Charlotte 49ers football coach Brad Lambert can see one big difference in recruiting now that the program is one year from joining the FBS as a member of Conference USA.
“I don’t know if it’s about the caliber (of players),” Lambert said. “But I know our competition is different. We’re recruiting against different people now.”
The 49ers announced the signing of 19 high school seniors during Wednesday’s national signing day. Unlike two years ago when Lambert recruited his first class, the 49ers are no longer competing with the likes of Lenoir-Rhyne, Catawba and Campbell for players.
“Now it’s Marshall, East Carolina or Appalachian State, places like that,” Lambert said. “And we feel like we’re winning our share of those battles.”
The 49ers, who went 5-6 during their inaugural season of 2013, signed nine players from North Carolina, including three from Charlotte: Independence receiver Workpeh Kofa, Charlotte Christian offensive lineman Jean Luc Cerza-Lanaux and Vance offensive lineman Chris Brown. Three more are from the Charlotte area: Monroe defensive back Tre’Shun Wynn, West Rowan defensive back Najee Tucker and Lawndale Burns receiver Chris Montgomery.
Kofa, a three-star recruit according to Rivals.com, had interest from Appalachian State, North Carolina, Ball State and Louisville. Another receiver, T.L. Ford of Cartersville, Ga., had verballycommitted to Kansas State before changing his mind. Wynn chose the 49ers over Duke, N.C. State and Appalachian State.
“(The FBS) affiliation helps us a lot,” Lambert said. “The brand behind you is important and the Conference USA brand is pretty strong and carries a good name. It gets us in doors we normally wouldn’t get in to.”
The 49ers also found fertile recruiting territory in the small Georgia town of Cartersville. In addition to Ford, Charlotte signed receiver Mark Quattlebaum. A third former Cartersville player, quarterback Brooks Barden, signed with Charlotte in December and has already enrolled.
Barden, who drew interest from Louisville, figures to be the 49ers’ quarterback of the future after sophomore Matt Johnson graduates. Johnson accounted for nearly 3,000 yards in total offense last season.
“We’ll let it play out,” said Lambert of the quarterback situation, who added that Barden will likely redshirt next season. “But it’s like any other position, the best player plays. I don’t care how old they are. But based on what Matt’s done, you would think (redshirting Barden) would happen.”
The 49ers added three junior-college players in December – defensive back Branden Dozier and linebacker Nick Cook of Butler (Kan.) Community College, and H back Richard Murphy of Butte (Calif). Community College. Defensive end Josh Manley transferred from Syracuse, but won’t be eligible until 2015.
The addition of the 19 freshmen (plus Barden) and four transfers will boost the number of scholarship players to 75 next season, Charlotte’s final as a Football Championship Subdivision independent. That number will rise to the FBS limit of 85 in 2015.
• Lambert is shuffling his staff to fill the spot left by Drew Dayton, who resigned as inside linebackers coach. Tight ends coach Johnson Richardson has been promoted from part time to full time (taking Dayton’s slot) and Lambert will handle the inside linebackers. Lambert, who also coaches special teams, said there will likely be more coaching moves when the 49ers move to the FBS.
• Junior H back Peter Fields and junior defensive back Ardy Holmes, both walk-ons last season, earned scholarships. Fields played mostly on special teams. Holmes, a West Charlotte graduate who transferred from Marshall, played in all 11 games and had one interception.
• An anticipated delay in funding shifted the installation of lights at Richardson Stadium to 2015. The projects was originally schedule to be completed by Aug. 1.
• The 49ers have just one road game outside North Carolina in 2014, at The Citadel in Charleston Oct. 11. Lambert said he would like Charlotte to have a chance to play in Bank of America Stadium in the future.
Scott: 704-358-5889; Twitter: @davidscott14
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