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UNCP football rushes towards fall

By Dan Kelly
Sports Editor

The now towering bleachers visible at Lumbee Guaranty Bank field give off the impression that something big is coming to UNCP that has been over 50 years in the making.            

The roar of an enthusiastic home crowd and the crunch of colliding pads seem more audible than ever as college football is set to remerge at UNCP on Sept. 8.

Actually, eager football fans will be able to survey the current football squad and the expectantly finished Bob Caton field house during an intersquad game that will be played on April 20th.            
           
But for the truly obsessed fan, time will have to be passed carefully analyzing the newest 18-member recruiting class that Head Coach Pete Shinnick made official on Feb. 8.

The main focus for Shinnick and the rest of the coaching staff was simple: the Braves were out to recruit size, specifically on the offensive and defensive line.
           
Not surprisingly, 11 out the 18 players recruited were either offensive or defensive linemen:
           
• Josh Burnette, OL
• Rashad Dukes, DL
• Chris Houghton, OL
• Ben Kurti, DL
• Bradley Lewis, OL
• Nick Locklear, OL
• Bobby Moore, DL
• Justin Reynolds, DL
• Luke Smith, OL
• Will Wade, DL
• Blake Yarbrough, OL

The other seven recruits fill out a smattering of positions on both offense and defense:

• Keith Gore, RB
• Rashan Kennedy, RB            
• Tim McCaskill, WR
• Nick Medlin, DB
• Jamal Rush, QB
• Corey Smith, QB
• Brian Williams, DB

Coach Shinnick said he was very pleased with the recruiting class overall and especially on the number of linemen his staff was able to recruit.

“They all bring something different, something unique to the table,” Shinnick said.

While Shinnick wouldn’t rank his recruits in any particular order, he did highlight running back Rashan Kennedy as a standout.            
Kennedy was a recipient of the Old Spice player of the year award for his senior season of 1,913 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns for Lee County High School.

In fact, all of the new recruits are from North Carolina high schools and is a key point in Shinnick’s recruiting philosophy.             “Our job as coaches is to recruit this whole state and know it as well as we can,” Shinnick said.            

The Braves football coaching staff made a concerted effort to travel to many high schools in North Carolina and contact all of them.            
           
Since other Division II schools in North Carolina, like Fayetteville State, Wingate and Mars Hill, are competing for the same players, spreading the word about Braves football became a necessity for Shinnick.

UNCP will need to prepare quickly for the upcoming season, as the team’s preparation hasn’t been ideal in the eyes of Shinnick.            
First, the Braves current roster of 80 players wasn’t able to play any football in the fall 2006 season nor practice in pads due to the Bob Caton field house not being finished.

But, once the field house is completed on March 27 Shinnick plans on practicing with pads the very next day. He is also confident the team will be prepared in time.
           
"We will go in pads, we will tackle, we will block, we will scrimmage, and we will play. We’ve just got to do it against ourselves,” Shinnick said.

The coaching staff also isn’t complete yet as the Braves currently have five full-time coaches and one volunteer coach. Shinnick plans on hiring a running back coach to complete the staff.            
           
Also, Shinnick wants to eventually expand the current roster of 80 players to 110 to 120.

The team actually started with over 100 players, but many have quit while others were removed.            
           
'College football is a little tougher than they anticipated,” Shinnick said.

For the players that were removed, they violated team rules but Shinnick did not comment specifically on any individual case.            
How any of these factors will affect the team will hopefully be answered by April 20.

The spring intersquad game will be the best chance for the team to assess themselves, the fans to finally see some Braves football and the administration to gauge early demands for parking and seating.            
           
After that, the Braves fall 2007 football season will be a historical one regardless of wins or losses.

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Updated: Thursday, March 15, 2007
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