Campbell football prepares for second year in the Big South

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Mike Minter wasn’t too happy after the first practice of Campbell’s preseason training camp.

“We were too slow today,” Minter said. “The tempo wasn’t what I need. Our goal is to be under two hours, and today it took us two hours and 30 minutes. That’s too slow.”

Campbell had a successful transition to the FCS Scholarship level in 2018, posting six wins and back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in the program’s modern era (since 2008). But Minter, now in his seventh season as the Humps’ head coach, wants more for his program in 2019.

“The great thing is, now we know what we’re up against,” Minter said. “So from January up until today, we’ve been training hard, just trying to get a little bit better each day. This is going to be a hard training camp — more physical than any I’ve ever done. I think we have a chance to surprise some people this season, but we have to continue to get better each and every day.”

Campbell was picked to finish fourth out of seven teams in the Big South after winning just one game in league play last season. That’s a testament to the trajectory of the path Minter has the Camels on. After winning just one game in 2012, Minter got the Camels to three wins in his first year in 2013. Then they won five games for three-straight seasons before earning back-to-back six-win seasons in the last two years.

Now, it’s all about taking that next step. For Minter, a retired 10-year NFL veteran safety who spent his entire career with the Carolina Panthers, it all starts with defense.

“Defense wins championships,” Minter said with a wink and a grin. “I know it because I’ve been through it, I’ve won championships, and every time we did our defense was unbelievable. You’ve got to have that to compete for championships, so it’s very important, especially in the Big South. You’ve got to be able to stop the freakin’ run, because they’re gonna run the ball. Kennesaw State’s gonna run the ball, Monmouth’s gonna run the ball — they’ve got two freakin’ running backs that are really good. So we’ve got to be able to stop the run and dominate games from the defensive side.”

Last season the Camels led the FCS in fewest passing yards allowed per game (122.5), while ranking 25th in total defense (335.4 yards per game). A big part of that success was defensive back Dorian Jones, who started 10 games as a red-shirt freshman last season and finished second among Big South first-years with 49 tackles. He added an interception and two pass breakups, and set a school record with three fumble recoveries. It was a solid first season on the field for Jones, but he has big goals for the next year: he wants 10+ turnovers, 80+ tackles, first team All-Conference and All-American honors.

“I’m going to continue to break down film. Nobody watches more film than me,” Jones said with a smile. “Having a coach that’s played in the NFL at the same position as me, I just try to take in as much information from him and the other coaches as I possibly can. It’s a good feeling knowing I’ve got someone in my corner who can help me whenever I need it.”

Jones also feels like the rest of the defense is ready to take another step forward. During the first practice of training camp Friday morning, the defensive sideline sounded more like a Friday night party, with players cheering on their teammates after every single play.

“It’s a lot of fun playing with these guys,” Jones said. “We’re all back, most of us have been together two or three years now, so we have the chemistry already and we trust each other to fly around and make plays... I’m just looking forward to seeing how far we go. I’ve been hearing people around the locker room saying, ‘This is the year, this is the year.’ So I’m looking forward to seeing how far we go, because I know we have a chance to do something special.”

On the other side of the ball, Campbell lost last year’s starting quarterback Daniel Smith, who transferred to Villanova University. Smith will be tough to replace, as he set school records for career yards of total offense (5,411), career passing yards (3,471), career passing touch downs (31) career rushing touchdowns (25) and career total touchdowns (56), was a two-time Big South Offensive Player of the Week and was named Second Team All-Big South in 2018. But the Camels still return several top performers in their offensive unit.

“You know, we’ve still got a lot of old heads on the offense,” said redshirt-senior tight end Michael Wooten, who was one of Campbell’s nine Preseason All-Big South selections. “It’s just about getting behind whoever gets that spot [at quarterback]. With everyone surrounding them, we feel like we can succeed no matter who we have back there.”

Redshirt-sophomore wide receiver Caleb Snead was named Preseason All-Big South, coming off a freshman campaign in which he racked up 810 receiving yards and nine touchdown catches, leading all FCS freshmen and ranking second among all Big South receivers to earn FCS Freshman All-America and First Team All-Big South honors. He paired well with Camel veteran Aaron Blockmon, who owns Campbell records of 2,647 receiving yards, 147 catches and 23 receiving touchdowns. But with Blockmon graduating, it’s now up to Snead to lead the Camels’ receiving core.

“The number one thing is just us coming together as a team and not just playing as individual players,” Snead said. “If I’m playing for myself and I’m just trying to get stats, then that’s not making everybody else better. But if I’m running my routes to try and get other people open, and they’re doing the same thing for me, and he starts blocking for him — if we all start coming together, it makes all of us better.

Snead knows his name is going to be circled in opponents’ scouting report each and every week. But he’s got faith that his teammates will step up and make things difficult for the other team.

“I’m not concerned about it,” Snead said. “I just feel like I’ve got to be ready for it when it happens. We’ve got a really good receiving core. Honestly, it’s a lot better. It’s the best one since I’ve been here. I think it’s the best one we’ve ever had. So it’s gonna be fun because the ball’s gonna be spread out all over the place.”

Campbell will kick off its season Aug. 31 at Troy. The Camels’ home-opener is set for Sept. 7 against Shaw at Barker-Lane Stadium, where the Camels have set total attendance records for three straight seasons.

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