Buies Creek – Campbell heads into the 2015 season with a unified team outlook, “unfinished business.”
Having finished 30 yards away from securing at least a share of the 2014 Pioneer Football League Championship, the Camels look to finish what they started a year ago.
“The taste of success last year made these guys really commit to being champions,” said Campbell third year head coach Mike Minter. “What does it mean to put it in day in and day out? We probably had the best offseason we possibly could have had. Mental toughness is key. We started 4-0 in the league then lost four, three at the end of the game. That’s about mental toughness, and I think we’re stronger mentally this year.”
In 2014, Campbell began its Pioneer Football League schedule 4-0, but fell in its final four conference games to end the season.
Campbell finished the 2014 season, the second under head coach Mike Minter, 5-7 overall and 4-4 in PFL play, recording the program’s second-most total and conference wins in its seven seasons. A school record seven Camels, plus eight honorable mentions, were named to the 2014 All-PFL teams, including four first teamers. Eight CU student-athletes, with six first team members, were tabbed PFL All-Academic.
Three of CU’s four PFL losses ended in heartbreaking fashion, with Campbell go-ahead drives ending deep in opponent territory.
The Camels fell 27-20 at Marist, ending their perfect start in PFL play. A week later, CU took a 28-24 loss at home to Stetson, with a goal line interception stopping the Camels with 13 seconds on the clock. In the season finale at Dayton, Campbell drove all the way to the Flyers’ four yard line before turning the ball over on downs, falling 19-14.
“It created that grit that you need,” said Minter. “That grit is passion and persistence. When you create that, that’s willpower squared. That’s a whole different level. We have leadership that takes control on the players’ side. We’ve never had that. That got us focused on the right things to become champions. Now it’s about the process.”
The Camels return 49 letterwinners from the 2014 squad, plus 15 combined starters on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. That group includes nine starters on defense and six on offense, plus two specialists.
Despite a strong group of returners, Campbell will have to replace several key contributors, including quarterback Dakota Wolf, as well as left guard Will Sawyer and center Dalton Brown on the offensive line.
Wolf finished his career as CU’s all-time leader in pass completions (261), attempts (442), total offense (3,852), touchdowns responsible for (32) and touchdowns scored at 18.
Brown and Sawyer were stalwarts on the offensive line, starting game apiece and combining to play in 85 contests for the Camels.
“Our biggest losses were on the offensive line,” said Minter. “Will Sawyer and Dalton Brown are hard to replace, not only from a talent perspective, but also from a leadership standpoint.”
On the defensive side, Isaac Scott finished his career as Campbell’s all-time games played leader (46), also setting program records for career yards from tackles for loss (131), sacks (16.5), yards from sacks (110), forced fumbles (7) and quarterback hurries (12). The Camels will also have to replace 2014 honorable mention All-PFL linebacker Luke Hill, plus honorable mention All-PFL defensive back Isaiah Howard, who was also named Second Team All-PFL as a kick returner.
The Camels will undoubtedly be led by a stacked defensive unit in 2015, boasting arguably the top defense in the PFL.
It all starts up front for the Camels. Returning All-PFL picks Ugonna Awuruonyeand Greg Milhouse will again give Campbell size and power on the line.
Awuruonye was First Team All-PFL defensive end, notching 67 tackles last season with 11.5 for loss and 7.5 sacks, tying the Campbell single-season record. In his first season with the Camels after transferring from Appalachian State, Milhouse picked up Second Team All-PFL honors with 57 total tackles, including 5.0 for loss and 2.5 sacks.
Dwan Hanshaw (7.0 TFL) also comes back at defensive end, while Darren Flowers (nine tackles in four games) returns from injury. Hunter Somerville, a redshirt senior converting from tight end, plus transfers Rogers Clark (North Carolina State) and Isaiah King (East Carolina) add to the Camels’ stable.
