10th SEASON: Charlotte gets early start on final year of Conference USA with nationally-televised matchup

By Richard Walker

The way Charlotte 49ers head coach Will Healy tells it, when his program begins its 10th football season this weekend, it’ll be with one of the biggest games in its history.

Former Shelby High standout Calvin Camp (20) celebrates a 2020 touchdown against North Texas.

“It’s the most important game we’ve had in a long, long time,” fourth-year Charlotte head coach Healy said during Tuesday’s weekly news conference. “And we’re 10-point underdogs. So we know we have some work to do.”

Charlotte is opening its final year in Conference USA as it’ll be joining the American Athletic Conference next season.

It faces a Florida Atlantic program that has won league titles twice in the last five seasons (2017 and 2019) and picked to finish fourth in a preseason media poll.

Charlotte, coming off a 5-7 season, is picked to finish seventh in the 11-team league.

With 14 returning starters and nine super seniors who are playing a sixth season due to a NCAA ruling granting an extra year of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 49ers have high hopes they’ll defy their low preseason expectations.

“I’m grateful for this sixth year and I’m grateful for the opportunity to show what we can do,” said veteran quarterback Chris Reynolds, who has school records of 35 starts, 16 victories and four fourth-quarter comebacks in his first four seasons as a starter.

Reynolds and defensive end Markees Watts were voted team co-captains by their teammates, Healy announced on Tuesday.

“Not only are they senior leaders, they’re our best workers,” Healy said of Reynolds and Watts.

Reynolds came to Charlotte in 2017 in a recruiting class that included one of his favorite receiving targets, Victor Tucker, and running back Calvin Camp, a 2017 Shelby High graduate.

Reynolds, Tucker, wide receivers Elijah Spencer and Grant DuBose and offensive linemen Jason Hughes, Panda Askew, Ashton Gist, Jon Jacobs and T.J. Moore are the returning starters listed on Tuesday’s two-deep offensive depth chart. Camp has starting experience and is considered one of three potential starters at running back along with Shadrick Byrd and ChaVon McEachern.

Watts and fellow defensive end Amir Siddiq are the two returning starters listed on Tuesday’s two-deep defensive depth chart. Gastonia’s Prince Bemah, a 2019 Huss graduate, and Cam Burden are considered possible starters at one of the three linebacker positions for the 49ers.

Coming off a 5-7 season in which Charlotte fell one win shy of bowl eligibility, the 49ers’ opener is critical in a season in which they face a daunting non-league schedule highlighted by a home game against Maryland of the Big Ten and road games at South Carolina of the Southeastern Conference and Georgia State of the Sun Belt Conference.

The other non-league game is the Sept. 2 home opener against the always dangerous William & Mary of the Colonial Athletic Association.

In addition to the Florida Atlantic league- and season-opener, Charlotte has Conference USA home games against UTEP, FIU, Western Kentucky and Louisiana Tech and league road games against UAB, Rice and Middle Tennessee.

Healy thinks Saturday’s game gives the program to get national attention and exposure in addition to the opportunity, if successful, to kick-start the 2022 season with an upset win.

“It’s a tough matchup for us in week zero,” Healy said in reference to the Aug. 26-28 weekend in which 12 college football games will be played nationally before the traditional Sept. 1-5 opening weekend. “With all the changes that are going on in college football, it was a tremendous opportunity for us to play in the national spotlight against an awesome opponent.”

Here is Charlotte’s full 2022 schedule:

Aug. 27 at Florida Atlantic, 7 p.m.
Sept. 2 William & Mary, 7 p.m.
Sept. 10 Maryland, 3:30 p.m.
Sept. 17 at Georgia State, 7 p.m.
Sept. 24 at South Carolina, TBA
Oct. 1 UTEP, 6 p.m.
Oct. 15 at UAB, 3:30 p.m.
Oct. 22 FIU, 3:30 p.m.
Oct. 29 at Rice, 2 p.m.
Nov. 5 Western Kentucky, Noon
Nov. 12 at Middle Tennessee, 3:30 p.m.
Nov. 19 Louisiana Tech, 3:30 p.m.