Last season was record setting for Campbell’s football team.
The Camels, in their sixth season and first under coach Mike Minter, set 21 offensive marks, four defensive records and three on special teams. Campbell finished 3-9.
The Camels, who ranked seventh (out of 12 teams) in the Pioneer Football League preseason coaches’ poll, will open the season Thursday at home against Charlotte.
Minter, who played 10 NFL seasons as a safety with the Carolina Panthers, said last season was more about learning how to compete. This season his team is primed for the next step of the progression, he said.
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“It’s always a process,” Minter said. “Last year, it was about, ‘How do we compete in these games?’ Now, we’re in the process of learning how to win those games. All spring was about doing things that winning football teams do.”
Campbell has focused on strengthening the starting lineup and developing skill players at every position.
“It’s about everybody knowing their role and everybody doing their role 110 percent,” Minter said. “Whether you’re a starter, a backup or on what we call the ‘compete (scout) team,’ everybody’s got to buy in.”
As a member of the PFL – a non-scholarship, football-only Football Championship Subdivision conference – Campbell is often hard-pressed to find the talent it desires. For Minter, the league’s lone perk is the fact that transfers from other Division-I programs can play immediately.
That’s how the team landed Ugonna Awuruonye, a transfer from Towson who had 14 tackles for a loss and seven sacks during his debut season as a Camel. Awuruonye, a junior defensive lineman, has redefined his physique in the offseason and, at 6-foot-5, 260 pounds, has a “professional-looking body,” Minter said.
“Our focus has kind of been, ‘You know what, if you’re not happy where you’re at, come here and we’ll make you happy,’ ” Minter said.
There are a few holdovers from former coach Dale Steele’s tenure (2008-2012) who will play important roles. Few will be more integral to the team’s foundation than senior left guard Will Sawyer.
“Mister Sawyer is a heck of a football player,” said Minter, who categorizes his roster into two types: athletes and football players. “He’s very smart, very intelligent and he plays the game very hard.”
Sawyer, imposing at 6-4, 310 pounds, helped a rushing attack that averaged 232.2 yards, second in the PFL. When Minter first saw Sawyer, he knew the lineman had the potential to continue his career beyond college.
The wild card in the mix is punt returner Jordan Hildreth, whom Minter likened to former Panthers receiver Ricky Proehl. Hildreth is a tough, gritty special teams standout who averaged 12.8 yards per return and scored on a 44-yard runback against Butler in 2013.