The Charlotte 49ers football program has been defined by “firsts.” But entering its fifth season, the firsts are slowing down. Now comes the next phase: growth. And the 2017 season may well be the year of opportunity.
New names take the place of former team pillars and fan favorites like all-time leading tackler Larry Ogunjobi, all-time leading rusher Kalif Phillips and all-time leading receiver Austin Duke – each of whom landed with NFL teams this summer.
The offense is securely in the hands of returning QB Hasaan Klugh, who took over midway through last season and led the 49ers to their first three Conference USA wins. (Pictured: Hasaan Klugh)
Klugh has many receivers including T.L. Ford II, Workpeh Kofa and senior Trent Bostick, who red-shirted last year after starting his first three seasons. In the slot, Chris Montgomery, Mark Quattlebaum and Nate Mullen all have opportunites in front of them.
In the backfield, sophomores Robert Washington and Benny LeMay both showed potential as backups to Phillips in 2016 and will be given the chance for a starring role this year. The offensive line also will lean on a new crop of protectors with returning players Nate Davis, Chris Brown and Eugene German stepping to the forefront.
On defense, there are some big shoes to fill. Along the defensive line, replacing former standout Larry Ogunjobi, the first 49er drafted to the NFL by the Cleveland Browns, and Brandon Banks, who signed with Washington Redskins, will be a challenge. However, therein lies the potential for players like Nick Carroll, Zack Duncan and Randy Suydam, among others.
At linebacker, two-year leading tackler Nick Cook is gone, but senior Karrington King is back and on the verge of breaking Ogunjobi’s career tackles record. Outside linebacker Tyriq Harris had an impressive red-shirt freshman campaign while Jeff Gemmell, Anthony Butler and Alex Highsmith look to make their marks. (Pictured: Karrington King)
The secondary said goodbye to Terrance Winchester, who holds the 49ers’ single-season and career interception records but welcomes back Ed Rolle and Ben DeLuca, who combined for five picks in their 49ers debut last year. Throw in Anthony Covington, AJ McDonald, Alex Duncan and Denzel Irvin, and the 49ers have plenty of competition to solidify the unit.
Bonus fun fact: The 49ers have four sets of brothers on the team, twins Darius and Denzel Irvin; Garrison and Zach Duncan, Uriah and Benny LeMay and Jeff and Zach Gemmell.
The Charlotte 49ers kick of their season Sept. 1 at Eastern Michigan. Their first home game is Sept. 16 against North Carolina A&T. Get the complete schedule and purchase tickets here.
To get pumped up for home games, UNC Charlotte’s Alumni Association is on hand with the always popular Tailgate Village, a growing and energetic pre-game tradition. It's the most convenient tailgate around. Don’t hassle with hauling your own drinks, food and grill, having to heat up - and subsequently cool down - charcoal embers. Tailgate Village takes care of everything, so you can sit back and enjoy game day.
Each tailgate features a plethora of offerings for every age, including an all-you-can-eat buffet, open bar, covered space (with all-important restroom access), bounce houses and kids activities, plus front row access as Norm, the marching band and cheerleaders whip up the crowd for the Charlotte 49ers' team walk to Jerry Richardson Stadium.
Tailgate tickets are available for single games, but season tickets secure your spot for the year. For the ultimate 49ers fan, season passes lets you enjoy six tailgates for less than the price of four single purchases. Go Niners!