College Sports

Charlotte 49ers’ inexperienced linemen are fine – if team can get them on the plane

Charlotte 49ers’ coach Brad Lambert (center) meets with the media Tuesday. He is flanked by linebacker Tyriq Harris (left) and wide receiver T.L. Ford II (right).
Charlotte 49ers’ coach Brad Lambert (center) meets with the media Tuesday. He is flanked by linebacker Tyriq Harris (left) and wide receiver T.L. Ford II (right). Special to the Observer

Charlotte 49ers football coach Brad Lambert says his inexperienced defensive line will be fine when the season opens Friday night.

But first, he’s got to get them on the plane.

“We have some guys who have never even flown before,” says Lambert, whose 49ers open the season with a 6:30 p.m. game Friday at Eastern Michigan. “This (offensive line) is a young group.”

While the 49ers have plenty of experience on offense and are reasonably seasoned at linebacker and defensive secondary, they will start a sophomore on the defensive line. And two backups are freshmen.

“Timmy Horne has been talking to me about flying,” says Lambert. “I told him, ‘Relax, it’s gonna be fine.’”

Horne, from Anson County High, and Johnny Ray, from Wando High near Charleston, are freshmen who could get considerable playing time with the 49ers.

While Lambert says the young defensive line will acquit itself well against the Hurons and further down the road, he admits that getting on the field Friday night in a big-time setting “will be an eye-opener for them.”

The inexperience on the defensive line is especially notable since one of last year’s starters, Larry Ogunjobi, holds many of the 49ers’ career records in defensive categories and was a third-round draft pick of the Cleveland Browns.

During his weekly meeting with the media Tuesday, Lambert said he thinks the players behind the defensive line will provide a big boost until the younger players get some experience.

“We’re strong down the middle,” he says. “That will help solidify things.”

Leading that group in the middle is senior inside linebacker Karrington King, of Charlotte Catholic. King is within 12 tackles of the Charlotte career record. And the defensive line starters – Zach Duncan, Tyler Fain and Jon Hardy – each have at least a moderate amount of experience.

Linebacker Tyriq Harris says the linebackers and defensive backs have been working closely with the linemen.

“We’ve grown together, and we’ve practiced hard,” Harris says. “I think the defensive line is ready to play.”

A program on the rise: While some fans might think of Eastern Michigan as a Mid-American Conference doormat, Lambert says the Eagles have made a remarkably quick climb under fourth-year head coach Chris Creighton.

“It’s phenomenal, what he’s done,” Lambert says.

Eastern Michigan finished 2-10 and 1-11 in Creighton’s first two years but shot to 7-6 last season, playing in the Bahamas Bowl and increasing home attendance by 260 percent.

“They have most of their top players back,” Lambert says. The Eagles beat the 49ers 37-19 last season in Charlotte.

Kicking decision: Lambert says Nigel Macauley will handle placekicking duties for Charlotte this week. He and Jackson VanSickle, of Charlotte Christian, were locked in a battle for that position during preseason practice.

“We’ll go with Nigel and see what happens,” Lambert says.