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Charlotte 49ers linebacker Nico Alcalde can really fly

49ERS_14
Jeff Siner - jsiner@charlotteobserver.com
Charlotte 49ers starting sophomore linebacker Nico Alcalde, a former walk-on from the Washington, D.C.-area, recorded 60 tackles in 2013.

Nico Alcalde took a little trip from Washington to Charlottesville, Va., this summer.

Alcalde, a sophomore linebacker for the Charlotte 49ers, didn’t make the short journey in a car: He flew.

And Alcalde wasn’t a passenger in the Cessna 172 four-seater: He was the pilot.

Alcalde made the solo flight as part of his training toward a pilot’s license. He said he has 40 hours logged and needs three more flights to earn his license.

“I grew up with flying, and it’s something I enjoy,” said Alcalde, who is from the Washington suburb of Fairfax, Va. “We only get six weeks off in the summer, and it’s tough to find a job in such a short amount of time. So this was something that’s given me something to do in my time off.”

Alcalde’s love of flying comes naturally. His father, Nelson, has his pilot’s license and does some test flying for the military.

“My dad took me up when I was nine or 10,” Alcalde said. “It’s something we always did together and that I’ve grown up with.”

Alcalde’s focus right now, however, is on football and the 49ers’ season opener Aug. 28 at Campbell. Alcalde arrived at Charlotte as a walk-on, but he quickly earned a scholarship and a starting spot as a redshirt-freshman outside linebacker. He was productive in the 49ers’ inaugural season of 2013, with 60 tackles, including 7.0 for loss and a sack.

“Nico has had a good (preseason) camp,” Charlotte coach Brad Lambert said. “He’s played really well in our scrimmages and improved a lot on his tackling. That was something he needed to work on, and he did.”

Alcalde is part of a linebacker corps that has experienced significant turnover – Mark Hogan graduated, Micah Bryan left school and Terry Caldwell was dismissed from the team. But Alcalde feels good about who is out there now, including senior Caleb Clayton-Molby and newcomer Nick Cook on the inside, and sophomore Jalen Holt joining him on the outside.

“That’s one of the things that separates us from other schools,” said Alcalde, who had successful shoulder surgery in the offseason. “We’ve got some guys with experience like Caleb and Nick, but we’re still really young, and guys got some experience under their belts last year. By this time next year, when we go in to Conference USA, that’s going to really help us.”

By this time next year, Alcalde also hopes to have his pilot’s license. He said that will be one of his goals when he goes home in December for winter break.

“It scares a lot of people,” Alcalde said of his hobby. “But it’s something I’ve always been comfortable with.”

One of those people who is nervous about it is Lambert, who only learned about Alcalde’s hobby this week.

“We’ll have to see about that,” Lambert said, laughing.

Notes

• The 49ers are practicing in the afternoons now. Lambert is hoping the recent heat remains to better have his team conditioned for next week’s opener against Campbell.

• Running back Donjore Gainey recently hurt his knee and is likely out for the season. With true freshman Maetron Thomas nursing a sore shoulder, junior Damarrell Alexander will likely open the season as the backup to Kalif Phillips. Alexander gained 280 yards last season with an average of 6.8 yards per carry. He scored on a 51-yard run against Morehead State, a game in which he gained 101 yards.

• Lambert said he’s pretty sure Thomas and true freshmen receivers T.L. Ford and Juwon Foggie will not redshirt this season.

• Cook (hamstring) and receiver Trent Bostick (foot) have missed practice time but are back. Lambert said he expects center Thomas La Bianca (knee) to return shortly.

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