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Developing depth a top goal for Gardner-Webb after winning season

By Bill Kiser
Correspondent

The transition period is just about finished for Gardner-Webb coach Carroll McCray and his players.

With the start of the Bulldogs’ season barely a month away, McCray hopes the lessons learned last year carry over.

“That growth is what I’m looking for,” McCray said during Thursday’s Big South football media day. “Our leadership is much better this summer than it was last summer ... but now we’ve got to develop some quality depth.

“It’s a great challenge, but it’s also a great opportunity. We’ve got some good young guys. Now we’ve got to get them some game experience.”

The Bulldogs return 17 starters from last year’s team, which finished 7-5 overall – the most wins by a Gardner-Webb team since 2003 – but only 2-3 in conference play.

Among the returnees are three preseason All-Americans – senior Kenny Cook, junior nose guard O.J. Mau and senior linebacker Tanner Burch – with both Cook and Mau on preseason watch lists for two major Football Championship Subdivision awards.

Cook, the Big South’s leading receiver last season, is on the watch list for the Walter Payton Award, which goes to the top player in FCS. Mau is being considered for the Buck Buchanan Award, which goes to the top defensive player in FCS.

McCray said that the performance of Gardner-Webb’s reserves will be the difference this season.

“When you play a schedule like we have, we have to ask, ‘Where’s our quality depth?’ ” said McCray, an offensive lineman with the Bulldogs from 1979-1982 who took over as head coach last year. “All your guys who are premier players staying healthy, well that’s kinda slim. We’re looking for that next guy who can go in and win the game.”

Owls can thank 49ers: When Kennesaw State’s football team plays its first official game in 2015, it can thank Charlotte’s football team for its help.

According to director of athletics communications Al Barba, Owls coach Brian Bohannon and his staff spent several weeks talking with 49ers coach Brad Lambert and his staff learning the pitfalls of starting a new college team.

Kennesaw State will begin workouts in mid-August, and will practice all throughout the fall. The Owls will play their first game on Sept. 3, 2015, against East Tennessee State.

Kennesaw State’s first official Big South game will be at home on Oct. 17, 2015, against Gardner-Webb.

Chanticleers preseason No. 1: Coastal Carolina, which advanced to the FCS quarterfinals last year, was voted the favorite to win the Big South title this season.

The Chanticleers, who finished 12-3 and tied with Liberty for the Big South title, picked up 14 first-place votes and 104 points overall in voting among the league’s coaches and select media members.

The Flames, 8-4 last season, got four first-place votes and 92 points overall, followed by Charleston Southern (65 points), Gardner-Webb (58), new member Monmouth (32) and Presbyterian (27).

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