|Early success critical to Charlotte 49ers football in 2018|
|First three home dates could decide season|
|Published Sunday, August 5, 2018 11:00 pm|
Three is key for Charlotte 49ers football.
They open with three home games: Fordham on Sept. 1, Appalachian State Sept. 8 and Old Dominion. Three wins puts the 49ers on track to a successful start and erases last year’s 1-11 campaign. Three losses could prove disastrous.
“The sense of urgency is there,” said linebacker Anthony Butler, a Vance High graduate. “One of our goals this year is …winning the first three home games. It’s important for us to win those first three games to get the morale and the people here to want to be part of this program. We didn’t win at all last year, so it’s very important for us to win the first three games.”
Three is a recurring theme at Charlotte, where the 49ers underwent a major overhaul to the coaching staff, with new offensive and defensive coordinators in Shane Montgomery and Glenn Spencer looking to jump-start a program that was a missed two-point conversion away from going winless for the first time in school history.
“We have a phrase: ‘Let’s win three,’ said running back Benny LeMay, a Butler High graduate and Charlotte’s top returning rusher. “Not specifically the first three games, but in all three phases of the game – offense, defense and special teams. We implicate that every day; we break down everything. Winning the first three games is definitely important because we want to build a great crowd around here. Charlotte wants to see us win and they deserve it, so we’ve definitely got to give it to them.”
The 49ers return 17 starters, including nine on defense. In addition to leading rusher LeMay, Charlotte’s top receiver, Mark Quattlebaum, and offensive linemen Chris Brown, Nate Davis, Darren Drake and Cam Clark are back. Defensively, Charlotte returns preseason all-Conference USA safety Ben DeLuca, who led the country with five forced fumbles in 2017 and the top four tacklers: DeLuca and linebackers Butler, Jeff Gemmell and Juwan Foggie.
“It’s been real positive vibes for us since January,” 49ers coach Brad Lambert said. “New guys have come in and jelled well with the team and the guys have done a good job of coming together. We’ve got a good vibe, but we’ve got to execute. You can come out here and play hard, but you’ve got to execute in crucial moments and that’s been our focus, whether it’s red zone, third down. We’ve got to execute in those critical moments.”
With the changes in coaches, there’s also a change in attitude and motivation. The 49ers understand they can’t afford a repeat of 2017. They aren’t stuck in the past; rather it’s an opportunity to learn and improve.
“I think the message was last year clearly wasn’t good enough,” Butler said. “Everything we did last year was obviously wrong, so we’ve got to step it up and make a lot of changes as far as how we go against each other in practice, taking advantage of our opportunities with the [starters] and [backups].”
Said LeMay, one of the 49ers’ four captains: “We don’t typically look back at it. We’ve moved on. Obviously, you want to move forward on to better things, but you want to keep that 1-11 in your mind. It’s definitely motivation for us every time we get to a hard workout or get to a tough point of the year, we look back at last year and obviously you want to do better.”
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