College football: Charlotte hosts historic first practice for walk-ons
CHARLOTTE — Charlotte 49ers coach Brad Lambert has been anxiously awaiting an opportunity to get back out on the football field and coach.
That opportunity finally came Wednesday as the 49ers held their first ever football practice.
Granted, it was 57 walk-ons — some of whom didn’t even play high school football — hoping to earn a spot on the roster, but it was the next important milestone for a university starting a new program from scratch. Lambert said maybe a handful or two of kids trying out this week will have a shot to make the team, which begins play in 2013.
“It’s been such a long time to get out here,” said Lambert, who left Wake Forest 13 months ago to become Charlotte’s first coach. “I told our coaches the other day it’s been two years without spring practice. So it’s nice to come out here, put your stuff on and coach a little ball and work with kids.
“It’s a fun day for us.”
Amidst the fun, Lambert and his staff are hoping to find a few diamonds in the rough.
More than 100 Charlotte students attended the original meeting months ago about tryouts for non-scholarship players, but only 57 were invited to practice. Lambert and his staff opened the tryouts to any students who met three criteria — they were academically compliant, still had college eligibility and passed a medical examination.
“We didn’t put any limitations on it,” Lambert said. “Some of the guys didn’t even play high school football. So you didn’t have to be all-state to be out here. We just said, ‘Hey, you want to come out and try, then come try.’”
Zeb Little, a Charlotte junior, was excited when he heard Lambert was going to be the coach.
He played high school football with Josh Bush, a player Lambert helped recruit to Wake Forest and he was familiar with some of the Demon Deacons staff.
“Like I told coach Lambert, I want to be a part of the program — I want to help start this,” Little said. “It would mean a great deal to me to give back to the university and help get this thing off its feet. I will do whatever it takes to do that.”
Many of the players at Wednesday’s practice felt the same way.
For more than an hour they hustled through conditioning drills before splitting off to work with position coaches. There were no pads or helmets and many wore t-shirts or shorts bearing their high school football program’s name or another small-school college.
Some wore 49ers gear.
Lambert said getting kids to try out was an easy sell.
“If they make it and we invite them back in the fall, they’re going to get a lot of reps,” Lambert said. “They know they will get an opportunity. It’s been pretty easy to get guys to come because they know they’re going to get an opportunity. Guys want a shot and that’s all they want.”
Jabari Bradford, who played high school football in Greensboro, said he’s just looking for a chance to make it as a wide receiver after no schools offered him a scholarship.
“They told us maybe four to six guys will make it, so you have to come out here and give it your all,” Bradford said.
It’s a safe bet that most of these students won’t step on a football field again after this week when Lambert and his staff make cuts.
But for a lucky few the hard work they’ve put in the last several months to get in football condition will pay off — they’ll be a part of the university’s inaugural football team.
“It will be a neat story will be in 2013 when one of these guys is playing for us,” Lambert said.