Football

Charlotte 49ers safety hungry for top opponents, goes big on ‘pass broken up’

Charlotte 49ers football coach Brad Lambert joked recently that school records for his young program don’t mean that much yet.

“We’ve only been around one season,” said Lambert, whose 49ers (2-0) face N.C. Central (1-1) at 5 p.m. Saturday at the Eagles’ O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium.

But it is worth noting that 49ers junior safety Branden Dozier, who has played just two games for Charlotte, is within one pass breakup of tying the school’s single-season record of six, set in 11 games last season by Terrance Winchester.

Dozier actually wishes he were two away from equaling the mark.

In Charlotte’s 56-0 victory against Johnson C. Smith last Saturday, Dozier allowed what appeared to be an easy interception slip through his hands. So, instead of grabbing his first pick of the season, it was another “PBU.”

“I get reminded about that every day by my teammates,” said Dozier, a transfer from Butler (Kan.) Community College. “I bobbled the ball. They say, ‘When are you going to start catching it?’ ”

Splitting time with junior Ardy Holmes at one safety position, Dozier has quickly made his presence felt in the 49ers secondary. In the victory against Campbell, he had four PBUs, which broke a single-game record. He also had 10 tackles against the Camels (five solo, five assisted). And although he dropped the interception, he did recover a fumble against J.C. Smith.

“He’s been doing a really good job for us,” said Lambert, who added a friendly jab: “But he did have that one PBU.”

Dozier grew up around football. His father, Joey, is a former player at New Mexico State who had a tryout with the Green Bay Packers and played in NFL Europe and the Arena Football League.

Branden Dozier graduated from Washburn Rural High in Topeka, Kan., in 2012 without any offers from Division I schools. So he spent two seasons at Butler, where he helped the Grizzlies to two Jayhawk Conference championships and top-10 finishes in the national junior college poll.

Lambert offered Dozier and teammate Nick Cook scholarships, which they both accepted without visiting Charlotte.

“We were both sitting there and said, ‘Is this the right move?’ ” said Dozier. “We said yes.”

So Dozier and Cook – a linebacker who is out for several weeks with an ankle injury – got in Dozier’s car and drove 20 hours from Kansas to Charlotte. They made it in time to enroll in January and participate in spring practice.

“My car has a stick shift and Nick didn’t know how to drive it,” said Dozier. “So I had to teach him in, like, five minutes. It made for an interesting trip.”

Awaiting Dozier and Cook was a program that is playing one final season in the NCAA’s Football Championship Subdivision before moving up to the Football Bowl Subdivision and Conference USA in 2015.

“That was one of those things I looked at,” said Dozier, who took visits to Memphis and Stony Brook. “Everybody dreams of playing college football against the top teams. When I saw that they were going to Conference USA, I thought, why not go ahead and do that?”

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