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Charlotte 49ers: Turning the Page

The 49ers welcomed 17 new faces on Early Signing Day.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 10 Charlotte at North Texas Photo by George Walker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Following a 2020 season that saw nine total cancellations and repetitive pauses in preparation, Will Healy and the Charlotte 49ers are turning the page. The Queen City welcomed 17 new faces today in the third recruiting class under Healy.

“I’m really excited about this class. Back to back years that I think we can add some quality depth and add competition to spots, I think that was important for us,” Healy said. “I think the biggest thing was finding the right type of culture fits. I think our staff has done a tremendous job of making sure that we get the background information that we need to be able to sign the right type of guys.”

While the total makeup of the roster for this coming fall is undetermined, every player on the 2020 team has the option to return for the upcoming season. With 22 seniors or graduate students on last season’s roster, there will be a lot of new faces in the locker room as many are moving to the next step in their lives.

“I’m going to let those guys get away from this for a little while. Relax and rest to get the sour taste of 2020 off their minds and then get back with them in early January and see where their heads are,” said Healy. “We’ve had preliminary conversations, but I haven’t asked guys to make those decisions yet, and they’re worth waiting on.”

The scene on Early Signing Day in 2019. What a time..
Credit - Charlotte Football

Early Signing Day wasn’t quite like last year’s, with the press conference coming via zoom with rainy weather and 34-degree conditions instead of a mimosa in hand and toes in the sand on the beautiful beaches of Nassau. The 49ers had the option to participate in a bowl game for the second consecutive year, but ultimately put their players first.

“It got to the point of, ‘what’s best for your guys?’ As many starts and stops, shutdowns, and games canceled, it was like you knew you were going to go through another week and a half of tests leading up to a game, and mentally was that the right thing to do for our players?”

A two-win, four loss record with as many cancellations as cats have lives wasn’t what anyone expected for this program following the best season in school history, but as Shannon Sharpe said, help is on the way.

While Healy can’t comment due to financial aid reasons, the 49ers just landed a major transfer in QB James Foster. The 6’3”, 210-pound dual-threat quarterback started his collegiate career with Texas A&M, but now finds himself headed to Charlotte with three years of eligibility remaining. Foster was a four-star recruit coming out of high school with offers from Alabama, LSU, and FSU before committing to the Aggies. The QB room consisted of only two scholarship quarterbacks in 2020, and this class adds two more with the additions of Foster and Xavier Williams.

The three players from the 2020 class that separated themselves in just six contests were all on the offensive side of the ball. TE Taylor Thompson, OL Arabee Muslim, and OL Panda Askew. Thompson could already be the best receiving tight end in Charlotte 49ers history and will continue to play a role in the offense for years to come, with the two offensive linemen stepping up their game to fill the holes up front.

The progression of the highest-rated recruit in program history, Ty’Kiest Crawford, will be one to watch moving to next season. The 6’5” 335-pound offensive lineman played in all six games but was one of the lowest-rated players on the roster according to PFF.

The transfer portal is already being utilized at record rates and will undoubtedly impact the roster through the offseason. Charlotte saw two starting-caliber players leave the program in the middle of the 2020 season with Jacione Fugate and Jonathon Timmons electing to finish their collegiate careers elsewhere.

Looking ahead to 2021, the 49ers’ class is currently ranked sixth in C-USA and 99th nationally. With 17 signed, Healy and his staff are aiming for the “low 20’s” to round out the class. Healy said that eight or nine players in the class will report to campus as early enrollees in January.

With 12 three-star prospects and three signed from the state of North Carolina, there is still work to do in terms of recruiting from the QC’s backyard. Jack Reynolds, younger brother of QB Chris Reynolds, committed back in August and has the chance to catch passes from his brother for the next two seasons.

It’s a fairly balanced class as of today with eight on the offensive side of the ball, eight on defense, and one punter. New leadership is a must for the upcoming season as quite a few catalysts for change have played their last downs in college football. Three of the four captains, Tyriq Harris, Ben DeLuca, and Jalein Fisher, are all moving on from the program, leaving just Chris Reynolds to lead the group in 2021.

Here is a look at the current signees as of December 16th:

Putting the 2020 season in the rearview mirror started with Early Signing Day, and with the third year under Will Healy on the way, 2021 is a big year for the 49ers. It’s a new season, but the goals don’t change - Win C-USA, and don’t just make a bowl game - win a bowl game.

“They’re (the 2021 class) picking Charlotte for a reason. They believe in the relationships, our culture, and our vision. That means a lot to me. These are guys that you win championships with.”