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UNCC 49er football is almost here
Ever since Brad Lambert was named the Charlotte 49ers’ inaugural football coach in March 2011, preparations have been made for the official start of their season later this year.
The next-to-last step in turning the long-held dream of 49ers’ fans into reality is the school’s first official spring practice, which begins Monday and culminates with an April 20 intra-squad scrimmage.
“Since it’s turned 2013, the calendar’s really normal for us,” said Lambert, the former Wake Forest assistant who will lead Charlotte into its Aug. 31 program opener at home against Campbell. “We feel like we’re on the same mode that we were used to for all those years. So that’s been nice.”
And no matter what Lambert, his coaches or players will say, there will be nothing normal about what happens next week — or in the coming months for that matter.
Everything is going to be a first. The first game, the first play, the first touchdown and, hopefully, the first victory all will come this season for the 49ers and a fan base that has countless followers who have desperately and patiently waited for this day for many, many years.
“Our fans are really excited about it and everywhere I go, they’re fired up,” said Lambert, whose inaugural schedule features three straight home football games. “They can’t wait until Aug. 31, but I think April 20 is a good date for us because we’ll try to have a game as much as we can.”
Among those first players are a pair of local products in Lincolnton’s Jonathan Gidney and Forestview’s Cortez Nixon. Gidney was an All-Gazette receiver in 2011 when the Wolves’ advanced to the N.C. 2A title game and Nixon was a second team All-Gazette defensive back at Forestview in 2010. Gidney was among the program’s first recruits when the school premeditated a redshirt year for those players last fall, while Nixon joined the roster in January. Lambert says both will have a chance to make immediate contributions.
“Jonathan Gidney is a wideout playing for us,” Lambert said. “We’ll see how he does this spring. He was with us all fall and what a great kid. We’re excited to have him. If he gets real big, we may move him to H (tight end). He’s a great kid who comes from a great program.
“And Cortez just came out for us. He’s really done a good job in the offseason. I’m excited to see what he’ll do when he puts the pads on.”
Whatever happens, Lambert says he has gained an understanding of why so many fans are excited about finally having football and he realizes the best way to endear himself to that group is by building a solid, winning program. For now, as Lambert joked last month when he was the guest speaker at the Belmont Sports Hall of Fame banquet, he was the most popular guy on campus “because I’m still undefeated.”
Certainly, that will change. But Lambert and his coaching staff are implementing a plan that they hope can make the 49ers competitive quickly.
For now, they’re limited to 56 full scholarships and a roster size of 95 as a Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) independent. That scholarship limit number rises to 75 in 2014 and to 85 in 2015 — or one year before the school become a full Football Bowl Subdivision(FBS) member of the major college NCAA Division I ranks in Conference USA.
“We’ve got a lot of young guys on our teams and that’s to be expected,” Lambert said. “As it stands right now, we’ll probably have 3-4 seniors and 10-12 juniors. And that’ll help us. But the bulk of our team will be freshmen. It’s going to be an interesting process, but one we’ve spent quite a bit of time preparing for.”
By Richard Walker, Gaston Gazette