Charlotte 49ers coach Brad Lambert said Tuesday that Johnson C. Smith’s football team reminds him of UNC Pembroke’s 2013 squad.
If that’s the case, the 49ers had better take notice of the Golden Bulls.
The 49ers, who play Division II’s J.C. Smith on Saturday in their home opener at Richardson Stadium, lost to UNC Pembroke – another Division II team – last season.
There are differences, however. J.C. Smith, which opens its season against the 49ers, is a middle-of-the-pack CIAA team. When UNC Pembroke beat the Football Championship Subdivision’s 49ers 45-22 last season, the Braves were ranked 13th nationally. In that case, it’s more likely that the Golden Bulls are more similar to the CIAA’s Chowan, which the 49ers blasted 47-7 in their second game last season.
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Lambert said the similarities with UNC Pembroke are mostly in experience: J.C. Smith has 16 starters back from a 5-5 team. Included is senior quarterback Keahn Wallace, a second-team all-CIAA selection who threw for 1,950 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2013.
“I like (Wallace’s) demeanor,” said Lambert, whose team opened the season last Thursday with a 33-9 victory against Campbell. “He’s calm. He doesn’t get rattled. He’ll stay composed.”
The game will also have obvious meaning for both Mecklenburg County schools. Each team has several players from Charlotte who played with and against each other in high school.
That extends beyond the county line. Charlotte running back Kalif Phillips was a high school teammate of J.C. Smith kicker Erik Amaya at Kannapolis Brown.
“I think it’s big for both teams,” said Lambert. “Their guys know our guys. Our guys know them. It’ll be a hard-fought game.”
• Lambert said junior linebacker Nick Cook’s sprained ankle will keep him out of the lineup for several games. If the injury lasts too deep into the season, Lambert said Cook might redshirt. Redshirt freshman Dustin Crouser will start in Cook’s place against J.C. Smith. Center Thomas La Bianca, who missed the Campbell game with an injured ankle, is expected to be back Saturday.
Also, neither sophomore linebacker Justin Bridges-Thompson nor sophomore defensive back Devin Pearson traveled to Campbell, so it’s pretty clear that the intention is to have them both redshirt this season.
• Saturday’s game will be televised by the new American Sports Network (shown locally on WCCB, channel 18). Handling the color commentary will be Jim Donnan, who as head coach at Marshall gave Lambert his first coaching job in 1990 then brought him along as an assistant at Georgia in 1996.
• Lambert said he hasn’t lost faith in punt returner Corey Nesmith Jr., who fumbled twice (losing one) and averaged 3.4 yards on seven returns.
“I feel good about Cory,” said Lambert, who said some of Nesmith’s struggles were attributable to poor blocking.
• The 49ers broke four single-game records against Campbell – longest pass reception (Justin Bolus, 62 yards), longest field goal (Blake Brewer, 50 yards), most pass breakups (Branden Dozier, three) and most punt returns (Corey Nesmith Jr., seven). They tied three more – most touchdowns (Kalif Phillips, three), most rushing touchdowns (Phillips, three) and most tackles for loss (Nico Alcalde, 3.0).