PEMBROKE — Mentality is a word that Shane Richardson likes to use frequently with The University of North Carolina at Pembroke football team.
The fifth-year coach of the Braves was displeased with the mentality his squad had in the 2017 campaign that ended with a 2-8 finish. But through two weeks of camp and preseason practices, he has noticed an uptick in the mentality his team has going about drills and instilling offensive and defensive sets.
“We’ve really tried to work through tough moments to stay disciplined and try to keep our mentality. In all phases we’ve trained it pretty evenly,” Richardson said. “Everyone has learned the importance of their area and unit, and knowing that each area is equally as valuable.
“Last year there was a mentality where special teams didn’t perform as well as they should’ve, there were certain positions that didn’t quite play as well as to their potential. It just came down to that they didn’t reach their potential and they sold themselves short. When you have too many guys or units doing that, the team will suffer.”
Going through what Richardson has described as an “intense camp,” the Braves are molding closer to what their head coach wants to see, which comes as the opposite of the product the team showed last season.
“I think a lot of guys have got a lot of good reps and we’re seeing a lot of guys progress,” Richardson said. “We’re seeing a lot of guys that are returning that should be really good for us. There’s a good morale, a good energy and I think guys are hungry to get back on things.”
For the returners coming in off one of the worst seasons in program history, the importance of each season has sunk in. An offseason away has bred a drive to see a better result at the end of the 2018 season.
“They know we can’t take any season for granted,” Richardson said.
“Coming out of last year 2-8, that’s not what anybody wanted and I think they are hungry to redeem themselves. They’ve learned from some of the details that was missing last year and some of the little things in everyday habits that they really paid attention to those.”
Leading the experience of the team is the defensive line unit that has six players listed as seniors or juniors, led by the school’s sack leader, Tyler Hinton.
“We’ve got a good group there that has to stay hungry and humble,” Richardson said. “We do have experience and talent that know what it should look like in that position.”
Opposite the line of scrimmage lies the Braves’ inexperience. A young, but challenged offensive line from a year ago will protect a first-year starter at quarterback this year as Dom Samson, the starter from a year ago, has left the program.
“Whoever is going to take reps and snaps out there is going to take them for the first time,” Richardson said of the quarterback situation. “At offensive line, we’re a year older and we are still inexperienced there too.”
Redshirt freshman Josh Dale and true freshman Josh Jones are believed the two frontrunners gunning for the open spot.
Newcomers not only came in the form of players this offseason, but also on the coaching staff with Tim Driscoll taking over as the defensive coordinator for Joe Ford, who left to join the staff at the University of Sioux Falls. With an experienced defensive line and several returners back in the other two levels of the defense, the transition has been streamlined.
“He understands our expectations here and what we are trying to do,” Richardson said. “He’s fit in real nicely and the guys have adjusted to him real well. We’ve had a mentality here and a philosophy that we have been really consistent with. He wants to contribute with that.”
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.