Presbyterian football players have only practices and the Blue-White scrimmage to look forward to during a normal springtime.
This isn’t a normal spring, and former Big South foe Gardner-Webb awaits Saturday. The Blue Hose travel to Boiling Springs, North Carolina to face the Runnin’ Bulldogs at 1 p.m. at Spangler Stadium for PC’s season opener. The stadium will be limited to 2,700 fans under the state’s COVID-19 precautions.
PC is set to play a six-game spring season, its first in the non-scholarship NCAA Division I Pioneer Football League. Most of the season will feature more unfamiliar opponents, but that is not the case with Gardner-Webb.
“I think we’re going to be as ready as we can be, and we’re going there to win the game,” said PC head coach Tommy Spangler. “I’m just ready to play some football and let these guys play some football. We’re going to compete, we’re going to go there to win, and we’re going to fight our tails off.”
The Blue Hose and Gardner-Webb have met 12 times previously in Big South competition, and the Bulldogs hold a 7-5 advantage. PC won last year’s meeting 24-14, but have lost their last two games in Boiling Springs.
While the team is familiar, first-year head coach Tre Lamb took over in December of 2019 after two seasons as offensive coordinator at Tennessee Tech of the Ohio Valley Conference. Lamb is the nephew of former Furman and Mercer head coach Bobby Lamb.
Gardner-Webb has already seen action this season, beating No. 24-ranked Elon 42-20.
The Blue Hose have not played a game since November of 2019, and their spring schedule will consist primarily of Pioneer League opponents, though they are ineligible for a conference title.
“In early February, we almost had to show most of (the players) how to put shoulder pads on, it had been so long,” Spangler joked.
While making the transition completely to non-scholarship football, PC will have some experience, including former scholarship players, at key positions on its spring roster.
Senior middle linebacker Colby Campbell will anchor the defense and is just 20 tackles shy of tying NFL veteran Justin Bethel for second place in PC’s Division I record book. Wide receiver Keith Pearson of Enoree needs just 10 catches to become PC’s all-time Division I leader in receptions.
“I’m happy our seniors are getting a chance to play some football,” Spangler said. “They won’t be eligible to play next fall (because they received football scholarship money).”
Sophomore Tyler Huff is expected to start at quarterback. He played in all 12 PC games in 2019 as a freshman, starting six. He threw for 871 yards and ran for 326. Leader rusher Jarius Jeter, who started 11 games in 2019 as a sophomore, led PC with 753 yards rushing, including 99 in the win over Gardner-Webb.
“I feel pretty good about where we’re at and what we’re going to put out there,” Spangler said. “We’ve got some guys (at defensive back) who are back and a couple of offensive and defensive linemen who have played.”
The offensive line will be tested. Playing in his first collegiate game, true freshman defensive end Ty French dominated Elon with 12 tackles, including four for loss and 1.5 sacks on his way to weekly conference and national honors.
“We will know where he is,” Spangler said.
Spangler also said football is at its core a game of adjustments, and the change to a spring season after waiting through the fall without football or even on-campus classes for the most part has been unprecedented for himself, his players and PC.
“That’s part of it,” he said. “We’re going to go up there and play our butts off and expect to win. As far as preparations, it’s been challenging, but you talk about life lessons and learning, and that’s what we’ve had with COVID.”