Last preseason, Charlotte coach Brad Lambert said he tried to prepare his team for the challenges awaiting the 49ers in their first season in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Lambert and the 49ers said they are in a different – and decidedly better – position a year later as they approach their second season in the FBS, college’s highest level.
Charlotte will open its fourth season playing football on Thursday, Sept. 1 at Louisville.
“A lot of the jitters guys had after switching conferences and playing a higher level of competition are gone,” senior defensive lineman Larry Ogunjobi said Tuesday at Conference USA media days. “The new stadiums and new teams take a while to adjust to for some guys. We are over that.”
Charlotte took its lumps in its first season in C-USA in 2015. The 49ers beat Georgia State to open the season and moved to 2-0 with a win against Presbyterian before dropping their final 10 games and finishing 0-8 in the league.
The 49ers experienced several near misses along the way, including three-point losses to Old Dominion and Texas-San Antonio.
“We were in a lot of close games last season where we didn’t finish,” offensive lineman Jamal Covington said. “Finishing comes with experience.”
Charlotte should benefit from the experience it gained last season with a veteran roster as they try to exceed expectations. In the league’s preseason media poll, the 49ers were picked last in the seven-team East Division.
Ogunjobi and Covington are among 21 fifth-year seniors who were members of Charlotte’s first recruiting class, which helped lay the foundation for a start-up program.
“There is no question those will be the players we lean on,” said Lambert, who was hired as the school’s first football coach in 2011. “They are the lifeblood of the program after being part of our first class. They are special to me because they took a risk by signing with us.”
Those players are looking to finish their careers on a high note.
Charlotte returns several other key players, including preseason All-Conference USA senior running back Kalif Phillips.
“There is a big difference between this year and last year,” Ogunjobi said. “We still have to go through the process and take some steps, but we know what’s possible.”
Conference USA preseason poll
1. Middle Tennessee
2. Western Kentucky
4. Florida Atlantic
5. Florida International
6. Old Dominion
1. Southern Mississippi
2. Louisiana Tech
4. Texas-El Paso
5. Texas-San Antonio
6. North Texas