North Carolina Central head coach Granville Eastman will be the first to admit the Eagles first opponent, Prairie View A&M, has an advantage.
The Panthers (0-1) played last Saturday, Week Zero, of college football, falling to Rice, 31-28. When NCCU and Prairie View battle in the MEAC/SWAC Challenge on Sunday (noon, ESPN2, Atlanta, Ga.) the Panthers would have already gone through the logistics of gameday, getting mistakes out of the way.
“They’ve had the advantage of going through that,” Eastman said. “We have not. We’ve rehearsed quite a bit -- how we stretch, how we come into the stadium -- a few times, but actual experience doing it live is going to be the tell-tell sign.”
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Eastman does, however, have an ace in the hole. The Owls play caller last week was none other than former Eagles’ head coach Jerry Mack, who left Durham after four seasons to become the offensive coordinator at Rice. Coaches watch film and coaches also talk, and Eastman and Mack have remained in communication since Mack left last winter. This week was no different, but the former head man at NCCU had some tips for his replacement.
“Coach Mack and I continue to be friends first, so we talk on a daily basis,” Eastman said. “He told me some things that we saw from watching the game live, it wasn’t anything more than we hadn’t seen (on film). The eye in the sky doesn’t lie.”
Mack talked to Eastman about the Panthers’ personnel and what he thought was impressive.
The first thing Mack told Eastman was how impressive the Panthers seemed just walking into the stadium, a physical looking football team that really looks the part. That didn’t catch Eastman off guard, who said while watching the game on TV he noticed how intense they were, inoting that the Eagles are going to have to match that on Sunday.
With Mack calling the shots, the Owls rushed for 310 yards (6.2 ypc) against the Panthers. Being very familiar with the personnel on NCCU’s roster -- most of the starters are Mack recruits -- Mack told Eastman he felt like there were some matchups the Eagles could exploit against the Prairie View defense.
The running game, as Eastman explained Tuesday, is one of NCCU’s strengths. The Eagles top two leading rushers return in sophomore quarterback Chauncey Caldwell and sophomore running back Isaiah Totten.
What else to look for when NCCU takes on PVAM:
Anyanwu moves inside
NCCU senior Randy Anyanwu (6-3, 250) played defensive end last season, but will move to tackle according to the depth chart released on Tuesday. After transferring from Buffalo, Anyanwu started four games for the Eagles in 2017, finishing with 30 tackles, including 5.5 tackles for loss.
Eastman said getting Anyanwu on the field gives them quickness on the interior and will also give younger players behind him a chance to develop.
“Randy did some of that last year and it was beneficial for us,” Eastman said. “It adds depth at a position where we need to have people, and it will also younger players to play sooner on the outside.”
One of those younger players who will benefit from Anyanwu’s move will be freshman defensive end Chuck Manning (6-2, 255), a local product who prepped at Durham Riverside. Manning will get his first start in his first college game at defensive end.
Right tackle Ricky Lee (6-5, 280) will be the other true freshman to start.
“They have come in as good as advertised,” Eastman said. “We are so thankful for other people who missed the boat on those guys because we are thankful to have them. Both of them have come in through training camp and beaten out players who have been here a year or two. Chuck has put on a tremendous amount of weight and strength in his short time here. Ricky Lee, to see what he’s done already as a freshman, I can’t wait to see where he is in two or three years, there is no telling where his ceiling is at. We’re confident they can both go out at this level and do what it takes to help us win a football game.”
Three other redshirt freshmen will also start: EJ Hicks (wide receiver), Somadina Okezie-Okeke (center), Sherman McCloud (tight end).
Nothing changes for Eastman
It’s too soon for the first-year interim head coach to say if he will be nervous, but Eastman’s role won’t change, even though his title did.
Eastman was the defensive coordinator under Mack and will still call the defense this season for the Eagles. T.C. Taylor will call the offense, just like he has the last few seasons at NCCU. Eastman said he’s had to watch special teams a more than normal, but other than that, he trust his staff.
“I have full confidence in T.C. Taylor and our offensive staff to run the offense and do what we’ve been doing in years past. We understand what’s at stake so I’ll let each of these coaches coach their guys and I’ll worry about defense and so far that’s really what’s allowed me to stay calm.”