December 22, 2011; Charlotte, NC, USA; Charlotte 49ers mascot Norm performs before the game against the Miami Hurricanes at the Halton Arena at UNCC. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

Charlotte 49ers Football spring practice begins tomorrow

Are you ready for some football? I can’t believe it’s finally here. The Charlotte 49ers finally have college football.

For so many years, I did not believe it would ever happen. A former co-worker, Rob Dibble, the Normbulance guy, finally convinced me, and introduced me to the student/alumni lobbying group, Charlotte Football Initiative (CFI) that finally forced the administration’s hand.  Also a huge assist to Football Committee chairman Mac Everett.

Monday, March 18 is the first spring practice to prepare for the August 31, 2013 opener vs. Campbell as the Niners debut as a I-AA Independent.  (I refuse to call it FCS.)  The first Saturday practice open to the public at McColl-Richardson Field is March 23.  From there, every Saturday will have an open practice.  Every Saturday at noon, you will find fans tailgating.  Come on out.  I wish I was well enough to go.  I’ve been looking forward to this since I enrolled as a freshman in 1993. 

The spring game is on April 20.  Within two years, Charlotte will be in 1-A Conference USA.  (I refuse to call it FBS.)

“Don’t tell (Bonnie) we’re playing foosball,” to paraphrase The Waterboy movie.  For decades, there were rumors that the school founder, Bonnie Cone, was anti-football, and forbid us to have it, which was not true.  The reason she cancelled football in the late 1940’s was because the college was an adults after hours school, and with families, none of the students had time to come to football games.  And since my Grandfather Long was a distant relative, so I can tell you there was no son, nephew, or grandson who died/broke a leg playing football.  Bonnie would be proud to see this day if she were alive.

I still have my foam football from the stadium groundbreaking on April 28, 2011.  That was the official opening ceremony, and Chancellor Phil DuBois, AD Judy Rose, and Coach Brad Lambert all spoke.  The stadium has gone up fast.  If you look online, you might even see picks of me with my signs, “A Lamb(ert) shall slaughter the Camels,” and “Is it 08/31/13 yet?”

Let’s get to the important question.  Who is going to be Charlotte’s starting quarterback?  Well, the top two going into camp are Matt Johnson and Lee McNeil.  There is also an outside shot by UNC Pembroke transfer, Patrick O’Brien.

-#8, Matt Johnson, is a 6’2″, 215 lb. freshman from Newton, NC, who went to Maiden High.  He rushed for 3,000 yards and passed for 4,000 in high school.  Twice he both won the Catawba Valley Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year and the Golden Helmet Player of the Year.

-#5, Lee McNeil, is a 6’2″, 180 lb. freshman from Indian Trail, NC, who went to Porter Ridge High.  He twice went to the West NC Finals, and was once a NC State Runner-Up.  He had back-to-back 14-1 seasons.  He was named the Southern Carolina Conference Offensive Player of the Year and the Dynamic Scholarship Fund Offensive Player of the Year.  He passed for over 5,900 yards and 69 TD’s in his high school career.

-#19, Patrick O’Brien is a 6’4″, 200 lb. sophomore from Mooresville, NC, who went to Mooresville High.  He was two-time all conference, and threw for 2,100 yards as a Senior.  Also as a senior he threw for 16 TD’s, and ran for four more.

Also in sad news, we should all pray for the recovery of safety Prince Mayela.  He was shot last fall at a party by some idiot, and is still recovering.

I personally know one of the Niners’ opponents.  Charlotte plays a home-and-home with the Gardner-Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs the next two years.  Their QB is Lucas Beatty, who played locally in Charlotte at Olympic High School.  Mr. Beatty goes to my church, The Well of Hope Lutheran Church, and when Charlotte first signed the contract to play them about two years ago, I immediately went to his Facebook page to tell him he was going down.  I remember one of our alums making a joke that he was “going to get Beattyed.”

It will be interesting to see how the team comes together.  How will they run, catch, throw?  What will be their team chemistry? How will the defense be?  Will they have good punt and kickoff returns and protect against both?  Can we they kicks?  How will kicking be?  From March 18 until April 20, we can get a sneak look.  And since it is the program’s first year, they get five extra practices from the NCAA to learn this spring.

Some might be getting ready for NCAA March Madness.  And as much as I like basketball, this is the South.  And the South is the heart of football country.  Get ready for Spring Football.  It’s here to stay, Niner Nation.

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