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49ers ready to recruit football's first team
Brad Lambert and Matt Carrick might be getting to know each other soon.
Lambert is the Charlotte 49ers’ football coach, and today is the first day he can begin recruiting high school players for a program that won’t begin play on the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision level (formerly Division I-AA) until 2013.
Carrick is a 6-foot-2, 260-pound offensive lineman at Ardrey Kell High who will be a senior next season. An FCS prospect according to his coach, Carrick is looking for a place to play football in college.
“I’m trying to find for something close to home,” said Carrick. “Playing (at Charlotte) would be ideal. I’ve heard a lot of good things about the school.”
Ardrey Kell, as well as most high schools throughout the Carolinas and Georgia, can expect a visit from Lambert or one of his two assistants, offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen and defensive position coach James Adams, during the NCAA-mandated spring recruiting period that lasts from today until May 31. (Another assistant will be hired in early May.)
The 49ers coaches’ task won’t be simple: They’re looking for players to come to a school with no football history that is still two years away from playing its first game. They’ll come in as redshirt freshmen in 2012, spending that season practicing without games to play.
“We’re all new, come be a part of a beginning. That’s our pitch and we’re going to sell it hard,” said Lambert, who was an assistant at Wake Forest for 10 seasons before coming to Charlotte. “There’s some excitement in that. Being part of that first class, being the first to sign here. It’s an attractive pitch, I think. Hopefully it will get guys on campus and they see this place. But for now, we want to get our logo out there.”
That pitch has a chance to resonate.
“It sounds fine to me,” said Carrick. “You can be the one to help get things developed and begin a sense of pride about the program. You can be the first who’s there doing it.”
Lambert can also tell potential recruits that starting a program doesn’t necessarily mean losing.
Old Dominion, which started football in 2009, has won 17 games in two seasons playing schedules similar to Charlotte’s (a mix of lower-level FCS and Division II opponents). Georgia State went 8-3 in 2010, its first year of football.
“We went to recruits with a rhetorical question,” said Old Dominion coach Bobby Wilder. “Do you want to lead or do you follow? You have the ability to set records, not break them. You can be the legacy, the ones who forever started this program.”
But it doesn’t always work.
“We lost our share of kids that we felt like if we’d been playing for a year, if they’d come to a home game in our stadium, they might have said yes to us,” said Wilder. “Some players just couldn’t see it, they couldn’t make that leap of faith with us. You’re asking them to practice only for a year, then play together for the first time in two years. And they said no. Some of them couldn’t put their arms around that.”
But the idea seems to be catching on around Mecklenburg County, which will serve as one of the 49ers’ primary recruiting bases. In addition to players like Carrick who are thinking about being Charlotte’s first scholarship class in 2012, others are heading there already.
Wes Fields, a linebacker at Mallard Creek who will graduate in a few weeks, plans to attend Charlotte in the fall and walk on the football team in 2012.
“He’s a perfect example of a kid for whom the recruiting thing maybe didn’t work out,” said Mallard Creek coach Mike Palmieri. “Charlotte has opened up a second chance for him.”
Old Dominion has also recruited transfers, something the 49ers will do, too. Lambert has said he’ll need older players to mix with the freshmen who will make up the majority of the first few Charlotte teams. He said he has already heard from players at BCS schools (including Utah) and Division II programs (Wingate).
He’ll also recruit junior colleges and will travel in May to the Midwest, where schools in the Kansas Jayhawk Community College League typically provide players to four-year programs. Lambert, who grew up in Kansas, credits 49ers baseball coach Loren Hibbs (a former Wichita State player and assistant who has recruited the area before) with helping him gain an early foothold in the KJCCL.
Lambert speaks to civic groups a few times each week and has performed community-service projects like helping (with basketball coach Alan Major) build a playground at Winding Springs Elementary. Lambert has been working on the details of the on-campus stadium (which will break ground April 28), such as what colors the end zone and the coaching boxes will be and what kind of logo will be at midfield. He has had a hand in locating where the televisions will be in the weight room.
The 49ers coaches are temporarily quartered in what has quickly become a cluttered meeting room in the school’s athletics department, where director of football of operations Trevor Lambert (Brad’s nephew) has been loading names of prospects into a database on a laptop. Mullen and Adams, who have visited spring practices at N.C. State and Wake Forest, have split up their recruiting territories on a color-coded map on the wall.
Also on the wall is a whiteboard, already filling up - position-by-position - with names of potential recruits. It looks like a place where a football program just might be sprouting up.
By David Scott, Charlotte Observer