(WNCN) – The North Carolina Central Eagles put the finishing touches on their annual “Maroon vs. Gray” spring scrimmage Saturday at O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium. It had all the hallmarks of games past. Full of hard hits, big plays and this year included guys grinning ear to ear overjoyed to finally put the shoulder pads on again.
“They’re just so happy to try to get to some normalcy and get back out there on the football field with the opportunity to play in front of their families,” said NC Central head coach Trei Oliver. “That was all that was out there today we didn’t have any fans but it was just good to see them. Those guys had a smile on their face and they were just excited so it was really good for them to be able to perform in front of the families.”
The Eagles offense, which hasn’t taken a snap in front of fans in 504 days, looked more rested than rusty moving the football consistently but more important they kept it protected. Double digit fumbles their last full season is something the team wants to eliminate.
“We wanted to see the guys compete and be physical and I thought we did improve in those areas, said Oliver. “I’d still like to see a little bit more consistency as far as finishing drives. Sputtering late in the red zone we have to do better than that but for the most part I think we reached our goals.”
The staff would like to see the offense chew up yards, clock and finish it off with scores. Of all the positives on the offensive side of the ball coach was particularly complimentary of Rolesville high school graduate Josh Pullen.
“I thought the freshman Josh Pulliam did an outstanding job running the football,” said Oliver. “For a big back he was getting downhill and broke a lot of tackles.”
On the flip side there are a few areas to improve on a defense ranked in the bottom third of the MEAC in points and yards allowed per game in 2019.
“Defensively I thought we flew around today. We limited the explosive plays,” said Oliver. “The offense did have a couple of big runs but for the most part I thought we did a good job of eliminating the explosive plays.”
The Eagles have 3 more practices next week before they finish things up. With an entire spring seasons worth of video to go over the staff has more than enough to evaluate everyone and correct mistakes. It’s a ton of work but welcome at a time like this for it’s a return to normalcy for the coaches. After a season first pushed back to the spring, then called off entirely and combined with a spring practice filled with COVID protocols (5 weeks now and not one positive test) a bit of normalcy is what everyone is looking forward to.
“We have a bunch of young guys from last year’s recruiting class that have really grown up guys this year and I think we have a very bright future,” said Oliver. “We cannot wait to get down to Atlanta for the MEAC/SWAC challenge to play the SWAC champions the Alcorn Braves.”
The Eagles kick off against Alcorn State August 28.