Sports

This football team lacked chemistry. How a basketball league helped fix that.

North Carolina Central interim head coach Granville Eastman addresses the crowd after the Eagles spring game last month in Durham.
North Carolina Central interim head coach Granville Eastman addresses the crowd after the Eagles spring game last month in Durham. NCCU Athletics

N.C. Central football team's last game of the 2017 season — a 24-10 loss to North Carolina A&T — was one of frustration and a lack of discipline.

Safety Davanta Reynolds was ejected before the start of the game for throwing a punch during a scuffle. Defensive tackle Ja’Quan Smith was thrown out in the fourth quarter after coming in contact with an official, and the Eagles were called for four unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, a microcosm of their entire 7-4 season.

“Last year we had a lot of team problems,” quarterback Chauncey Caldwell said. “We weren’t really a team, we were undisciplined.”

To help fix the problems and to give his team a chance to bond, interim coach Granville Eastman, who took over in December, created an intramural basketball league for his football players.

The players were split into eight teams and played every Tuesday in the Walker Athletic Complex on campus.

The assistant coaches picked the teams, and the main goal was to create teams with football players of different positions. Offensive players could get to know their defensive teammates better. Coaches could work with players they don't normally coach on the football field.

Offensive coordinator T.C. Taylor, for example, didn’t make his team full of players he’s used to coaching, instead throwing in some defensive players to better build relationships with those people.

“If you get a bunch of offensive guys, they have that relationship already established with each other, so we tried to mix it up with guys we didn’t think had the best relationship and went from there,” Taylor said.

The strategy worked. Taylor admitted he didn’t know some of the defensive players very well, but got closer with them because they were on his basketball team. He also noticed guys on opposite sides of the ball that he never saw hanging out before became closer because of the weekly basketball games.

According to Travis Taylor, NCCU’s Director of Football Operations, the league was dominated by the team led by Eagles’ special teams coordinator Chris Schultz.

Eastman said he would love to continue the league during the summer, but even if they don’t, it served its purpose.

“I think that kind of stuff reveals some different types of characteristics about everybody — coaches and players,” Eastman said. “I think it’s just a different way for us to grow and build chemistry with one another before we hit the field.”

N.C. Central basketball coach LeVelle Moton probably won’t steal any of the school's football players for his team, but the gridiron gang had a goal to bond, and it took basketball to make that happen.

“It worked out pretty well,” Taylor said. “We accomplished what we were trying to get done. The kids enjoyed it.”

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