All the talk and prognostications are over. The Jerry Mack era has begun.
North Carolina Central’s new football coach made his head coaching debut Saturday at East Carolina – on an ESPN broadcast no less. The Eagles traveled to Greenville last Saturday to take on the Pirates in the first meeting between the two programs.
The game, played too late for Wednesday’s edition of the Durham News, didn’t turn out anything close to what NCCU wanted. East Carolina won 52-7.
“East Carolina is a really good opponent. They have a lot of tradition and a consistent program,” said Mack on the weekly MEAC teleconference. “Everybody wants to compete against the so-called best talent in the country, and we are no different.”
But Mack isn’t the only major adjustment for N.C. Central this season.
Gone is quarterback Jordan Reid, who ended his college career with the school’s best completion percentage (55.9), and linebacker Tazmon Foster, who set a single-season record in tackles with 144.
But Mack says change is good. And fans won’t be complaining while watching the Eagles this season.
“Change is always interesting, new and exciting,” he said. “The guys are up for the challenge of bringing our fans a more exciting brand of football than what they have seen in a few years. We want to get back to the glory years of winning championships.”
Two factors will be key to reaching that level – consistency and discipline – he said. Fans should expect to see a “high-octane, no-huddle offense” but also consistency in their production.
The two men heading the charge are junior transfer quarterback Quinn Billerman and redshirt sophomore Malcolm Bell.
Billerman set passing records at Ravenscroft High in Raleigh and at New Mexico Military Institute. Bell played in eight games last season and can run as well as throw.
Billerman won the starting role, making him the second white starting quarterback in Eagles history. But he says there’s no QB controversy with Bell.
“Me and Malcolm are friends on the field and off the field,” he said. “We lead the cheers for each other. If I come off the field and he sees something, he’ll tell me and vice versa.”
Billerman said they each bring something different to the team.
“Malcolm is very explosive, not only in running and throwing, but he probably has the best arm strength out of any quarterback I’ve seen,” he continued. “My poise is my greatest strength. I’m able to stay calm in the pocket.”
Billerman struggled Saturday, getting sacked three times. True to his word about poise, Billerman nonetheless connected on 12 off 18 passes for 101 yards.
On defense, NCCU will be about aggression.
“We want to be an attacking, aggressive defense,” Mack said. “We want to keep opposing offenses off balance by constantly putting pressure on their quarterback. We want to be in attack mode at all times.”
Leading the charge will be veteran safeties Ryan Smith and C.J. Moore. The twosome combined last season for 165 tackles, 3.5 hits for a loss, four interceptions, eight pass breakups, four fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles.
Moore provided one of the few bright spots Saturday for NCCU, when he picked up an ECU fumble caused by Felix Small and returned it 31 yards for the game’s first touchdown.
Joining Smith and Moore in the secondary is sophomore cornerback Michael Johnson. At one point ast season, Johnson led the nation in interceptions with four.
Return specialist Adrian Wilkins scored five touchdowns on special teams last season, the only player to do so.
With Wilkins running away from opponents and redshirt senior Sayyid Muhammad blocking three kicks, including two blocked field goals that were returned for touchdowns, special teams should be special again as the Eagles vie for a conference championship.
“All of our guys understand what the expectation is, and they know it is not going to be easy,” Mack said. “They are going to have to put forth a great effort in order to get us back to that championship level of football.”
The Eagles host former CIAA rival Elizabeth City State for their first home game Saturday at 5 p.m.