THE FINAL 49:
During the final 49 weeks until Kickoff 2013, we will take a moment each week to look at various aspects of the football program.
Dec. 22, 2012
By Tom Whitestone
Earlier this week, offensive line coach Phil Ratliff and three freshmen visited Weddington Hills Elementary School. A couple weeks prior, several football players visited McAllister Elementary to participate in McAllister Muscle and engage third-to-fifth graders in a physical activity.
For most 49ers athletic teams, participating in the community is nothing new. Programs seek out activities. Some come up with multiple projects to be a part of. Others devote themselves to one project in particular.
The 49ers' Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) hosts an annual 9-11 Memorial Blood Drive. Several teams volunteer at the Fall Stroll for Epilepsy, which has been hosted on-campus the last several years. This year, a few teams, especially baseball and including softball and football, helped out with the aptly named Miracle League.
October is all about volleyball's charge to headline the nation's Dig Pink program. As the holidays approach, the 49ers team up with the Marine Corps in an annual Toys for Tots Drive and this year, the 49ers golf team adopted a family.
Earlier in December, we saw men's basketball players assembling stockings to send to the orphanage they had visited in the Bahamas.
On top of that, there are any number of clinics, visits to hospitals and readings at elementary schools, year round.
Last year, 49ers student-athletes donated over 2500 hours to various organizations.
And certainly head coach Brad Lambert has been no stranger in the community. In addition to the many speaking engagements, he's helped build a playground, attended a moving MDA event, and recently handed out a trophy to a Pop Warner team at the Bronko Nagurski Awards - all of which is a mere sampling of his many community ties.
But now, his team and players are getting a chance to participate in the community.
And the cool thing is that as Ratliff was driving back to campus after the trip to Weddington Hills, the players thanked him. They really appreciated the opportunity.
Sure, the fifth graders, who got a break from regular classroom activities, perhaps learned a lesson or two and may have picked up an autograph, said thank you. I'm sure the thanks were many. Someone comes to visit you - to brighten your day - to share some thoughts and knowledge - you're going to thank them.
The football freshmen, who took an afternoon away from a welcome holiday break, made the drive through holiday traffic and found themselves back at a school just days after completing their first college semester, were saying thank you, too?
As these football players figured out - often times those that make the trip realize greater benefits than those they visit.
Ratliff said he shared with the players that if they made a difference in just one kid's life, the trip was beyond worth it.
To be honest, regardless of the impact on the fifth graders, it was well worth it - simply because of the impact on the football freshmen.
During this season of giving, many understand that it is better to give than to receive.
Some of the 49ers football players got to live that, recently, and learned firsthand, to take that message to heart.
And while it is abundantly appropriate to this holiday season, that's a present that can be opened any day of the year.
Added Benefits; Future Earnings
Dec. 15, 2012
By Tom Whitestone
There are plenty of reasons that folks bought FSL's. The obvious lure of football. A desire to help the university and athletic program grow. A chance to get in on the ground floor of history. Some felt like they had waited so long. Some craved seeing a linebacker in action. Some just like tailgating.
"I can't imagine not being present for every first," one fan wrote.
"You only get a handful of perfect days each year and I don't want to miss a one."
"The idea of tailgating with friends and family."
Many, called their decision to purchase, to quote more than one owner, "a no-brainer".
But running through some comments received from FSL owners, another deeper theme came forward.
"In my household, we are growing little Niners fans."
"It is going to be a great activity for our family on Saturdays."
"Anticipating the fun and experience with fellow alumni and fans."
You notice how few actually mention the football action. To many fans, 49ers football will be a lot more than a touchdown scored. It will be a handshake between old friends, it will be a son bouncing on Dad's shoulders, it will be friends laughing and cheering and having the time of their lives.
"We bought FSLs for the entire family. It will be a great family experience."
"We are alums and we look forward to being re-united with old friends."
This football thing is about so much more than a sport. It's about creating bonds within a family, among friends, with fellow alums.
