ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FOOTBALL? Gardner-Webb coach, player say they have been for a long time

By Richard Walker

Junior wide receiver Izaiah Gathings spoke for a lot of his Gardner-Webb University football teammates at the recent Big South Conference media day when asked about his excitement level for the 2021 winter/spring season that begins with Saturday’s 3 p.m. home game against Elon.

Gardner-Webb returning wide receiver Izaiah Gathings during a recent practice session. [@GWUFootball photo]
“I’m just looking forward to getting out there,” Gathings said. “It feels like so long since we’ve played a football game against somebody else other than our teammates. Just getting back out there and competing against another team will be fun.”

Tre Lamb has been eager to make his head coaching debut since Gardner-Webb hired him in December 2019. He also is excited about the first game of Gardner-Webb’s abbreviated six-game schedule

“It’s going to be a relief that we can focus on football and not all of the other stuff,” said Lamb, whose team had a November 2020 game at the Charlotte 49ers cancelled due to COVID-19 issues. “I’ve been able to spend time at home and spend time with these players. I wouldn’t change these last 13 months. I know we didn’t get to play but we’ve grown as a program.”

That growth has included lots and lots of changes.

For instance, of the 22 players who started Gardner-Webb’s last game under former coach Carroll McCray on Nov. 23, 2019, only 10 remain in the program as Lamb has brought in newcoming recruits and/or transfers or graduate transfers from other programs.

“Number one, the addition of new players has been great,” Lamb said. “But the subtraction of players has made the biggest difference. Whether they were kicked off or they left or didn’t want to play anymore or opted out, whatever the circumstance was, we got rid of some bad apples.
“When you get the right people on the bus, your culture is different. That’s what the last 13 months have been about.”

Lamb seeks to rebuild a program that hasn’t had a winning record since 2013 and has lost 13 of their last 16 Big South Conference games.

A former Tennessee Tech quarterback, Lamb comes to Gardner-Webb after four season as Marcer’s quarterback coach and two seasons as Tennessee Tech’s offensive coordinator.

Given his background at the sport’s most important position, Lamb has prioritized blocking for the quarterback and developing a quarterback.

“One thing we talked about (as a coaching staff) when we got here was developing a physicality up front that we didn’t have and then developing a quarterback,” Lamb said. “I think we’ve done both of those in the last 12 months.”

Three quarterbacks emerged during the offseason, most recently graduate transfer Carlton Aiken from NCAA Division II Pace College.

Aiken, who passed for 1,833 yards and rushed for 687 more to earn NE10 Offensive player of the year honors in 2019, is listed as the starter for Saturday’s game after competing with Wake Forest transfer Tayvon Bowers and freshman Jy Tolen.

“So we’ve got three really good quarterbacks that we can go into a game and compete with,” Lamb said. “And, you know, we transformed that room in the last year. Everybody that played a game for Gardner-Webb is gone.
“The three guys we’ve got in now are all dynamic. We want quarterbacks who can run. And we want guys who can make off schedule plays. Those are musts for the identity of the position.”

Other returning starters are sophomore wide receiver Devron Harper, junior defensive tackle Jonathian Turner, senior defensive end Shai Thomas, junior linebacker Cade Hamilton, sophomore free safety Malachi Buckner and junior cornerback Dameon Williams.

Three of the 10 local products on the Bulldogs’ roster are listed on the Bulldogs’ depth chart; junior Tremayne Booker (Forestview 2017 graduate) is a backup defensive tackle, Jalin Graham (Crest 2020) is the fourth running back and Stormy Mosteller (Burns 2018) is the third tight end.

Lamb is pushing for immediate improvement but is realistic about his team’s chances.

“I’ve love to tell you we want to go out there and run the table and win a bunch of games,” Lamb said. “But I honestly expect us to compete and be pretty good. At the same time, we haven’t played a game in 15 months. All we’ve done is practice against ourselves. So it’s hard to gauge where we are as a program.
“The first game we play is against Elon, so we’re going to put everything we have into winning that game. Then on Sunday, we’ll flush it and focus on Presbyterian and then flush it, go into our off week and get ready for conference play.
“I tell our team we’re trying to win the conference in the spring. We’re not looking ahead to year two or year three. This is not a rebuild. At the same time, in the back of my mind, I know this spring is the foundation we’re trying to build.”

2021 Gardner-Webb winter/spring schedule:
Feb. 27 Elon, 3 p.m.
March 6 Presbyterian, 1 p.m.
March 20 Monmouth, 1 p.m.
March 27 Kennesaw State, 1 p.m.
April 3 at Charleston Southern, noon
April 10 at Robert Morris, noon