College Sports

Despite cold and dark, it’s spring time for Charlotte 49ers football team

Meet Will Healy, the Charlotte 49ers new football coach

Charlotte 49ers welcome their new head football coach, Will Healy, an Eddie Robinson Award winner as the National FCS Coach of the Year, during an introductory press conference at Richardson Stadium.
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Charlotte 49ers welcome their new head football coach, Will Healy, an Eddie Robinson Award winner as the National FCS Coach of the Year, during an introductory press conference at Richardson Stadium.

The Charlotte 49ers opened spring football practice Tuesday in conditions that were hardly spring-like.

At 5:30 a.m., in the dark and with temperatures in the mid-30s inside Richardson Stadium, the players got their first taste of what life under new coach Will Healy is going to be. Energy will be the operative word with Healy, who comes to Charlotte after turning around Austin Peay, arguably the worst program in the NCAA’s Football Championship Subdivision when he arrived in 2016.

Music blared from loudspeaker. Players celebrated wildly after a great play was made by a teammate.

“We’ve got to have great energy, good juice and work hard – regardless of the time or weather,” said senior defensive end Tyriq Harris.

When defensive back Ben DeLuca intercepted a pass during a drill, he sprinted the length of the field for what, in a game, would have been a touchdown. He was followed by the rest of the defensive unit, each player hollering and pumping his fist.

“To me, energy in practice is really important,” said Healy, who takes over a team that went 5-7 last season. “You’ve got to make sure you enjoy the two hours you have in the morning, especially getting up this early. Any way you can, you create energy, whether it’s music or celebrations. I know it’s unorthodox.”

Healy admits he isn’t crazy about the idea of practicing so early, but said it’s the only two-hour window in the day during spring semester when there are no conflicts with the players’ classes. The 49ers will practice at 5:30 Tuesdays and Thursdays for the next month, and at 9 a.m. on Saturdays. Charlotte’s spring game is April 13.

Healy also said he has read research that indicates players are less susceptible to concussions early in the morning because they are more hydrated at that time of day.

“But I don’t know if anybody would have picked getting up at 4 and getting out here at 5:30, though,” Healy said. “They know they’ve got to get to bed earlier. That’s hard to do in college.”

Healy, who is switching the 49ers’ systems to a spread option on offense and 4-2-5 defense will keep things simple this spring. Evaluating and grading players will take priority.

“Our first spring, we have to be simple,” he said. “On offense we didn’t do a whole lot. We ran the same play over and over and over. Defense, it’s the same thing. We made three calls on defense. We want to see them move and make plays.”

The energy never abated.

“Obviously, 5:30 a.m. isn’t ideal,” said senior quarterback Evan Shirreffs, who ran, arms wind-milling, to celebrate one play with the rest of the offense. “But we’re making the best of the situation. Everyone tried to come out here with some energy.”

49ers nickels coach Zachary Allen has left to become linebackers coach at Boise State.

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