A football game day includes tailgating - where friends and fans will gather - swap stories, relive good old days and grow closer.
A game day will include the game itself - where a parent will marvel at the joy of their child, where friends will share outbursts and where complete strangers will exchange high fives.
And a game day will include postgame - where wide-eyed fans will talk about what they just saw, share a hug and make plans for the next game.
Head coach Brad Lambert summed it up pretty well. This draw of football includes the sights and sounds of the game, and the sights and sounds around the game. Together it makes for a great day to be enjoyed today and treasured tomorrow.
"There's a lot of memories out on football fields," Lambert said. "I stand out there and think about long after I'm gone there's still going to be a lot people having a lot of great memories out on this field."
Somehow, this football thing is not strictly about the here and now - which we all admit will be wonderful. It's also about the then and there.
Another FSL owner's motivation hit the nail on the head.
"To start another tradition for our kids and grandkids that we can leave to them to enjoy for years to come."
The football will be fun. No doubt about it. But the memories and traditions that can be passed from parent to child, from generation to generation. All the stories that will be told and passed on down the line - all the moments shared - those are added benefits that come at no extra charge, but with remarkable yields.
Dec. 8, 2012
By Tom Whitestone
Practice ended weeks ago.
Classes finished up this week. Finals started.
Coaches are on the road recruiting.
Of course, with finals upon them, the academic center bustles. The team gets together for a long study hall period on Reading Day. Another long session is scheduled amid finals week.
And the weight room stays busy. Head coach Brad Lambert has said that this time following the end of practice and especially the time at the beginning of the second semester is important in building the team's strength.
Still, trips to the football stadium, you would think, are a bit different these days.
And they are. It is quieter. There is less activity. Players aren't running in and out to practice. They aren't clamoring down the stairwell following position meetings. There isn't the endless parade.
The coaches' area is quieter, too. So many are out recruiting. Meetings are still held. But, this time of year, the road calls.
Most of the team's activity is either within the walls of the football center - in the academic center or in the weight room - or well outside those walls - wherever the recruiting trail may lead.
But there it was. In the far corner of the stadium opposite Grigg and Duke Halls.
From the road, you could make out the 49ers green first. Not a lot. But enough.
Then it took form. Dressed in practice gear, minus the pads and helmets, you could see the green rising up in the bleachers.
Players running steps.
All was quiet elsewhere. Coaches weren't blowing whistles. Music wasn't blaring. Construction vehicles weren't humming.
Just players, on a nondescript day, running steps.
Some coaches were out of town recruiting. Several players were busy studying. Others were claiming time in the weight room.
And some were out in the stadium, running up the bleachers where the student body will soon sit.
It sounds a bit cliché. I mean, players working harder to get better by running steps.
But there it was. On a December day a bit cool, but not cold. On a December day a bit cloudy, but not gray. On a December day over eight months away from opening day.
Throughout this fall, one thing has been emphasized on a regular basis. You want to get better. Work.
On the recruiting trail. On your studies. On the weights.
There is no substitute for good old hard work. Cliché or not.
The Final 49: Images of Wonder
Dec. 1, 2012
By Tom Whitestone
Hard to put into terms exactly what the draw is of a spectacular playing facility.
Why, when we'd go check out construction progress, would we see people standing at the fence, peeking in? Why, when we drive by do we inevitably see folks getting their pictures taken outside the gates? A young couple carries in their newborn for a photo and a glimpse. An older couple sits in the top row and just looks out at the emptiness.
It's hard to communicate the motivation.
An empty stadium. No action. No players. A field. A logo.
I get people heading out to old stadiums and getting caught up in the nostalgia.
Bird and Havlicek in the old Boston Garden. Ruth and Mantle at mighty Yankee Stadium. Butkus and Payton at Soldier Field. Memories live in every nook and cranny of those great places. You can picture Yaz playing it off the Green Monster, as if he right out there in front of you.
