Braves football to kick off inaugural season
after rough workouts and final scrimmages
By Dan Kelly
It’s almost impossible to believe.
After the years of surveys, fee increases, construction and renovation, fundraising and groundbreaking, there will be football at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
Actually, that isn’t for another week.
Having a football team playing at Davidson College on Sept. 1 is almost as appealing.
But on Sept. 8—when the Braves host Greensboro College—there will likely be a buzz in Pembroke that hasn’t been seen in years.
It will certainly be surreal when that opening kickoff finally happens, when that first crunch of plastic pads awakens you to the addictive brutality of college football.
The team itself has been hard at work trying to make this long-elusive dream a reality.
While other students were enjoying the tail end of vacation, Head Coach Pete Shinnick was enduring the vicious summer heat along with his coaching staff and players.
From the beginning of August, Coach Shinnick has done his best to constantly occupy his players’ time to keep them focused on improving in becoming a whole team.
There were some significant changes to the team since their spring scrimmage back in April as between 15 and 20 players left between then and training camp.
Also, the newer players outnumber the veterans 65 to 55.
The summer heat also took its toll on the players who did go to training camp, but Shinnick seemed pleasantly surprised at how few players actually quit.
“In the back of my mind, I kind of expected after a couple of hot days like we’ve had for a few more (players quitting),” Shinnick said.
The coach’s main theme for the team throughout their training camp was togetherness. He said how no sport requires the commitment to teamwork like football does.
At any given time, there will be nearly 100 players on the sidelines not playing in the game but with their own important roles.
In order to develop those roles, Shinnick set up a nearly round the clock schedule to keep every player on task during camp.
Their days would start at position breakfasts with their position coaches, which was mostly an informal meeting covering a wide range of topics. Then there were meetings, walkthroughs, a regulatory break, more meetings, practice, a “life skills” speaker and finally a team meeting with Shinnick that ended around 10:10 p.m.
And of course, a 7 a.m. position breakfast the next day.
The players, though, have been at work for the entire summer as Shinnick and the coaching staff gave each player individualized input after the spring scrimmage.
“The bad thing is you can see who followed the workout regime and who didn’t,” said Brandon McLaurin, UNCP running back.
In terms of the first game against Davidson, the players insisted that they weren’t specifically worried about their first opponent but what they can do to improve as a team.
And how they won’t be too nervous.
“I’m sure it’s going to be more anxious than nervous,” said Matt Evans, UNCP quarterback.
Also, don’t assume that the players aren’t keenly aware of their role as underdogs in a majority of their games due to the fact of being a first-year program.
“I’ve been told by a lot of people where I’m from that we just need to look forward to winning one or two games,” McLaurin said.
He then said that the team was at least going have a .500 record.
Since then, the team started two-a-day practices for the rest of vacation before school started and played through two scrimmage games.
The final scrimmage was played on the muggy night of Aug. 24 before a small, but clearly dedicated, crowd of fans.
Unlike the spring scrimmage, there was no score being kept during the game, but it still felt and sounded like real football.
The subdued atmosphere of the crowd helped in being able to hear the chatter that goes on between the coaches and players, not to mention the inevitable collisions.
“He’s getting hit in the back, O Line,” Shinnick yelled out at one point.
That statement was indicative of the entire game as—even without a score—it was apparent that both the first and second defense squads thoroughly outplayed the offense.
“They wanted it more. They got after it more,” Shinnick said.
The defense forced 8 interceptions out of the offensive units and held them to a single field goal the entire game.
“Our offense had some nice plays, they just couldn’t put two or three together,” Shinnick said.
It seemed that every good gain by the offense was offset by the defense’s relentless pressure, as most drives didn’t last more than a couple of first downs.
Shinnick ended the game by praising the defense and telling the offense they have a long way to go, and a prayer.
Now, the team has only days to prepare for their road game against Division I-AA Davidson and face those bright lights for the first time in over 50 years.