|PHOTO | SAM ROBERTS|
|Charlotte 49ers linebacker Tyler Murray returns as the defense leader for tackles (49) and interceptions (two) for the 2020 season.|
Charlotte 49ers football continues its quest for uncharted territory.
Coach Will Healy took Charlotte to her first winning season (7-6, 5-3 Conference USA) and a bowl game in 2019. Then COVID-19 happened, and while the 49ers had a semblance season (2-4, 2-2 C-USA) in 2020, the momentum was short-lived. Healy recalled the game schedule for 12 games last season, nine of which were called off.
“There were times last year where it took us a little bit by surprise when we got to play a game and I don’t know if I did a great job of mentally preparing our guys to play a game on Saturday. , because I was so busy telling them everything that happened during the week, especially when you get to the second or third canceled game, it’s like these guys need to know every rumor, every situation that happens, every positive test, every trace contact, ”Healy said. “I filled their minds with it so much that I don’t know if I did a great job getting them ready to go play in a game. Going 2-4 and having nine games canceled is not a great experience as a student athlete. Not even close.
Charlotte’s season kicks off on September 3 against Duke, marking the first time the 49ers will host an ACC opponent, Power Five. The Blue Devils were one of two non-conference opponents the 49ers faced last season. Duke dominated in their inaugural meeting, beating Charlotte 53-19. Other future Power Five opponents slated to play at Jerry Richardson Stadium include Maryland (Big Ten) in 2022, North Carolina (ACC) in 2025, and Ole Miss (SEC) in 2026.
“We want to win Power Five football games, well, we had the opportunity to do that last year and Duke blew us up,” Healy said. “We are delighted to welcome Duke to the house. A Power Five football game. It’s awesome. If you’re not good at it, they’re just doing you a favor by coming here.
Healy raised expectations for 49ers football when athletic director Mike Hill hired him in 2018. The challenge becomes a lasting improvement as Healy enters her third season in Charlotte, chosen to finish fourth in the East C Division. -USA.
“It’s great to talk about winning conference championships,” Healy said. “We actually have to compete and win a conference championship for that to be a reality for everyone. Do I feel like this should be an expectation here? Yes, but I don’t believe it can become an expectation until you have already done so. It’s a bit like creating rivalries. It would be great to have a million different rivalries. We have to beat some people to make it a rivalry.
Healy said he believed they had the leadership to do it. It starts with players like senior receiver Victor Tucker and senior linebacker Tyler Murray. Tucker has been a force since before Healy’s arrival. He led Charlotte in receiving yards last season, with 400 of 30 receptions and two touchdowns, and he’s led the team in receiving yards since 2018.
“For me, I plan this to be my last season,” Tucker said. “This is one more opportunity to do what I came here to do: win the conference championship. It’s just making the most of every opportunity for me and I hope to reinvent my image, and the way they see me as a football player, so I’m going to be a totally different guy this year.
Murray transferred from Troy to Charlotte last year. He had an instant impact, leading the 49ers with 49 tackles and two interceptions.
“We look a lot better than last year before training camp,” said Murray. “I see a big difference with a lot of leadership, a lot of young guys in big roles.”