Those old stadiums hold your memories - the games you saw on TV as a kid, or better yet, watched in person. Or the games you've only seen highlights of in old grainy clips. It makes no matter. It's just cool to picture those ghosts out there. Looking upon those arenas creates a connection with you, your team and your past.
Our football stadium? There are no memories. But there is a connection - not with our past, but with our future.
What our football stadium lacks in memories, it more than makes up for in dreams.
I spent some time at the stadium over Thanksgiving Break. The student-athletes had headed home. Practices had been finished. Coaches' offices were locked up. But still the procession continued.
People came. And stood. And looked.
Fans walked up to Gate One and peered through the fence, just to see the goalposts up close. Folks wandered around towards the North Endzone, perhaps to take pictures with the Football Center in the background.
Some nearly circled the stadium -- in an effort to take it all in.
Some stood perfectly still - in an effort to take it all in.
"This is where the team will run out of the tunnel", you could imagine them saying. "This is where our seats will be." Maybe they guessed at which end zone the 49ers first touchdown would come.
Some pointed at all there was to see. Others closed their eyes.
Staring at the emptiness, fans were left to fill their visions with their own imagination.
Doubtless, they saw players running on the field. They heard whistles being blown. They felt the crowd erupting.
Why did they come? What did they see?
Perhaps it's not so tough to put into words.
I mean, how often does a person get a chance to visit the site where their dreams will come true?
Nov. 24, 2012
By Tom Whitestone
As the fall practice season comes to a close -- as the school takes ownership of the stadium and with a nod to the season that is upon us, there is plenty to be thankful for.
Here are some of our football thank yous:
I absolutely, positively love the iconic image of the students and alums marching through campus with their makeshift goalposts. Thank you.
No matter what, the ground breaking of our stadium was to be a memorable occasion. But the 3,000 fans with their grills grilling, flags waving and cornhole playing made it perfect. Thank you.
Remember Dijuan Harris wearing our helmet on a stationary bike while Charlie Coley III dunked over him at basketball madness. Thank you.
What about Will Thomas wanting so badly to be the First 49er. Thank you.
Or how about coaches who have seemingly put their careers on hold by adding exactly 0 wins to their resumes over the past year or two - to be a part of our 49ers program and to build something special. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Did you know there is an FSL owner in Japan. Or that a grandparent completed Christmas shopping at the FSL store -- making for several happy grandkids. Thank you.
Ever see a movie called "The Perfect Game" about a little league team from Mexico that played in the Little League World Series. The first time their players saw a grass field, they jumped on the ground and rolled around. Well, when our guys got into the stadium for the first time they pretty much did the same thing -- priceless to see college kids act like little leaguers. Thank you.
So many have put in so much to get us this far it would be an effort in futility to try to list names of folks who have made a difference -- basically each and every one of you reading this played a part -- so thank you.
With that in mind, though, there are some other things to be thankful for:
Listening to Offensive Line Coach Phil Ratliff at practice.
Watching Larry Ogunjobi kick high in warmups.
Saying "Larry Ogunjobi"
Hearing coach Brad Lambert call everyone "Coach".
"Our fans are putting goal posts up".
Watching a virtual Tonka Truck playground as dump trucks moved mountains of dirt.
Seeing a 49ers football-designed cement truck spin around town.
The first stretch of turf being rolled out.
The live webcam.
Unpacking shoulder pads.
Blocking sleds and first down markers spotted on campus.
With cameras on them, watching the team's first-ever trip out of the field house, up the ramp and out to the practice fields.
"I just saw a 49ers Football ad on Monday Night Football!"
Answering questions or accepting comments from excited football fans at nearly every turn: Gas stations, grocery stores, youth games - not to mention twitter and facebook.
The common sight while driving by the stadium of people posing for pictures outside the fence.
The gratifying sight of parents posing in those very same pictures with their baby/toddler, ready to pass Niner Nation tradition from one generation to the next.
