Gardner-Webb’s first-year coach Tre Lamb says his team is playing to win against Charlotte 49ers
By Richard Walker
Is it friendly chatter or gamesmanship this week when longtime friends coach against one another in Saturday’s noon Gardner-Webb at Charlotte 49ers non-conference football game?
Gardner-Webb will be making its only appearance in the fall under first-year head coach Tre Lamb while Charlotte head coach Will Healy is seeking to get a game in during a season in which the COVID-19 pandemic has already cost the 49ers four contests.
“I’ve been talking to Will and you know he and I are close,” Lamb said Wednesday during a zoom news conference. “I’ve talked to him for months, saying ‘If you get a cancellation, please, we’d love to drive over and play.'”
Now that the game has finally been scheduled, Lamb says his team could have an advantage.
“The one thing we do have is the element of surprise right now,” said Lamb, who was hired at Gardner-Webb on Dec. 14, 2019 after being a player and coach at Tennessee Tech. “They’ve played five games so I’ve got five games of film to watch and we’ve played zero. They’ve called every day trying to gain some information. I’ve tried to keep it close to the vest.”
A native of Calhoun, Ga., Lamb says he and Healy of nearby Chattanooga, Tenn., became friends when they were attending football camps in their teenage years. That connection has grown stronger over the years as Healy’s sister married Lamb’s brother and Lamb’s best friend Carter Crutchfield was hired by Healy to become the Charlotte 49ers’ director of football operations.
All pleasantries aside, Charlotte is seeking to improve to 3-3 while Gardner-Webb seeks to win its lone 2020 fall contest; The Bulldogs’ Big South Conference schedule was cancelled by the pandemic in the summer and Gardner-Webb will play a four-game league schedule and possibly two more non-conference games in the spring.
“We’re excited about getting a chance to play,” Lamb said. “It’s been a long journey to get in this position. Our university, our athletic training staff, our strength staff, our coaching and our players have all done a great job to get a chance to play.”
The biggest uncertainty involving the Bulldogs is the quarterback position.
From 2012 to 2018, Gardner-Webb had one starting quarterback for the entire season with the exception of one game started by a backuup in 2015. Last year, the Bulldogs finished with a 3-9 record that included six straight losses to end the season while starting one quarterback in five games and another in seven.
In practice drills that began in mid-September, Lamb has seen three players vie for the Bulldogs’ quarterback job – returnee Keegan Smith, Wake Forest transfer Tayvon Bowers and true freshman Jy Tolen.
“I want to see what these guys can do,” Lamb said. “We’re going to ride the hot hand. I think you’ll see three guys get a drive in the first half and we’re going to go with the one that’s moving the ball and then evaluate the next three months and see what happens in the spring.
“It’s one of the main reasons I want to play this game. Our offense is talented. We’ve got to find the right distributor at that position. I told them at our meeting this morning to cut it loose because there’s nothing to lose and everything to gain for Gardner-Webb. There’s no pressure on us so let’s see what we can do.”
Lamb called Bowers the “safest of the three,” Smith the “most talented passer” and the left-handed Tolen a “wild card” who probably best fits the offensive system Lamb wants to run to highlight what he considers a talented a group of receivers that includes All-Americans Izaiah Gathings and Devron Harper.
Lamb also has high praise for his team’s linebackers – among them Charlotte’s Darien Reynolds – and secondary.
“If you can prevent getting dominated up front on one side of the ball and prevent a big play in special teams” you have a chance, Lamb said. “I’ll put our offensive skill level up with theirs all day long. I’d put our defensive secondary up with Power Five teams. Our linebackers are good enough to play. The biggest difference is going to be the line of scrimmage and the special teams.
“We’re treating this as a staff and as a team as we’re trying to go win this game. We’re not treating this as a scrimmage or going to play a lot of young people. We want to see what we’ve got. We want to find a quarterback and troubleshoot any issues we have.”