it, and now it’s no more excuses. We’ve got to go ahead and play football like a real team.”
Aside from the gallantry and excitement, not to mention the surprisingly good fan support, generated by restarting a football program last season that had been dormant since the end of the World War II era, 2008 was mostly a forgettable season for the Camels, as they struggled through a 1-10 campaign where they were outscored 447-98, including 376-35 by opponents in their conference, the non-scholarship Pioneer Football League, which competes at the football championship subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) level.
A team doesn’t go through a season like that without learning a lot about itself.
“I wouldn’t say we’re a veteran football team, but we’re at least a battle-tested football team, and I think there are some definite advantages to that,” said Campbell head coach Dale Steele. “We practice much differently. We understand a lot more about what we’re doing. We’re able to coach more now than just trying to get them through.”
The light at the end of the tunnell must have seemed light years away to the Camels at times last season. “I had an idea how hard it was going to be. Now did I think it was going to be that hard? Not at all,” said Brown.
There were some bright spots last season as well, however, the most compelling of which was Brown’s three-interception, two-touchdown performance at Carthage College in Kenosha Wisc. on Sept. 27. He returned his third interception 99 yards for his second touchdown of the game to seal a 36-27 Campbell victory, the Camels’ only win of the season.
Now Brown, a team captain a season ago, says winning more games is among the team’s top priorities heading into 2009.
“We gave the effort,” he said of last season. “We just have to work on our execution.”
The Camels returned 68 mostly battle-tested players from last season’s team for their second annual spring practice, which began March 18 and culminates in the Orange-Black game at the on-campus Barker-Lane Stadium tomorrow at 2 p.m.
From coaches to players to random specators and interested observers, most would readily admit that the Camels seem improved in 2009. How improved? Steele says the difference has been unmistakeable.
“There are times when we show flashes of being very much improved, and there are times when we’re just improved,” he said.
That the players and coaches are more experienced and battle-tested this season should pay multiple dividends for the Camels on the field. True freshmen won’t be rushed into action as quickly. Injuries should not be as much of a problem. Not to mention, everyone associated with the program now has a better understanding of what it will take to compete in the Pioneer Football League and at the football championship subdivision level.
“They know what the expectation is, and they know what the level they’ve got to get to,” said Steele of his players. “They know the speed of the game now, and they know the speed that they’ve got to practice at. They know that they have to be accountable, and they’ve got to do things out here on the practice field, or they’re not going to have them on the field.”
Taking skills and experience from the practice field to game situations is one of the major points of emphasis for the Camels this spring.
“The major step we want to take this spring is, can we take it from the meeting room to the practice field, and from the practice field to a game situation,” said Steele.
Another point of emphasis has been strength and conditioning, as well as growth and development among the coaching staff, which Steele said visited several programs during the offseason for clinics.
One thing the team does not necessarily need much work on this spring is bonding among the players. One of the side effects of last fall was that there was plenty of that going on during the season.
“I love these guys,” Brown said. “We may get in arguments and stuff like that, but I’m glad we’ve got the players that we have, because we know those are the ones who are going to stick it out when the times get rough, because it can’t get any rougher.”
Not for a second-year program, it would seem.