The magnificent view from the hospitality deck with that wondrous backdrop that is CRI campus.
The 49ers logo at midfield.
The sights that are football practice: A field full of players stretching. Drills, drills and more drills. Players lifting each other up even as they knock each other down.
The sounds that are football practice: Coaches whistles. An airhorn. "Period 8 - Period 8". Pads crunching and voices carrying.
Energy. Effort. Enthusiam.
True gratitude. Because, yes -- we, as an athletic department are extremely thankful as we build this program -- but it is refreshing to see the gratitude of others it will effect, like coaches, players and fans.
Just hours after the stadium was turned over to the school players gathered in the tunnel as they got ready to head into the stadium. They laced up their cleats. They grabbed their helmet. They paused at the entrance.
On the way through, one player approached an administrator -- reached out a hand. And said thank you.
These are moments we appreciate as this program grows from dream to reality.
And we're thankful for both. The dream and the reality.
Fall's Final Week
Nov. 17, 2012
By Tom Whitestone
"Not Afraid" blares out of the speakers.
The gray clouds are closing in - as is the cold. November cold. November gray.
The temperature is in the 40's - but it feels colder.
At one time, coaches were in t-shirts and shorts as they ran practice. On this final full practice on Wednesday, a few days before their Fall Finale scrimmage on Saturday afternoon, sweats are the order of the day.
The nearby trees are leafless. It's not quite 5 in the afternoon, but darkness is fast closing in. Guys blow into their hands to keep them warm.
There's no sun to bathe in. Even if it were out, the sun would now be setting below the treeline. Lights start popping on in overlooking windows.
And still, the team works.
Friday is a different story. The sun is out. The players have shed the pads. Saturday will be the final practice of the fall - so Friday's practice is lighter and shorter.
Practice starts with a conditioning competition. Relay teams of players run through cones, cut back, sprint, weave and shuffle. Working. And competing.
The sun starts setting - and in November - once it starts going down, it doesn't take long. It's now 4:40 in the afternoon and already the sun has fallen behind the trees, and the field is dark with shadows. Cool has set back in.
After the races, the team breaks back into its position groups and goes through familiar drills one last time.
On one end of the field, the offense runs its plays against invisible defenders.
At the other end, defensive backs cover routes while the line applies token pressure to a stand-in quarterback.
Music still blares. An odd combination of rap and country mixed together.
The bullhorn sounds. Period 8.
And even though there are no pads - and even though a player occasionally moves to the music - and even though hitting has been given the day off - the coaches still shout encouragement - demanding effort.
"If you don't go to the end, you don't want it."
So they go to the end.
They want it.
Saturday is the final practice. At 1 p.m. Full sun. Scrimmage activities. Saturday is the culmination of a busy fall. A fall full of reps, bullhorns and coaches barking. A fall full of wanting it.
Those barking voices, these guys may hear in their sleep. And maybe that's the way the coaches want it.
The message has been clear and consistent from day one.
You will work.
To the end.
A Memorable Last
Nov. 11, 2012
By Tom Whitestone
This is the final week of the 49ers 2012 fall football practice season. Much is made of all the 49ers football firsts. But this last is something to consider.
Last fall at this time, a stadium was under construction. A coaching staff was knee deep in recruiting. And most of the players running around the practice field were living for Friday nights.
Next year, the 49ers will be well into their first season of competition in their beautiful stadium. The coaching staff will be knee deep in game plans. And the players running around the field will wake up on Saturdays anxious and eager.
And this fall? The 49ers have practiced with the hum and rattle of ever-present construction vehicles. The coaches have been knee deep in practice plans and drills. And, the players aren't working for today -- but for tomorrow.
There is just one week left of this abnormal situation. The 49ers plan to celebrate it with a Fall Finale -- inviting the public out to watch the last practice, offering an open house of the football center to FSL owners and giving fans an opportunity to see up close what this team has done in a few short months.
Three months ago, the 49ers football team was reporting to campus for the very first time. It wasn't so much a team as it was a collection of student-athletes.
