This is part of our position-by-position look at the Charlotte 49ers football team heading into the first day of preseason camp on Thursday. If you missed anything from the past few days, catch up: QBs | Offensive Line
With offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen bringing over the spread offense that he ran as the OC at West Virginia, the Charlotte 49ers offense will need to rely on a lot of speed from the skill positions. Charlotte fans should expect to see a lot of no huddle offense with three and four wide receiver sets, so the depth and conditioning of the receiving corps are going important factors for the offense to be successful this season. There are currently seven healthy WRs listed on the roster, with one 2013 recruit coming in this fall–Trent Bostick–who will have the opportunity to earn playing time as a true freshman this year.
Austin Duke, the speedy 5’8″ receiver out of Charlotte, seems to be a perfect fit for Coach Mullen’s system. In his senior season at Independence High, Duke led the Patriots to a 10-2 record while racking up 62 catches, 1252 yards, and 18 touchdowns. His play earned him a spot in the 2011 Shrine Bowl, as well as being named as the Southwestern 4-A Offensive Player of the Year. This past year he competed on Charlotte’s track and field team as a sprinter, running the 60 meter and 100 meter dash. With a sub-4.4 second 40 yard dash time, his speed will not only help create his own big plays, but his ability to stretch the field will open up a lot of holes in the defense for his teammates to make plays as well. Look for Duke to be one of the Niners’ big playmakers this upcoming season.
Another wide receiver who should be a key contributor this season is Will Thomas–who made sure he woke up early to fax in his LOI on signing day just a year and a half ago so he could become Charlotte’s first official signee in team history. Thomas was a three sport athlete in high school who also brings a good amount of speed to the table. At 6’0″ and weighing 170 lbs, he finished third in the high jump at the Atlantic 10 Indoor Track and Field Championship for the 49ers this past winter. Like a lot of the players the coaching staff has recruited thus far, Thomas is an extremely versatile player. He saw time at the quarterback, running back, and defensive back positions in his high school career; however, expect Thomas to compete for a starting WR position during the upcoming fall practices.
One of Charlotte’s only upperclassmen at the wide receiver position, Air Force transfer Mikel Hunter (Rockdale, GA), will provide the receiving corps with some much needed experience. Hunter, a 5’9″ 170 lb redshirt senior, will be eligible for the upcoming 2013-2014 season. Hunter started a total of 14 games between his sophomore and junior seasons at the Air Force Academy, racking up 19 catches for 350 yards (18.4 yds/reception) and 3 touchdowns. He also added 316 rushing yards on only 25 attempts (12.6 yds/carry) along with 3 touchdowns. Coach Lambert already said Mikel was making his presence felt during the spring practices, and that he could be an impact player for the team this season. Hunter should also be competing for one of the top WR spots this fall.
The Concord, NC native out of Northwest Cabarrus High, 6’4″ 195 lb walk-on E.J. Rhinehart, will also be looking to compete for a starting position in the next couple of weeks. Rhinehart brings both size and leadership to the team, as he was a captain of both his football and basketball teams in high school.
Corey Nesmith Jr. is a 5’10” 160 lb slot receiver out of West Mecklenburg High. He was the team captain and named MVP for the Hawks after his senior season. Corey comes from a football family; his father, Corey Sr., was a reserve back at William and Mary. It’s looking like Nesmith will have to earn his playing time as a backup to Duke this fall.
One of the players on the team who may be looking forward to the first game more than anyone else in Charlotte is Luke Sonricker, the junior transfer from Campbell. The 6’4″ wide out from Greensboro, N.C. was voted as the Most Improved Wide Receiver by his teammates, and he also won Academic All-American honors following his sophomore season with the Camels.
Darius Smalls is a 6’4″ 200 lb out of Huntersville, NC who went to Hopewell High School. Smalls is a redshirt freshman who should add size and depth to the 49ers receiving corps.
Jamel Ross (Cary, NC), out of Panther Creek High School, a redshirt freshman with only one season of football under his belt and a ton of upside, is reportedly out for the season with a torn ACL/MCL. As it was mentioned before, the coaching staff did a good job of recruiting a lot of versatile players, so there are others such as C.J. Crawford (senior H-back transfer from Marshall) and Martay Mattox (sophomore DB transfer from USC) that could step into the WR position if injuries cause that to happen.