Tyler Fain understands what it means to face a challenge.
Landing the starting job as a Charlotte 49ers’ defensive lineman this season meant replacing the school’s most successful defender ever. Fain says his predecessor left a template for how to succeed.
“He set an example, and I tried to learn what I could from him,” Fain, a redshirt junior defensive tackle, says of 49ers great Larry Ogunjobi. “Now I’m trying to put it to work.”
Fain and the 49ers (0-2) will face N.C. A&T (2-0) at 6 p.m. Saturday in Charlotte’s football home opener at Richardson Stadium. The defense will have a tough task, trying to slow down an offense that has produced 101 points in its two games.
Last season, Fain played behind Ogunjobi, who set 12 school records, became the first 49er selected in the NFL draft, and is a regular now for the Cleveland Browns.
“He would put in so many hours of work!” Fain says of Ogunjobi. “He was always the first person to arrive each day, and he was always the last to leave. Larry was always working, always studying the game.”
Fain laughs when he’s asked about the pressure of trying to replace the program’s leader in statistics such as solo tackles, tackles for a loss and sacks. He acknowledges the challenge is big, but he says playing defense is not a one-man job.
“We work together,” says Fain, who is 6-foot-3 and 287 pounds. “Our job is to help one another.”
The challenges for Charlotte’s defense this season include inexperience, with several new starters on the line and two freshmen as backups - and dealing with the loss of the defensive line coach. Former Wake Forest standout Aaron Curry, who oversaw the defensive line the past two years, left in the offseason for a job in the NFL.
Head coach Brad Lambert has taken over much of the defensive line coaching duties.
“We were a little nervous at first getting a new coach,” Fain admits. “But we put our confidence in our coaches. And coach Lambert has done a great job with us.”
Fain, who has two tackles in the 49ers’ first two games, has tried to emulate Ogunjobi’s work ethic. He says he tries to arrive at the training facility by 8 a.m. each day for exercises and returns between classes at midday to watch video. Then he’s back in the evening for practice.
Fain, who is majoring in geography and urban planning, says the N.C. A&T offensive line offers big challenges.
“They are technically very sound,” he says. “They communicate really well with one another. It’s been interesting preparing to play them.”
Recruited by several schools out of Indian River High in Chesapeake, Va., Fain fell in love with the Charlotte 49ers.
“To be part of a new program, at a place with a beautiful campus and beautiful facilities?” he asks. “Who wouldn’t want that. Every day, I feel like I’ve been blessed.”
Fain says he is still learning, but feels it’s time for a breakout.
“It’s game on,” he says. “It feels awesome to be coming home and playing before our crowd.
“Playing behind Larry was a great experience. But now it’s my time to step up and be that guy.”
Steve Lyttle on Twitter: @slyttle