From the conditioning of late August to the start of real practices in mid-September to the addition of scrimmages in October the team came together -- practice by practice.
This week, they'll hold the last -- the final workout that is unique to them and foreign to teams across the country.
Practice with a purpose, coaches often say -- easier said than done when the next game is nearly a year away.
Practice like you play, they say -- hard to do when you haven't played in nearly a year.
Practice is where games are won, they encourage -- harder to grasp without a win in sight to back it up.
In the spring, the 49ers football team will be just like every other around the country.
They will hold their spring workouts. They will have an eye on their spring game. And they will not be able to wait for the coming fall.
But this fall -- this wonderfully, unusual fall -- the benefits of all those practices have gone largely unnoticed.
Except to the players and coaches. They know what has happened. They know that the practices were as productive, as challenging, as competitive as if opening day waited right around the corner.
This week, as they close camp, Niner Nation will be given an opportunity to appreciate all the work, as well.
We have celebrated so many firsts throughout this start-up process -- but this will be a memorable last.
And when you think about it, the firsts set us on our march -- but its the lasts get us that much closer to the inaugural game.
Nov. 4, 2012
By Tom Whitestone
There was tailgating. There were ovations. There was the Uh-Huh Guy.
No, this wasn't the first scrimmage the 49ers have had -- they've ended practices with scrimmage activities on several Saturdays.
But this was the first set of scrimmage activities on the Stadium turf -- and 1500 Niner Nation fans turned out to watch. The practice started the same as usual -- stretching drills, position drills, some skelly.
But then the 49ers offense lined up against the 49ers defense. Officials blew a whistle. And it was Game On.
Running back Alan Barnwell ran for four hard yards on the first play -- as Niner Nation sat back under the splendid Saturday sun, and watched college football -- Charlotte 49ers college football.
Mark Pettit, a 6-6 outside linebacker from Greensboro, recorded the first sack. 6-3 nosetackle Larry Ogunjobi had a crushing tackle on receiver Corey Nesmith, Jr. And receiver Austin Duke raced 58 yards on an end around.
And the crowd cheered.
At 2:10, Ja'quil Capel took a 19-yard pass to the one-yard line. At 2:11, Barnwell burst through the line and into the endzone.
It wasn't the first touchdown the 49ers had scored in their scrimmages, but for those on hand to watch the plunge, seeing a 49er break into the "Charlotte" logoed endzone was the absolute opposite of deja vu. This was something they hadn't seen before.
The game continued. Barnwell finished with 20 rushes for 75 yards and that TD. Three 49ers quarterbacks combined for 253 yards passing - 134 of which went to Capel. The defense recorded four sacks, two from Pettit. Ogunjobi led the D with 7 tackles, including two for loss. Kariym Gent pulled in an interception.
And when the scrimmage was over and the team gathered in the endzone before the practice-ending windsprints, a man in the crowd yelled out.
"You're making history, guys."
The First Fall
Oct. 27, 2012
By Tom Whitestone
Fall is here, that's for sure. Leaves are turning. Mornings are colder. Shadows grow longer.
Believe it or not, this time next year, the 49ers will be preparing for Game #7 - on the road at Charleston Southern (Oct. 26). Charlotte will have already played six games, five at home. The historic season will be underway.
After all the firsts we have celebrated: the first recruiting class, the first workouts, the first time they put on the helmet - it's hard to believe that a year from now we will have moved past those firsts and onto seconds, thirds and fourths.
Sure, there are still plenty in front of us: the first time inside the stadium walls, the first spring game and of course the historic first, coming on August 31st.
That will lead to the first kick off, the first tackle and the first touchdown.
And these guys out here on this field, busting it at practice on these colorful, cooler and shadowed days, dream of being a part of those firsts, which still seem so very far away but are getting closer by the minute.
Right now, with the team's initial workouts nearly two months old, this group of guys is well beyond so many firsts - but still eyeing several more.