“There is a lot of competition there, and they are going to push each other to be better,” said Minter. “The two guys that you hear about are Ugonna and Milhouse, but Rogers Clark is probably going to surprise a lot of people. With his energy, he has elevated a lot of guys on that line. He has tenacity and grit, and that has elevated everyone else at practice. We’re going to be deep on the defensive line. We’re going to be fast and big.”
Campbell brings back two of its three starting linebackers from 2014, led by Second Team All-PFL performer Andrew Yost in the middle, who piled up almost 90 tackles last season. Jake Barr led the team in solo tackles at 37, while juniorDaniel Bostick (40 tackles) is expected to take on an expanded role.
“We’re going to be stout there,” said Minter. “Coach Freddie Aughtry-Lindsay has been a great addition there, almost like a transfer linebacker for us. He has those guys headed in the right direction. They have grown every day since he got here. Andrew Yost is back for us to anchor that position. Daniel Bostick is a guy that athletically, with his size and speed, has the ability to make a huge impact. We’re two deep at all three spots.”
Jaylan Adlam and Lorenzo Herman provide more experience at the position, while redshirt freshman Jack Ryan enters the fold as well.
Possibly the most improved position for the Camels is the secondary, who bring back several key contributors from last season, and inject a pair of South Carolina State transfers in safety Carlos Merritt and corner Dominique Mitchell.
One of the top returning cornerbacks in FCS, Mobley was an All-PFL honorable mention in 2014 after picking off four passes, returning a school record three for touchdowns.
“The secondary was a big question mark following last year, but with the transfers we brought in, it has turned into one of our stronger positions,” added Minter. “Our guys are going to be able to make open field tackles at safety. At corner, there is a lot of competition. We moved Dante Simmons to defense, who is a long defensive back with speed that will make things tough for people. Then, of course, we have Brandon Mobley, who should have another great season. I can’t say enough about Bryan Butterworth. He was a big addition to where I wanted to go as a secondary, playing an aggressive style.”
“I expect great things out of that side of the ball this season,” added the third year Campbell coach.
On the offensive side, CU brings back a solid group of six starters, but will have to replace some key contributors.
Campbell will have to replace three starters on the offensive line in Brown, Sawyer and Dylan McSteen, who all started at least 11 games in each of the last two seasons. Jacob Brewer will provide a veteran presence, while 2014 honorable mention All-PFL pick Josh Hutto, a redshirt sophomore, comes back at left tackle.
“Offensive line is our young spot,” said Minter. “A lot of young guys are going to have to step up and play behind our leader on the line, Jacob Brewer. He’s been behind Sawyer and Brown, and now it’s his turn to step up and be that leader that we need. It’s going to be about putting the pieces together.”
Redshirt sophomore Andrew Franklin, redshirt junior Laurin O’Briant and seniorBrice Sessoms have all started games for Campbell in the past, and look to complete the line.
Pacing the returners for the Camels at wide out is redshirt senior Ben Bolling, who enters the 2015 season 117 yards shy of the CU career receiving yards record at 1,113, and one touchdown from the program’s receiving scores mark.
“We’re going to be the fastest we’ve ever been at wide receiver,” said Minter. “We have some playmakers that will see their first action on the field with Aaron Blockmon and Trey Sanders, plus the additions of Andre Davis and Ricky Brown. We have some great competition at that position. The guy that I love is Jonathan Brown. He is a guy that may not have all of the athletic ability, but he has grit, and that’s what it’s all about. I’m a big fan.”
The Camels bring four big targets at tight end, led by junior Austin Fleming, who caught 21 passes last season, one for a touchdown. Shawn Millsap, Michael Jorgenson and Andy Eddins will also contribute.
“From top to bottom, I think we have the best four guys in the conference,” said Minter. “They’re going to be very important in what we’re trying to do on the offensive side of the ball. Austin Fleming made a name for himself last year, and Shawn Millsap and Michael Jorgenson are both big targets.”
At the running back position, juniors De’Shawn Jones and Jared Joyner will carry the load. Jones is the team’s leading returning rusher with 395 yards and one touchdown as a sophomore, while Joyner (435 all-purpose yards, four touchdowns) will step in after being used primarily as a third down option in 2014.
