Just outside the glistening playing field of Younts Stadium in Tigerville sits a large granite boulder that symbolizes the effort to rejuvenate the North Greenville University football program to its Victory Bowl Championship status.
With the central theme for Coach Jamey Chadwell and the Crusaders remaining “Strike the Stone,” Chadwell fully realizes this year’s team has the opportunity to crack the stone wide open in 2010.
NGU survived a challenging season last year where the Crusaders played the nation’s fourth toughest NCAA Division II schedule and emerged with a 2-8 record. Chadwell has engineered an 11-game slate in 2010 that features two Division I opponents, two South Atlantic Conference teams, and an array of regional opponents. The Crusaders return eight starters on offense and seven on defense so the lineup is not devoid of experienced talent. Chadwell said that the returning veterans will lead the team forward, but that a great number of freshmen and transfers must perform for North Greenville to move ahead.
2010 Season Outlook
“Now that we’ve been through an off season with these players, all of our players have a better understanding of what we expect from them, and we know what they expect from us,” the second year mentor said. “We have nine seniors and seven juniors on the squad out of 90 guys, so we are still going to be really young. A lot of those young guys will be playing. Experience does matter, but there’s a youngness and newness to the freshmen and transfers, but the older guys have done a great job of buying into what we’re doing and they’re demanding it from the younger players.”
Building confidence and improving each week are high priorities for Chadwell’s football team. “Whatever you do, each day, it’s all about building confidence,” he explained. “We’ve developed a lot of confidence going into fall drills, but right now we’re not playing anybody. But, when that adversity comes, you have to wonder if they’ll still believe in themselves. I felt like there were some flashes of that last year. When we beat Clark Atlanta last season, I felt that team was better than us. This year, the first five teams on the schedule will be better than us on paper. If we can get the ball rolling positively early, then we could have a very good year.”
“We don’t have the schedule we had last year, but our first five games will be telling of what kind of year we can have. We’ll face tough challenges early, but we faced it every week last year. This year’s schedule is more conducive to a potential winning season. If things are going well for us and others teams are struggling, we could get one of those teams. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got more scholarships than us; if you’re not a confident team, then you’re not going to be playing well. A confident Tiger Woods is obviously better than one that’s not. We’re trying to build on that and the main difference is we know our guys and they know us.”
“Another big emphasis for us this season is our players taking ownership of generating a successful program,” Chadwell said. “Once the players start pushing each other and the coaches don’t have to do as much, then we’ll be ready to break out.”
Chadwell’s first full recruiting class should materialize as highly talented group that will exert hammer force on the stone. “Our staff did a really good job of identifying guys with great character that will fit this university,” he said. “Our players really want to be here; not everybody does, so I think our guys went out and found some highly motivated football players with better size, more quickness and better overall players that are already pushing the guys who’ve been here a year or two.”
Tangible Goals Set for NGU
“I’d love to make NCAA Division II playoffs, and that’s always a possibility. However, the Victory Bowl is something very reachable for this team. We want to play better from the previous week and if we do that we have a chance to win some games. We’d like to come out of the first five games with a winning record or close to it. If we start the season strong and develop some confidence, we’ll compete and match up better with teams at end of the schedule. Our ultimate goal is get to Victory Bowl and this team certainly can shoot for that; that would be a great thing for this team.”
A Look at the 2010 Schedule
The Crusaders open at South Atlantic Conference rival Mars Hill at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 28, and then play at Division I Charleston Southern on Saturday, September 4. Following a September 11 road trip to Jacksonville, Fla. to play Edward Waters, NGU will open its four-game home schedule on Saturday, September 18 against Lenoir Rhyne, also of the SAC. Kickoff is set for 7:00 p.m.
“We don’t have as demanding a schedule as we had last year,” Chadwell added. “We’ll face adversity the first five games, but we faced it every week last season. This year’s schedule is more conducive to our program. I wish we could play the tougher opponents at the end of the season, but this whole year is about building confidence and getting better each week.”
