Jerry Mack, 33, opened a new era in N.C. Central football March 13. The third-youngest active Division I football coach is getting his first stint as a head coach after 10 years as an assistant at various colleges and universities.
A week into spring practice and players already could feel the difference. The new man in charge might be closer to their ages, might understand their slangs and might even like their music, but on the field, it’s all business.
“He’s in game mode every day,” sophomore quarterback Malcolm Bell said about Mack. “He’s a serious coach. He has a swagger like a young guy, but his mind is beyond his years.”
Bell admitted the entire team needed a new mindset.
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“We weren’t paying attention to detail last year compared to this year,” he said. “Now, it’s like a family. They (coaches) want to know what you’re doing at all times.”
The Eagles are coming off a season filled with more turmoil off the field than on.
Former head coach Henry Frazier was fired in August after being arrested and charged with violating a domestic violence protective order. The charges were later dismissed, and Frazier appealed to get his job back but was denied.
Interim head coach Dwayne Foster led the team to a 5-7 record.
Senior defensive end Felix Small said Mack is instilling a stricter regime.
“He is demanding a lot more from the team, a lot of discipline like no jewelry,” Small said. “The team has grown. He brings much wisdom, and I’m ready to follow him.”
Despite being hired in January, Mack and his staff snagged 16 recruits – 13 in state, including Southern wide receiver Derrick Mason and offensive lineman Noah Chase, and Ravenscroft star QB Quinn Billeman.
Mack takes over a program that produced just 265 yards of total offense per game while giving up an average of 440 yards. The Eagles’ bread and butter was special teams led by return specialist Adrian Wilkins who contributed to five return touchdowns last season and earned All-America honors.
Mack said he wants to put a total package on the field.
“We’re trying to establish discipline first, and do all the little things that will be put together for the whole show,” he said. “They had some (discipline), but it’s a work in progress. We want to bring an exciting brand of football to N.C. Central and compete for four quarters.”
The Eagles are extending their outreach Down East. The team will travel to Rocky Mount High for a scrimmage Saturday at 12:30 p.m. The game was rescheduled from last Saturday due to weather.
“We said we would pick one location a year, and I’ve heard good things about the area, and the Rocky Mount Alumni Association is very supportive,” Mack said.
Of course, campus spirits are still sky high after the success of the men’s basketball team. The program has “raised the bar” and everybody is looking to take advantage.
“It makes it a lot easier to recruit,” running backs coach Adrian Jones said. “That’s national publicity you can’t get anywhere else. We want to feed off those guys and raise our level of competition. It’s been good for everybody.”
The annual Maroon vs. Gray spring game is April 11 at 6 p.m.