Redshirt-freshman Matt Johnson is the starter and will direct the 49ers spread, no-huddle offense, a system he ran at Maiden High. Although he doesnt have a lot of arm strength, Johnson (6-foot-3, 230 pounds) will bring athleticism and toughness to the 49ers hurry-up offense. Patrick OBrien, a transfer from UNC Pembroke, and Porter Ridge Highs Lee McNeill are the backups.
The Observer asked junior offensive lineman Daniel Blitch to introduce his offensive teammates. Heres Blitchs take on players both on and off the field:
Matt Johnson, redshirt freshman quarterback
Matt is a good, composed guy, who makes sure everybody knows what theyre doing and leads the guys in what theyre supposed to do. Hes a good, Christian guy who does mission trips with (Fellowship of Christian Athletes).
Alan Barnwell, a tough, shifty runner, is the clear-cut starter. Hell be backed up by true freshman Kalif Phillips (A.L. Brown High), who had an impressive preseason camp.
Alan Barnwell, redshirt freshman running back
Hes the kind of guy, if you met him, you wouldnt think hes as serious as he is on the field. Hes the kind of guy who does his goofing off, off the field. Hes been around the program now that he can tell the freshmen what they need to do and what not to do.
This position took a hit when redshirt freshman Jamel Ross was lost for the season with a knee injury. Redshirt freshman Austin Duke and Air Force transfer Mikel Hunter provide big-play capabilities. Junior-college transfer Dmarjai Devine and redshirt freshman E.J. Rhinehart (Northwest Cabarrus) provide more size and had strong preseason camps.
Austin Duke, redshirt freshman receiver
Hes not shy at all, especially around us. Hes always got something to say, which isnt a bad thing. But sometimes at 6:30 in the morning at breakfast, he might not have something to say. When he doesnt have a good rep on the field, it really bothers him. He needs to keep his cool sometime, but I cant knock him for wanting to be the best he can be.
Mikel Hunter, junior receiver
Hes an older guy, like I am. He doesnt talk a lot about what to do or not, but when people are around him, they know how to do the right things just by watching him.
The 49ers will use this hybrid of a tight end and slot receiver a lot. Redshirt freshman Justin Bolus had an excellent preseason camp, and has recovered from lower-intestinal surgery in the offseason that was nearly fatal. C.J. Crawford transferred from Marshall, where he was effective in a similar style of offense the 49ers will employ.
Justin Bolus, redshirt freshman H-back
If youre ever out in the tailgating section, you can hear him a mile away. He talks louder than anybody Ive ever been around. He puts in a lot of work. Hes not our biggest guy, but he will run up in a hole and hit somebody.
C.J. Crawford, senior H-back
Another old guy. He brings that old-guy humor to the team. Well take our hour-long break in the locker room between meals and meetings, and hell tell stories of his life. Hes the kind of guy who demands respect, not verbally, but the way he carries himself.
Perhaps the deepest and most solid spot on the team. The 49ers recruited big and athletic linemen who can get out in space and block in the spread offense. The most experienced is Blitch, at one of the guard spots, and the most talented is probably left tackle Jamal Covington, a redshirt freshman. Thomas La Bianca (Porter Ridge) and Mason Sledge (Monroe) have been competing for the starting center spot, although whomever doesnt get the job will start at guard. The right tackle spot has become a tossup between sophomore Danny Book (who has missed time with a head injury) and redshirt freshman Casey Perry (who has switched from the defensive line).
Jamal Covington, redshirt freshman tackle
Jamal is starting to get the hang of being a college football player. Hes really coachable, which coach (Phil) Ratliff will tell you. Me and him have some pretty heated battles on Call of Duty and FIFA (video games).
Danny Book, sophomore tackle
Hes not very verbal, but hes not antisocial by any means. He comes in does his job and leaves. Hes my roommate, so we hang out at the house, watch SportsCenter or whatnot.
Thomas La Bianca, redshirt freshman guard/center
Hes our (mixed martial arts) specialist. He always loves to wrestle people. He was a wrestler in high school and did very well. He loves to get people on the ground and pound them.
Mason Sledge, redshirt freshman guard/center
He gets the most trash talked as anybody on the O-line. He came from a big basketball area (Monroe), so hes always wanting to play basketball and he thinks he can still play as well as he did in high school. It keeps his feet quick, I think.
Casey Perry, redshirt freshman tackle
Hes switched from the defensive line, so hes getting there. Its a whole new mindset for him. But hes getting that mentality.
Daniel Blitch, junior guard
Wow, its a little different talking about yourself. Im a guy that everybody looks up to, coming from a bigger program and being older. Ive told them if anybody ever needs anything on or off the field, Im there for them. I think thats the best way I can make my mark and build the team. I love computers and building them if I can. My motto is, Its built, not bought. If I can build it and do it better than what I can buy, Id rather do it that way.
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