NGU will travel to Presbyterian Saturday, September 25, and then will host Ohio State-Newark October 2 and Wright State of Ohio on Thursday, October 7 at Younts Stadium.
After a trip to LaGrange College in Georgia on October 16, the Crusaders will complete the home and home schedule with Edward Waters when they host them for NGU Homecoming Saturday, October 23 at 4:00 p.m. North Greenville will complete its schedule October 30 at Notre Dame College near Cleveland, Ohio, and the finale at UNC Pembroke on the road November 6.
NGU will enter into an eight-game scheduling alliance with the South Atlantic Conference in 2011. “We’re not looking that far ahead, but obviously it will be great playing teams close to us where we can establish rivalries and families will have to travel no more than three hours to watch our games,” Chadwell explained. “It’s something for us to look forward to as we continue to build the foundation of a winning program.”
Veteran Offensive Line Anchors Improved Offense
North Greenville will again run the spread offense, but Chadwell received an amazing surprise on the last day of two a day workouts. With the Crusaders battling to make the adjustment from the loss of veteran quarterbacks Richard Harb and Aaron Seigler to injury in the spring, Chadwell got a phone call from Willy Korn, a former Clemson University quarterback and High School All-American at Byrnes High School near Spartanburg. Korn had transferred to Marshall University in West Virginia after earning a degree at Clemson, with the intention of playing quarterback. Korn decided he wanted a chance to compete right away at quarterback, so he enrolled at NGU and will battle for the starting position.
“We’ll be similar to what we did last year on both sides of the ball,” he said. “We do want some carry over, but we will modify our system to fit our personnel.” A veteran offensive line will be a major key to a successful year according to Chadwell. Asa Wright (SR 6-2 295), Chancellor Hudson (SO 6-3 281), Jordan Floro (SR 6-3 275) and James Thurn (SR 6-3 280) are the returnees on the O line that have extensive field time. “Everybody that played last year on our offensive line is back, and they are a mature, older group. We will lean on them heavily early especially with a new quarterback in the lineup.”
Korn, a veteran of two seasons with Clemson, will immediately challenge redshirt freshman Reggie Lewis (FR 6-1 185) and a speedy Isaiah Johnson (SO 5-10 200), who have taken a lot of snaps for NGU in early practice. The impact of Korn could significantly change the early season potential for the Crusaders.
At running back, Justin Beasley (SO 5-9 170) and Marcus Wilson (FR 5-11 200), who was injured in the first game last season, both are back and are expected to play quite a bit. Four freshmen, Idris Anderson (5-10 195), Kyle Peck (5-8 175), Eric Beeks (5-8 173), and Teryan Rucker (5-8 179) will also compete for playing time at the slot/running back position.
Sean Wright (SO 6-4 180), the Crusaders’ go to receiver, will be back after missing last year with an injury. Kamrie Connell (SO 5-10 180) and Mychal Cannon (JR 5-11 188) will also be at wide receiver. Freddie Martino (FR 6-0 180) showed us some positive things in the spring, and Charvis Claytor (FR 5-8 170) is also another slot who transferred in that is high on the expectation list for NGU.
North Greenville is expected to be much better on offense this season, but Chadwell was firm in emphasizing one aspect that must be corrected for the Crusaders to be successful. “One thing that disappointed me last year was that toward end of the season we were executing better, but we always seemed to turn the ball over at a terrible time. We did not take care of the ball or execute at crucial points. Through spring practice, we are ten times better on offense than last year. We really hammered our offense this spring about taking care of the ball. But, with a new quarterback, we’ll see if that shows up in games.”