“We have two really solid options there,” said Minter. “The light has turned on for De’Shawn. He wants it. He looks like a big time back. I look forward to big things out of him. Jared Joyner has turned himself into a running back after being a third down specialist for us last year. We have two monsters back there and we’re going to feed them.
CU benefits from two unique and effective options at fullback with Justus Hoffmann and Dalton Dillon. Dillon is a two-time All-PFL selection at fullback, collecting 188 all-purpose yards with a touchdown as a junior.
“Justus Hoffmann is a monster when it comes to blocking,” said Minter. “Dalton Dillon is such a great versatile weapon at fullback. Not many fullbacks in the country can do what he does, so he’s incredibly valuable for us.”
Under center, the Camels return redshirt sophomore David Salmon, who will compete with fifth-year senior Appalachian State transfer Kameron Bryant.
Salmon passed for 745 yards in a backup role for the team a year ago, throwing for 336 yards at Marist, second most in a single game in CU history, in his first career start. Bryant, meanwhile, started 10 games for the Mountaineers in three seasons.
“There’s a big competition there between Kam Bryant and David Salmon,” said Minter. “Bryant has the upper hand with all the experience. He played at a high level at Appalachian State, starting and winning big games. No situation is going to be too big for him. He’s a natural born leader. Salmon has probably worked harder than anyone else in the offseason. He has really worked to get the nuances of the position. We know he has the talent. He can make all the throws. It’s now about leadership and composure; understanding the little things. I think he’s worked really hard in the offseason to understand that.”
Campbell returns two of its three primary specialists in sophomore kicker Mitchell Brown and redshirt senior long snapper Daniel Dillon. Brown tied the Campbell single season field goals made record with nine as a freshman, converting 34-of-35 extra points. The Camels will cope with the loss of Adam Lutz, the program’s all-time yards per punt average record holder (40.58).
“Adam Lutz is a big loss for us,” said Minter of his First Team All-PFL punter. “He was such a solid, steady guys for us. Brad Dennis has a big leg, and we’ll look to him to fill some big shoes. Mitchell Brown comes back and gives us some stability in the field goal game. Danny Dillon also returns as our long snapper. I’m looking forward to him getting that first long snapper all-conference honor. The leadership that he brings to the table has just been huge for our special teams.”
Campbell is poised to take another step forward in Minter’s third season at the helm. The Camels competed for the PFL crown in 2014 just two years removed from a one-win season.
The defense, anchored by Awuruonye and Milhouse on the line, will lead the way for a big, athletic and speedy group.
“I think people will be surprised about the size and speed of our team,” said Minter. “The unity this group has is also important. When you have unity on a team, when everyone is on the same page, you feel that before you come out of the locker room. When we come out on the football field on September 3, you’re going to see a unified football team with a lot of speed and a lot of size.”
“It’s going to be about how we handle winning,” said Minter. “We’re in that phase right now, a team that will learn how to handle winning. The way you handle that is to stay focused on the process. You don’t get caught up in winning four in a row like we did last year. You stay in the moment, in the process every day. We’ve created what a perfect, masterpiece day looks like, and we want to create masterpieces every day. That’s our goal. I’ve put a list of things together of what a masterpiece looks like every day. Every day when you wake up, that’s what you need to be focused on, nothing else. If you do that, then at the end of the day, you are going to be a champion.”
Campbell kicks off the 2015 season at Barker-Lane Stadium on Thursday night, Sept. 3 against Pikeville. The game will be the first of a six game home schedule for the Camels, who will play four times under the lights in Buies Creek, plus a 4 p.m. Homecoming kickoff against Morehead State and a 1 p.m. regular season finale against Jacksonville.
“I’ve been ready for the start of the season since we walked off the field at Dayton,” said Minter. “I’m very excited to get started because this is going to be a special year. It’s going to be special because of what we’ve put in, the focus and the determination of finishing.”