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View from the 'ville
Thursday, March 22, 2007

By Al Myatt

Camels football stirring back to life

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

You could probably win a friendly wager on the fact that Campbell leads its football series with East Carolina, especially since the Camels haven't competed on the gridiron since Harry Truman was in the White House.

Campbell used to be a formidable opponent for East Carolina when the program in Greenville was in its formative years.

Records show that East Carolina's first football win ever came against Campbell, 6-0 in Greenville, on Nov. 11, 1933. The Camels won the next three games in 1937, 1938 and 1939.

Campbell won three straight state junior college championships from 1946 to 1948. The Camels also were the Eastern U.S. juco champions in 1947, but as much of their two-year opposition progressed to four-year status, the school dropped football.

Documents available to Campbell officials indicate that the Camels first fielded a varsity football team in 1925 and did so until 1950, except for 1940-45 during World War II.

The sport was gone but not forgotten during 57 years of dormancy.

It's not likely that the two universities will ever meet again in football but after a lengthy hiatus, strong ECU and Conference USA connections are helping the Camels revive the sport in Buies Creek, a community in Harnett County with a population of 2,215, according to the 2000 census.

Thumbnail of rendering of Campbell's
planned new football stadium. View
larger images and more information on
the school's official athletics Web site.

Enrollment at Campbell is about 7,000 on its main campus.

Campbell president Dr. Jerry Wallace is an East Carolina alumnus and former roommate of former ECU gridder and athletic director Bill Cain. Both are from Rockingham.

The Camels will be coached by Dale Steele, a Pirate assistant during some ECU glory years from 1989 to 1995. Campbell athletic director Stan Williamson was an assistant AD at Houston during the Cougars' early years in C-USA.

As the private, Southern Baptist-affiliated institution has progressed from junior college to four-year college to university status and the Division I level in athletics, football has remained a topic of conversation.

"Without football, there has been a void at Campbell," Dr. Wallace said. "Alumni over the years have always talked about bringing the program back."

The Camels have been busy in other areas of athletic development. The new John W. Pope Convocation Center is under construction that will replace diminutive Carter Gym and provide a much-needed 3,000-seat home for basketball.

Williamson said Campbell has discussed reinstating football for a number of years and when plans for the convocation center moved forward, focus on the next major project narrowed to football's return.

"Dr. Wallace was looking for ways to create energy and excitement on campus and provide more social opportunities," Williamson said.

After a feasibility study, Campbell moved forward with an announcement of the return of football last April. A groundbreaking ceremony was held a week ago for the football stadium, which will be located across highway 421 from the main campus.

The Camels will compete as a non-scholarship Division I-AA program like Davidson, Jacksonville and Morehead State. Although Campbell players won't receive football scholarships, they will be eligible for assistance based on financial need and other factors.

Steele was selected to direct the program from a field of 80-some applicants because of his experience as a long time assistant in the college ranks and because of his ties to North Carolina. After leaving ECU, he was head football coach at Northern Nash High School in the Rocky Mount area.

"Greenville was a great place," Steele said. "Our family enjoyed the experience. We had a daughter, Kelsey, who was born at Pitt County Memorial Hospital. It was an exciting time to be there. I still hear from a lot of the players we had at East Carolina."

Steele was on the ECU staff for the Peach Bowl triumph over N.C. State that capped the 1991 season and for the 1995 Liberty Bowl win over Stanford. He was assistant head coach and recruiting coordinator during his stint with the Pirates.

He has been making good use of his recruiting skills in attracting players for the Campbell program. He has 17 players on campus and 78 more committed to begin practice next August.

He has one assistant on campus who will serve as defensive coordinator. Although the Camels will not have a spring practice until next year, Steele is involved in many of the same processes as programs which are currently active.

"We've been recruiting, monitoring academic progress and making sure that players are following their offseason workouts," Steele said.

Plans call for Steele to bring more assistants aboard on June 1. About $200,000 has been allocated initially for equipment.

Campbell will play its first game on Aug. 30, 2008, at home against Birmingham Southern. Williamson said a minimum of 1,200 seats would be in place in the seating that will rise above the artificial playing surface. Synthetic turf will allow the Camels to practice and play at their football stadium.

The track and field facilities currently at that location will be moved, according to Wallace. Williamson said he expects at least $5 million to be invested in facilities at the football stadium by the first game. Eventual plans call for a $10 to $12 million stadium with 10,000 seats, restrooms, concessions, a president's box and media accommodations. There will also be football offices, meeting rooms and training facilities.

How fast the entire facility package progresses will be determined by fund-raising efforts, but generally the community has been enthusiastic about the return of football.

The Camels will begin practice next August and most of the players will be freshmen. That will present an unusual dynamic with large numbers competing for positions.

"It's not a situation where guys will look around and figure they will be able to play as juniors and seniors leave the program," Steele said.

Many freshmen join a program and are relegated to a scout team, running a different opponent's schemes from week to week the first year. Although Campbell has a year to prepare for Birmingham Southern, Steele said the Camels will mainly focus on developing within and executing their own systems.

"When you're playing games, you get in a routine from week to week," Steele said.

With everyone getting a redshirt year in 2007 and no games scheduled, Steele is trying to figure ways to prevent the routine from becoming a rut. He has sought the counsel of Coastal Carolina coach David Bennett, who got the Chanticleers program off the ground in 2003 and has since won three consecutive Big South championships.

"He's done such a great job of bringing those athletes along," Steele said. "We're going to have to change from week to week because we don't have games next season. We're going to have to be inventive and progressive the entire fall."

The Camels will break the potential monotony of workouts with scrimmages. The popping of pads should further whet the appetite of those on campus and in the community for the return of football.

"Football is a means of generating interest in our university," Williamson said. "We've already seen a slight increase in enrollment."

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03/22/2007 04:30:55 PM


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