Crusader Defense Solid, But D Line Seeking Replacements
One of the power points of past NGU teams has been its defense. Chadwell anticipates yet another aggressive, hard tackling Crusader defense, but realizes there are some major holes to fill. “Our defense looks strong, but we lost four really good players in Andre Bernardi, Joe Novotasky, Xavier Boykin and Johnell Bell. We will certainly miss those guys. Obviously, I’m a little worried about it, but guys like Tyran Melvin (JR 6-3 245) have a chance to be pretty good. If he keeps working, he could have the chance to play at another level. We’ve also have Mark Smith (JR 6-2 265) back, along with Jarius Mack (SR 6-3 265/two-year starter that missed last year). Those guys have some experience, but what concerns me is depth on the line. We’ll have to count on five defensive linemen from the freshman class to play. We are excited about what the young guys will be able to do, but they’ve never played. We’ve got a lot of talent, but it’s not fire tested.”
“Last year, we could line up against just about anybody and hold on our on the D line. This year is a little different. You can play faster on defense than offense, so I think we’ll come out and be pretty good. Our opponents are probably thinking we lost a lot, but I think they’ll come out with some confidence and play hard. I’d love to have the guys we lost back, but I feel real good about ourselves; we’ve got some guys who are hungry, and that’s a big plus.”
“The guys coming back in the secondary are pretty good. Jereme Green (JR 5-11 180) played a lot of snaps, and Jamarius Robinson (JR 6-0 185), Nick Rosamonda (JR 6-1 195), Darren Foster (SO 5-10 180) and Isaiah Johnson (SO 5-10 200) also played a lot.”
“We should be pretty solid at linebacker,” Chadwell noted. “A.J. Jones (SO 6-0 215) is going to be a great player and should anchor our defense. Nathan Batchelor (JR 5-11 220) and Damien Wright (Grad 5-11 224), bring a lot of experience at linebacker. We also brought in Bobby McGowan (JR 6-1 230), a junior college transfer. Carl Dukes (JR 5-7 190) is back out after being injured last year, and he should add quality depth there. “
The biggest question mark for the Crusaders is on special teams. NGU lost its long snapper, punter and kicker, so as Chadwell astutely pointed out, none of the NGU kickers who lineup on August 28 will have played a college game. “Jack Dalton (FR 6-1 195) will get a strong look as our long snapper, and hopefully he’ll take care of that for us. We brought in a freshman punter, Jacob Buckley (6-0 195) from the Dorman High School state championship team. Danny Prestwood (FR 6-1 185) will have every opportunity to be our kicker. Trey Walpole (FR 5-9 185) from South Side Christian High School is another player with a chance. But, it’s like the quarterback position, you can look great in 7 on 7, but when you line up across from another team in a game, who knows what can happen.”
“We feel good about our return guys as we have some quality experience. Of all the areas on our team, we showed the greatest improvement on special teams last year. We finished third in the NCAA Division II last season in punt returns. Isaiah Johnson returned several kicks for touchdowns last season, but depending upon his status as a quarterback, we may have to identify someone else to take that role.”
Changing the Culture From the Inside Out
“Last season, we focused on teaching our players about expecting to win,” Chadwell concluded. “This year we will be hammering ‘be the very best you can be.’ It will not be about winning or losing, but rather about our players being the best in everything they do whether it’s in the classroom, the weight room, or on the field. We expect every player on our roster to give their best, and if they do that, the good things will follow.”
“We must build the strength of our program from the inside first,” Chadwell said. “We can control what the 90 players in our field house do. Now that we’ve made that change, we must get all our players to buy in. However, changing our mental concept is our primary goal. If the mind believes, you will achieve what you aspire to do. You’d like to believe athletes will lift and try to change their body, but the mind is the main thing. If you can believe, good things will happen and you can do something great.”
Catalytic elements like players buying in, building confidence and taking ownership, a strong recruiting class, a conducive schedule, tangible goals, a mature team with veterans on offense and defense returning, and a willingness to work hard and get better from week to week, are all part of the methodical equation known as ‘Striking the Stone” for North Greenville football. As Coach Jamey Chadwell said from the first day he walked on campus, “we will keep Striking the Stone, and if we keep the pressure on, it will crack and we will be victorious.”