Who will rush for the first first down? Who will record the first sack? Who will catch the first pass? Who will recover the first fumble?
About 80 players are out at practice hoping to be a key figure in 49ers history.
Of course, we know they already are.
The firsts these players have been a part of may not be recorded by statistics. I mean, I don't ever recall seeing mention of the rollcall of players who attended the first team meeting in any record book.
But these are those guys. These are the first to set foot in the locker room. These are the first to run out to the practice fields. And these are the first to pull that gear on -- to sprint, to dive, to sweat for the green and white.
Years from now, people will think of 2013 as the inaugural season. People will grab a 2013 game program to remember the first team. People will think of the game days in autumn as the first fall.
But people will be wrong.
For all those vital firsts that will come next year - there's one big second.
Because, no matter what the record books will say. No matter how much pomp and circumstance accompanies the inaugural game. No matter how we crave Kickoff 2013.
For Charlotte 49ers football - this is the first fall.
Your All-Access Pass
Oct. 20, 2012
By Tom Whitestone
You've seen the footage from back in 2008 thru 2010 of Chancellor Philip Dubois and Director of Athletics Judy Rose talking about the promise and possibility of the 49ers adding football. Board meetings. Press conferences.
It took some time before actual football was added to the mix. Coaches. Players. Practices.
And AJ Mead and his staff have been there for all of it and are now turning the old footage and the new football into a monthly documentary - to paint the picture of the process of building a football program.
Groundbreaking. Helmet unveiling. Head coach hiring. Signing Day.
With extensive access, Mead and his staff were able to compile video of all of it and are using it to complement their current video of practices, interviews and workouts.
The product: "49ers Football Now: Countdown to Kickoff".
The documentary takes fans from those early discussions and will land them on the historic inaugural game, next August. It will include profiles of players and coaches. It will include looks inside coaches meetings and team meetings. It will take viewers inside the offices, inside the practices and inside the huddles.
Starting a new football program is difficult and challenging - with plenty of headaches, frustrations and worries. It is also rewarding and inspiring - with plenty of high fives, smiles and satisfaction.
Mead is bringing all of that to you, in a monthly 15-minute documentary.
Already two of the 13 episodes have been produced. 49FN was there to capture the very first team meeting - and head coach Brad Lambert's early directive to his team. 49FN walked along a mic'd up Lambert on his way to the first practice. 49FN interviewed Dubois, Rose and Football Feasibility Chair Mac Everett, who aptly stated - "It's good story - and I don't think it's been told yet."
Mead and the 49ers Media Production staff are telling it. In the spirit of full disclosure, I do assist, minimally. Primarily setting up interviews. Mead works his magic to bring the segments and stories to life.
But, I don't write this for AJ's benefit. I write this for yours.
Each episode debuts on the first day of every month, unless it falls on a weekend. Episode 3 will hit Nov. 1. The 49ers website promotes the new shows and archives the old. They air monthly at www.charlotte49ers.com, www.charlotte49ers.tv and the Charlotte 49ers Official Youtube Channel. Viewers in the Charlotte area can also see the show on Time Warner Cable Channel 22 every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday at 12:30pm and 7:30pm.
"This is the first time our department has attempted a video project of this size, but I think we can deliver high-end programming that our fans really want and have never seen before," Mead said.
We realize that we are in a special situation - debuting a football program. We have a chance to bring our fans all those firsts with behind-the-scenes footage to capture the sights and sounds. We realize that we are part of something special - and we want you to to be a part of it, as well.
So join in. Through "49ers Football Now", watch the program come to life. And, like us, treasure every step along the way.
Oct. 13, 2012
by Tom Whitestone
Blocking sleds rest next to pallets of bricks. The deep green of the practice field is outlined by orange construction fence. The route to practice is guarded by red and yellow caution tape.
Footballs fly through the air, but, it seems, they could just as easily land in a backhoe as a receiver's arms, the construction vehicles are so plentiful.
