As the saying goes, you never get a second chance at a first impression. Today (one day late I know) was my first impression of the Charlotte 49ers’ newly minted football team. These young men won’t need a second chance.
When something is new one tends to notice everything. Every small, seemingly insignificant detail that might otherwise be overlooked is often recognized. The first thing I noticed was that it was early. Early enough that the Starbucks on Highway 29 across the street from the stadium had absolutely no one in line when I walked in at 6:30 am. Early enough that the campus was quiet when I drove across the highway into the view of the immaculate stadium’s west end zone. Early enough that the sun was just peeking up over the horizon and had not started to warm the brisk morning air.
I parked in the CRI Deck just off Highway 29, where I’ve parked for many 49er baseball games, and made the short five minute walk to the practice fields, coffee in hand. *Quick note: the parking lots closest to the practice fields are clearly marked Faculty and Staff Permits Only so regardless of the dozen or so empty spaces, I wouldn’t risk a little yellow envelope on your windshield if you’re planning on checking out a practice or two. Practice had already started when I wandered up to the fence surrounding the natural grass practice fields at about 7:03 am. The hand-me-down bleachers were still wet with dew and waiting patiently for the sun to show its face and dry them off.
I didn’t care much about the dew and sat anyway, to gaze in wonderment at a dream come true. The grass was a rich green hue, emanating a perfume made more fragrant by the same dew decorating the metal bleachers. On that grass was the realization of my dream. Like soldiers. Like warriors preparing for a three month battle. Each wearing a badge of honor. The first ever Charlotte 49ers football uniform. Some in green. Some in white. Three in black.
Sprints began the day. They lined up in groups, ran in groups, stayed in groups. If one person left the line before the whistle, the whole group had to go back. The bonds of a team being formed before my very eyes. As the sun began to rise, so did the humidity. The sprinters seemed to be tiring a bit, and with exhaustion often comes mistakes. One runner missed the whistle, the whole group had to go back and start again. “Bad things happen! Deal with it!” was the encouragement from the sidelines. Deal with it these young men did.
I watched the entire practice start to finish, taking a small break to walk in between fields so I could check out the offense when they split from the defense. Pushups were the corrective measure for dropped passes. I saw maybe a half dozen. The intensity rose with the humidity. No one walked, coaches made sure of that.
The defensive line was the most impressive visually. A solid core of guys who looked like they slept in the weight room this summer. A core of guys who came together after every drill, encouraged one another, and by far looked the most insatiable. The offensive line was a tad on the small side, but what they lacked in size they certainly made up for in technique.
Day two ended just before 9:00 am. The sun was up, the day was just beginning. The first impression had been made, and I was impressed.