Charlotte signs its first 24 football players


CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The Charlotte 49ers inaugural football recruiting class has a distinct Carolina flavor.

The 49ers, who'll begin play in 2013 as an FCS independent, signed 24 players on Wednesday, including 19 from in-state. Two others were from South Carolina and three are from Georgia.

Charlotte coach Brad Lambert said being able to recruit from the immediate area was "critical" to the team's future success.

"We said our footprint was North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia," Lambert said. "North Carolina was a real point of emphasis for us. Being in this state for the last 11 years, football has really taken off. When we got into (the recruiting) and it's a really good year for the state of North Carolina and we were fortunate to get a good number of players."

Lambert said signing a number of players from around the Charlotte was also was important as it allowed the 49ers to establish a solid recruiting base near home, while also helping to sell tickets to fill a new stadium that's currently under construction.

Two of the three quarterbacks signed are from Charlotte suburbs and are names local high school fans are familiar with -- Matt Johnson from Maiden High and Lee McNeill from Porter Ridge High. The other is Karsten Miller, another in-state product from North Davidson High in Lexington, N.C.

Lambert pointed to the leadership Johnson and McNeill will bring to the team as a huge plus. Both will get plenty of time to learn the offensive system once they report for conditioning workouts in August and begin practice shortly thereafter.

"I think we're really secure at our quarterback position," Lambert said. "I feel good about those guys coming in."

All of the players signed Wednesday will be redshirted this year.

Lambert said early on in the recruiting process he and his staff identified a strategy to build the team from the inside out. He felt like the 49ers accomplished that goal, signing 14 linemen in their inaugural class.

Versatility was also a key in Lambert's mind.

Seven of his new recruits have played some quarterback in high school and are simply good athletes.

"We said going in we wanted a value system and not just take a guy and say that's where he plays," Lambert said. "We're trying to build our numbers and we took a lot of guys in this class that can play a number of different positions.... We didn't want to say, 'This guy is a right guard and that's all he can do.'"

Lambert is particularly high on defensive lineman Brandon Banks from High Point, N.C.

Banks was the first player Lambert watched on video after getting hired for the Charlotte job.

"When I saw that tape back in April I thought if we can sign this guy, we'll really be doing something," Lambert said.

The 49ers also landed two-way lineman Casey Perry from Durham, N.C., a player rated as a three-star recruit but whom many FBS schools passed on because he was a little too short at 6-foot-3.

He'd been recruited heavily by Appalachian State and Western Carolina and had committed earlier to Gardner-Webb.

"We wanted to shoot high," Lambert said. "We expect to go out and recruit against other people. We lost some, we won some. Appalachian State, Furman, Coastal Carolina and Gardner-Webb, those are all good teams in our area that we're going to play against. We need to recruit against those guys. That was what we expected to do."

The day began with a flurry.

Will Thomas, a wide receiver from Hampstead, N.C., etched his name into 49ers' history when he became the school's first official football player. Just as he'd promised his coach in the days leading up to signing day, Thomas sent in is his time-stamped fax to the football office at 7:02 a.m., two minutes after college recruits were allowed to begin signing.

Thomas was quickly followed by Johnson.

"To see the first two names come across, it was really exciting," Lambert said. "It's kind of neat that it was a receiver and quarterback. I guess we're ready to score some points."

Lambert said the most difficult part of his job has been waiting to get some players on the field to coach.

"This just makes it real," Lambert said. "We've got a team now."

Next year Lambert expects to use more scholarships to attract junior college transfers and give his team some older players who have some experience playing at the college level.

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