A forklift races behind the goal posts. A concrete truck spins down the sideline. And, the clink and clatter of the tracks of a loader seem louder than the pounding of pads.
This team certainly won't need any reminders of the work that helped bring their football world to life.
Reminders are all around them.
Motors are constantly running. Hard hats and orange vests abound. Construction trucks roll in and out of the access road.
Soon the stadium and grounds will be turned over to the university. Soon, the tractors and trucks and engines and beeps and whirring will be gone.
This construction team has worked off its collective butt. Consider: Less than a year and a half ago, this stadium site was several large recreational fields. The only tractors around were brought in for the ceremonial groundbreaking, April 28, 2011. Less than a year and a half ago, we had renderings.
Now, we have a 15,300-seat stadium. We have a 46,150 square foot football center, 34,011 square feet of concourse buildings and 243,000 square feet of game and practice fields.
Dirt was dug out and moved here and there. Rock was crushed. Concrete was poured. The recreational fields were relocated. And this football world took shape.
Soon, the yellow dump trucks, lifts and excavators will be gone forever from what, just a short time ago, had become a giant Tonka truck playground. Soon the last brick will be laid on the grounds around the stadium. Soon, the only sounds you will hear at practice will come from the air horn, the whistles, the coaches, the players and the pads.
But, when they finally have this site to themselves, this team will remember all those they shared it with. When they finally hit the stadium turf, they will remember the work that put it there. And when they run out to practice, they'll remember they aren't running alone.
Take a quick look around. Plenty have pitched in to build this program.
And that, this team will always remember.
The Roar Inside
Oct. 6, 2012
by Tom Whitestone
You've got to appreciate these guys.
Think about it. You've played football since you were a kid. You played in the backyard, you played in Pop Warner, you played in Middle School, you played in High School.
Every fall, you played.
And now, you choose to play for the Charlotte 49ers.
Catch is - you don't get to play. Not for a year.
That has to be tough.
Red-shirts, you might say, do it every year, everywhere. But this is a whole team. It's not only you that doesn't get to play - it's your whole team. They don't get to play. So, on any given Saturday, you can't even watch your team from the sidelines. No cheering. No celebrating.
You just keep practicing.
And give them credit. At practices, you see the guys working hard. You realize they aren't just going through the motions. They're not biding their time till next fall. They're getting after it as if they had a game this weekend.
And you also see something else. You see the camaraderie building. You see the slaps on the helmets. You see them sprinting to help each other up. And you see them go after each other hard and then fist bump about it afterwards.
Sure, one thing that they've had since they were kids isn't there right now. They don't get to play the games. But they still have their team.
Just like Pop Warner, Middle School and High School. They still have their team.
Maybe that's what gets them through gameless Saturdays void of cheers and touchdown dances.
Everyone loves the roar of the crowd, of course.
For now, without that roar, they have to be satisfied with the shouts of their teammates and the slaps on their backs. And, they have to be happy "going long" on the practice field. Just like the backyard.
You have to appreciate that.
Knowing there's no game around the bend, you have to appreciate players sprinting into a drill and sprinting back out, taking a knee on the sideline dripping with sweat, and cheering each other during windsprints at the end of practice.
Knowing there's no game around the bend, you have to appreciate the all-out-hustle of a Darius Smalls, who stays with a play from his receiver spot on the right side, during a rush around the left side, so much so that he's the first on the ground to recover the fumble.
It wasn't for the win. It wasn't for the crowd. It sure wasn't for the roar. It was for the team and it was for the game.
It was for football.
What they love about this game. Why they want to play. That's a roar that comes from the inside.
And you don't have to wait till Saturday to hear it.
Get to Work
Sept. 29, 2012
by Tom Whitestone
The horn had sounded at 4:12 p.m. to officially start the 49ers first full practice in pads after the requisite 15 minutes of stretching.
At 4:13, Defensive Coordinator Bruce Tall could be heard from a field away.
