The Charlotte 49ers signed 18 players Wednesday, including one coach Brad Lambert hopes is the program’s quarterback of the future.
Among those who signed letters-of-intent at Charlotte – on the first day of the NCAA’s three-day early-signing period – was quarterback Brady Pope, who threw for more than 10,624 yards and 112 touchdowns in his career at South Iredell High.
“He’s just extremely productive on the field,” Lambert said of Pope, who is 6-foot-3, 182 pounds. “He won a lot of games at South Iredell. He can run it, as well.”
Pope, ranked a two-star recruit by 247 Sports, has already made an impression on at least one high school coach who faced him last season.
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“When I watched him, I thought of (2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny) Manziel. And (Hall of Famer) Brett Favre,” A.L. Brown coach Mike Newsome told the Observer in November. “(Pope) can just really create plays. You think the defense has done a great job and, all of a sudden, he makes an unbelievable play that puts the offense in a great position. I just like his competitive nature.”
Lambert was asked if Pope will have a chance at playing time next season, with starting quarterback Hasaan Klugh returning.
“We’ll see,” Lambert said. “He’ll have the opportunity.”
Pope and the rest of this recruiting class will be asked to help turn around a 49ers team trying to recover from a 1-11 season. Nineteen starters return from that team. The position with the most departures is wide receiver, where the 49ers lost four players – plus junior Nate Mullen, who transferred to Western Carolina.
But Lambert feels good about the receivers group coming in, including Rico Arnold (Athens, Ga.), Justin Jeffery (Richmond Hill, Ga.) and Chris Wiggins (Greensboro). Jeffery, a three-star recruit who is 6-1, 170 pounds, also had offers from Florida Atlantic, Cincinnati and Central Michigan. He didn’t have a lot of receptions last season (27), but averaged 12.6 yards per catch.
“That’s the room that really has a chance to come in and contribute,” Lambert said.
Although signing players from Charlotte has been a recruiting priority for the 49ers, they landed just one player from Mecklenburg County: Huntersville’s Emmanuel White, a defensive lineman who played at Victory Christian before going to Georgia Prep Sports for one season.
“We offered a lot of kids in Charlotte,” Lambert said. “It’s obviously a critical area for us and we recruit (Charlotte) extremely hard. There are a couple of offers still out there. So we’ll get to February (the next signing period) and see where we are. But we want to work inside out, always.”
Lambert also said he is still looking for a kicker, a position where there is dire need. Charlotte kickers made just 4-of-13 field goal attempts last season. Also, Arthur Hart, who averaged 43.4 yards per punt, will be lost to graduation.
Lambert said nine of the 18 players who signed Wednesday will enroll at Charlotte in January, including three freshmen – Arnold, offensive lineman Malik Harkness and Wiggins. The six others – defensive back D.J. Anderson, tight end Moss Saccomanno, offensive lineman Dominic Taylor, offensive lineman Jon Timmons, defensive lineman Damon Weldon and White – are junior college transfers or coming from prep school.
David Scott: @davidscott14