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2013 Charlotte 49ers Football

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Spreading the word on Charlotte 49ers football ‘traditions’

N.C. Central at Charlotte, noon Saturday, WCCB

  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/09/11/21/55/WcOAR.Em.138.jpeg|441
    DAVID T. FOSTER III - dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com
    Charlotte 49ers' outside linebackers coach Napoleon Sykes (left) shares a laugh with head coach Brad Lambert during the Chowan game.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/09/11/21/55/Ido3D.Em.138.jpeg|191
    DAVID T. FOSTER III - dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com
    Charlotte 49ers' outside linebackers coach Napoleon Sykes yells instructions while playing the Chowan Hawks at Richardson Stadium on Sept. 7. Charlotte won 47-7. Before games, he likes to rile up the crowd. At other times, he turns to Twitter to raise the new program’s profile.

For Charlotte 49ers assistant football coach Napoleon Sykes, it’s never too early to call something a tradition.

About an hour before the 49ers play a home game at Richardson Stadium, Sykes and fellow linebackers coach Drew Dayton walk to the side of the field and lead the already-assembled student section in several cheers.

“We always go over there and get them riled up,” says Sykes.

Sykes is asked about his use of the word “always,” since there have been all of two games played in Charlotte’s football history.

“Well, we did it at the spring game, too,” says Sykes. “It’s something that we want to get established and call our own, a tradition-type thing.”

For the irrepressible Sykes, being an assistant on the startup 49ers’ coaching staff is a constant calling. It doesn’t matter if it means working the student crowd in the stadium, tossing around footballs at the student union, tweeting out the 49ers’ message or coaching up what he calls his “Myopic Maniacs.”

“You’ve got to have fun,” says Sykes, 29, a former linebacker at Wake Forest, where his position coach was current 49ers head coach Brad Lambert. “Coaching is such a stressful business anyway. It seems like it’s all about business and money now. I put that behind me and enjoy it.”

Sykes’ personality is often on display on Twitter (@CoachPoeWins), which he uses to communicate with 49ers fans and, more notably, help 49ers recruiting efforts.

“Social media is the voice of the young population,” says Sykes, who took to Twitter to solicit suggestions for Richardson Stadium’s pregame music playlist. “I can use it to let them feel like they’re a part of us.”

He stays within NCAA rules by not tweeting directly to high school players. But he routinely uses Twitter to challenge all high school players in his recruiting area – Maryland and Virginia – to pay attention to the 49ers program. He has even established a #Stateofcharlotte hashtag for the 49ers.

“It helps us build the brand of the program,” says Sykes. “Hopefully recruits are following me, seeing pictures I put up and retweeting, stuff like that.

“The best part is some days a kid you’re not recruiting is suddenly following you. Or a kid you’re not recruiting retweets you. Now all of a sudden these kids are aware of a program that they might now want to be a part of. (Twitter) does all that work for you.”

Sykes doesn’t stay attached to his phone or computer. He also spends time on campus, hanging out at the student union with students and other assistant coaches such as Dayton and James Adams. Sykes is not hard to notice, a bearded, 5-foot-9, 260-pound (five pounds less than his playing days at Wake Forest) bundle of energy usually dressed in all black.

“We give out T-shirts and footballs,” says Sykes, who lives with his wife Christy and infant son Bodhi in Charlotte’s NoDa neighborhood. “That’s a really fun part of this job.”

Sykes is producing as a coach, too. His outside linebackers have played key roles in Charlotte’s first two victories and are part of a defense that ranks first nationally in tackles-for-loss (12.0 per game). Mark Hogan’s interception return for a touchdown on the second play from scrimmage in the season opener against Campbell will be forever remembered as a singular moment in 49ers football history. Redshirt freshmen Mark Pettit and Nico Alcalde are among the team leaders in tackles.

“I call my guys the ‘Myopic Maniacs,’” says Sykes. “Be focused, but also be a nut. Be absolutely crazy out there, but focused at the same time.”

Just eight seasons removed from his playing days, Sykes has credibility with his players.

“He pushes us on and off the field,” says Pettit. “He’s got those sayings, like calling us the ‘Myopic Maniacs,’ but we love that. It’s good to have a coach who’s pretty close to my age and who played my position. He knows where we’re all coming from.”

Sykes grew up in suburban Baltimore and attended the Gilman School, where he was a star player on the football and lacrosse teams. He was highly recruited by colleges in both sports, but especially so in lacrosse, receiving offers from top-level programs such as Johns Hopkins, Duke, Virginia and Princeton. In football, he heard from Wake Forest, Northwestern, Duke and Arizona State.

He ultimately chose football and Wake Forest.

“I liked playing lacrosse,” says Sykes. “But I loved football.”

Sykes made a few coaching stops before landing with the 49ers, most recently two seasons as the outside linebackers/secondary coach at Navy. He also spent one season at Charlotte’s Mallard Creek High in 2007, the year the Mavericks played football for the first time.

He says starting a high school football program isn’t much different from getting one going on the college level.

“There are a lot of the same hurdles that you have to cross,” says Sykes. “You’re building an identity at both places. At Mallard Creek, we had kids who had gone to North Meck and Vance, and that’s where they wanted to go on Friday nights. Typically it was the freshmen who would stay and watch us.

“It’s the same (at Charlotte). Students are used to cheering on Saturday for teams like App State or North Carolina or South Carolina. So it’s our job to help bring in that kind of student identity here.”

One Tweet or one cheer at a time.

Scott: 704-358-5889; Twitter: @davidscott14
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