Jerry Mack has many reasons to be excited about the upcoming football season.
First, North Carolina Central is the co-MEAC defending champion from Mack’s inaugural season.
Second, the Eagles return 15 starters (seven on offense, eight on defense), including starting quarterback Malcolm Bell who passed for 1,982 yards and 15 touchdowns against just five interceptions, and rushed for another 416 yards and five TDs.
Third, NCCU was voted as having the No. 1 HBCU recruiting program by Box To Row, a sports talk radio program.
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And fourth, with the exception of one replacement, Mack’s staff remains intact for another season. Ask any head coach how important that is.
So spirits were high as Mack and other coaches discussed the upcoming season at last weekend’s Bill Dooley Triangle Pigskin Preview.
“Our coaches have done a good job of trying to change the culture of the program,” he said. “It’s been a little bit down the last few years, but the future is looking good, and we are looking to continue to build and continue the process. I’m excited about where the program is headed.”
But Mack is quick to remind fans that last year was last year, and nothing is guaranteed. Of course, no one wants to hear that.
NCCU won its final three games, including a thrilling 21-14 win over archrival N.C. A&T in the regular-season finale, to tie for the conference championship. A coin toss, however, gave Morgan State the automatic bid to the NCAA Division I-FCS playoffs.
That may be the last playoff appearance by a MEAC team.
The league signed a deal with ESPN to create The Celebration Bowl, a postseason game that matches the MEAC champion against the SWAC champion Dec. 19 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, thus eliminating both conference champions from the playoffs.
The SWAC gave up participation in the playoffs years ago, preferring instead to hold a SWAC Championship Game that has been a financial windfall.
“I’m going to enjoy staying home and watching the games and seeing my colleagues compete (in the playoffs),” Mack said.
NCCU opens its season Sept. 5 against former CIAA opponent St. Augustine’s in the Prince Hall Shriners Diabetes Classic.
Other tidbits about Mack picked up at the Pigskin Preview ...
Mack’s first car: a 1997 Nissan Sentra
Favorite childhood sports figure: Jerry Rice. “Growing up in Tennessee and he being from Mississippi, and us having the same name and playing the same position (wide receiver), he showed that if you work hard, you can have success.”
Three things to have on a deserted island: Wife (no kids), a cold Corona and a recliner.
NCCU’s Smith nominated for good works team
Junior defensive end Tre Smith is among 197 nominees for the 2015 Allstate AFCA Good Works Team. Allstate recognizes collegiate football players nationally for their commitment to community service.
Smith volunteers in mentoring programs at Pearson Elementary, Hillside High and the Boys & Girls Clubs. He has also participated in blood drives and the Chancellor’s Walk for Health Equity, and is a huddle leader with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
“Tre is a special person,” Mack said. “He possesses a maturity level that exceeds any young man I’ve had the privilege of working with. His ability to lead and inspire his peers is what separates him.”