"Nobody walks around here. Got me!"
Setting the tone early has been head coach Brad Lambert's mantra through the first few weeks of workouts and now into the first week of full practices.
"We wanted to condition the guys and teach them a little bit about what practice is going to look like. You've got to teach them everything. You've got to start at square one."
Square one, apparently, is a not-so-subtle reminder that even though opening day is 48 weeks away, the only way to see Game One is to work hard in Week One.
"Sprint!" yells Offensive Line Coach Phil Ratliff.
Players who may been caught up in the hype of being the first class on the first team at the first practice were quickly brought back to earth.
"That's a different level," said receiver Austin Duke. "A whole different level."
"The practice field's a whole lot faster than what I expected," defensive back Tank Norman added.
Welcome to college football - 49ers style.
While the coaches are reinforcing the tone at every turn, the players are responding.
Witness cornerback Terrance Winchester crashing running back Alan Barnwell into the fence five yards off the sideline during scrimmage activities. Witness Jamel Ross and Desmond Cooper going at it one v. one in a drill to drive the opposing player back. Witness the players' post-practice chant: "1, 2, 3 - WORK!"
The players are just now getting into full game-day shape. The practices include dropped balls, missed assignments and brain cramps. But the players are working.
"It's a fight!" assistant secondary coach John Russell calls out.
And so, the 49ers battle.
Just one week in, Charlotte understands their finish line is months away. So they try to balance time, knowing full well that they have time to run through repeated reps. They have time to fine tune. They have time to get better. But they also know that the best way to make use of that time is with a sense of urgency. Pushing the players to work like they have a game this weekend - from the opening horn to the final whistle. Making sure the players don't use the time they have as an excuse to take their time.
"Fast! Make 'em work," Lambert urges.
So, work they do. And when practice is over - as trainers are pulling together the water stations, as team videographers are breaking down their tripods, as managers pack up the equipment, Offensive Coordinator Jeff Mullen calls his offense together. For that interception they threw, for the block they missed, for the route run wrong, they, as a unit, do a series of up/downs: running in place, hitting the ground and bouncing back up. Again and again.
Practice may be over, but the work continues.
Our Own Hallowed Ground
Sept. 22, 2012
by Tom Whitestone
The stadium is not yet complete. Construction crews are working on some finishing touches. You can hear power tools at work. An occasional hammer bangs in the distance. Vague voices call out. Construction vehicles move in and out beyond the stadium walls.
But the field is done.
"Charlotte" is emblazoned across each end zone. The C-pick 49ers logo stands tall at midfield.
This turf is what we've been waiting for.
We want to see it and touch it and feel it. Looking down upon it, our senses can't help but come alive.
This is where it will all take place - right here on this turf. This is where all the work, all the hopes, all the chants, all the shout outs, all the enthusiasm will come to dramatic crescendo.
This is where the back will bust through on a 40-yard scamper. Where the QB will hook up with the wideout for that game-changing bomb. Where the returner will break tackles en route to paydirt.
This is where the D-line will stand 'em up on fourth and inches. Where the D-Back will leap high to break up a sure first down. Where the linebacker will plug a hole and stonewall an attack.
Right now, the stadium is empty, save for the workers hustling here and there. Some early morning shadows creep across the field. But in the silence, you can hear a coach barking out orders. You can hear pads hitting. You can hear the roar of the crowd.
This turf is what we've been waiting for.
With our attention fixed on the action between the lines, it will be the backdrop of so many Saturday afternoons. It will be our own hallowed ground to share with our kids and they with theirs. And it will be the place we come to cheer, perhaps, like we have never cheered before.
We have waited a long time to gaze upon this very turf.
Soon, the stadium will be full. The ovations will echo off the surrounding buildings. The sights and sounds will envelop us.
And all that we have dreamed about - all that we have wished for - all that we have worked for ... All the visions we weren't sure we would ever see - they all will take place on this turf.
It's what we've been waiting for.