PEMBROKE — Not very many football teams have two captains that are in the same position group, but The University of North Carolina at Pembroke football team is in the minority this year.
Junior running backs and local products Quadrin Williams and Josh Sheridan were named as the two offensive captains for the Braves this season, and both aren’t taking the honor and responsibility lightly.
“It’s a privilege and I’m thankful that the team chose two people from the same position group because that’s kind of rare,” said Sheridan, a Lumberton High School graduate. “I’m very confident in this offense. This year we are more together, there’s no individual players. We have more of a team aspect.
“We don’t want the same year as last year. We want to do things differently.”
For Williams, this is the Scotland High School graduate’s second stint as captain, whose vocal leadership was hard to overlook last season.
“I just want to keep leading my team and help us win a lot of games this year,” Williams said. “We’ve improved a lot from last year so I’m ready to see what they do this year.”
UNCP returns 10 of 11 starters on offense, and seven defensive starters from a 2-8 season a year ago. A year older and wiser is what fifth-year head coach Shane Richardson expects to see this season, and has seen this summer.
“There’s just a greater buy-in, a greater belief, a greater resilience,” Richardson said. “You see guys have a voice that have been in those situations before and speak to the younger guys. There’s no replacement for experience. Being a year older is the best thing about this team.”
Leading that group of veterans are his two running back captains, who each have their own skill set and leadership style.
“Quad Williams brings an extreme amount of energy and Josh Sheridan bring the great ability to make plays in the field,” Richardson said. “It bodes really well for them. I think that running back group is a high-energy group and they look out for each other.”
Sheridan is the leading returning rusher from a year ago with 369 yards and four touchdowns. He and Williams will look for holes in an offensive line that started five freshmen a year ago, and have a year of experience under their belts.
This offseason, Sheridan worked with Robeson County resident and former NFL Pro-Bowl fullback Vonta Leach to help Sheridan prepare mentally and physically for the season.
“We studied film and I learned different fronts that I didn’t know about” Sheridan said. “Working out with him, he taught me how to be mentally tough and gave me a ‘dog’ mentality. Now I can call on him like my big brother if I need anything, I can contact him. It was a great learning experience.”
The one change, however, for the offense will be the person handing the ball off to the backs. Last year’s starter Dom Samson has left the program, leaving the opening that Josh Dale is expected to fill.
“The offense has looked very good and very explosive at times,” Richardson said. “Sometimes it take the offense a little more time to gel and I’ve seen some positive things from them. The guys are a year older up front and it should be really exciting.”
The Braves will be without its top two receivers from last season, Jojo Spann and E.J. Williams, who accounted for half of the receiving yards from a year ago.
With All-American senior Tyler Hinton returning to lead the defensive line unit that features mostly upperclassmen, Richardson has high expectations set for the defensive unit as a whole.
“We’ve got some veteran players and some guys that know what it should look like,” Richardson said. “It will be fun to see those guys use their experience.
“Because I coach on defense and have a great affinity for defense and I coach the linebackers, I’m involved with those guys every day and I have extreme high expectations for them. I have to challenge them a little bit because it’s easy to fall into complacency. We’ve got to continue to keep the bar high.”
The Braves sacked opponents 27 times last year, and forced 10 fumbles and 10 interceptions. Hinton’s stats led the group with nine sacks, 15 1/2 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles. His sack against Lenoir-Rhyne pushed him to 20 1/2 career sacks and the school record for career sacks.
He is joined by seniors Tajai Liles and Nathan London and juniors Domenique Davis and Bryan McAllister.
Also returning on the defensive side of the ball are all four starters in the secondary, and a core group at linebacker.
After having four games last season at home, the Braves welcome a full schedule this season of 11 games, with six at home. The home opener for the Braves against Elizabeth City State is on Sept. 8, and homecoming is Oct. 20 against Concord. The first three home games kick off at 7 p.m.
“It energizes us when we get to play in front of our home crowd and on our home field,” Richardson said. “To have six games at home serves us well and guys will be excited about that. We want to bring a great product to the fans, the community and the university.”
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.