PEMBROKE — Josh Sheridan rushed for 369 yards and four touchdowns last season as a backup running back for The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, but none of his accomplishments could take away the sting of a 2-8 record.
As spring practice got underway last week and continues until the close of practice for the annual Spring Game, Sheridan and the Braves are working to avoid being in that scenario again next season.
“We don’t want to go 2-8 again. That was a terrible feeling,” Sheridan said. “Every day we are reminded that we went 2-8, so we have to do everything possible to change that situation.”
The Lumberton native is preparing to take on heavier responsibilities this fall as part of a running back corps that is going through spring workouts without last season’s leading rusher in Miles Grant, who is no longer with the team.
The Braves are also without running back Brian Staton, who appeared in eight games last season and tallied 104 yards and two touchdowns.
Despite those losses, Sheridan expects the seven tailbacks on UNCP’s spring roster to make improvements and compete for key roles.
“To be honest, there’s no starter. We’re all working for the same goal,” Sheridan said. “At the same time, we’re cheering each other on. It’s kind of a brotherhood.”
Sheridan and classmate Quadrin Williams are the most seasoned running backs competing for time in an offense that was run largely by Dominick Samson last season.
Samson, who will be a redshirt sophomore in the fall, established himself as the team’s starting quarterback last season before missing the last game of the season with an injury.
The Cary native said he is healthy and looking forward to competing with Auston Foley and Joshua Dale for the starting job again.
“It will be a great competition this year,” Samson said. “We’ll see who gets on the field.”
In the meantime, Samson is viewing the spring practices as opportunities to study the playbook and master the nuances of the team’s offensive strategy.
“Coach tells us all the time, ‘The biggest thing you can do on offense is just execute and be on the same page,’” Samson said.
Several experienced defensive linemen are on the roster for the Braves, and are hoping to maintain the unit’s reputation as one of the biggest strengths for the team, despite the graduation of starters Alpha Lamin and Khalil Vance.
Redshirt senior Tyler Hinton, the program’s all-time sacks leader, joins fellow seniors Tajai Liles and Nathan London as the most experienced returners on the defensive line.
Hinton’s goal for the spring is to help his less experienced teammates sharpen their skills.
“I’m looking for growth from fall to now,” Hinton said. “We had a lot of young guys in the fall, so we want to get those guys caught up to speed with the techniques we’re learning and just go from there.”
Hinton said the culture of the defensive line remained intact even after Lamin and Vance wrapped up their collegiate careers.
“It changed, but not too much. Our chemistry is what keeps us together,” Hinton said. “We’re on each other, helping each other, staying after practice together. Things like that will be key for us having a good season.”
The Braves have eight practices left before their Spring Game on April 12, and head coach Shane Richardson likes the effort he’s seen from his team so far.
“There’s a great buy-in. All the players are understanding what the coaching messages are,” Richardson said. “We’re a really hungry team right now, and I really like the competitive spirit on the field.”
It can be challenging to play against the same players for weeks at a time, but Richardson said the work being done now will benefit the Braves when they kick off the season at Winston-Salem State on Sept. 1.
“They’re finding new ways to make it challenging and stay motivated to do better and better all the time,” Richardson said.
Reach Brandon Tester at 910-816-1989 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Tester_Brandon.