PEMBROKE — If The University of North Carolina at Pembroke’s football spring game gave any indication for what to expect from the Braves on the field this fall, it’s that the defensive unit is capable of forcing turnovers.
In the 10th annual intrasquad scrimmage Thursday night, the first- and second-string defenses combined to force five turnovers as the Black team won 47-40 over the Gold team.
“They came out tonight with a lot of great enthusiasm,” UNCP coach Shane Richardson said. “A lot of guys stepped up and this will give us a great evaluation tool to go into the offseason with.”
Behind the defensive mind of Richardson, the Braves’ secondary picked off each of the three quarterbacks that came into the game. Tyler Parks picked off backup quarterbacks Titus Smith and Lumberton alum Zack Wilcox, while Matthew Thomas-Quick picked off first-string quarterback Reggie Pinner.
“Defensively, especially the Black squad which was was primarily the top defense, I thought they did a fantastic job,” he said. “There’s some guys there that are really going to step up and be great contributors in the fall.”
After the defense kept the offenses out of the endzone in the first half, both teams started to get into an offensive rhythm with the running game behind the bounty of rushers the Braves have in their arsenal.
“We’ve had a lot of running backs this spring that have shown up at different times so we’re going to have quality depth there,” Richardson said. “Out of all of those guys that are able to run the ball, I think any one of them on any given day could step up and be in the mix for us.”
Freshman tailback Miles Grant rushed for both teams and totaled 61 yards and a touchdown.
“I’m just trying to take advantage of my opportunities and stick to the program,” Grant said. “I’ve got every chance I’ve needed to show them what I can do.”
Grant was one of four freshmen running backs to see action in the game with two veteran rushers — Juniors Rontonio Stanley and Cliff Jones — also getting some carries. Scotland High School alum Quadrin Williams had two touchdowns in the game to lead all running backs.
“I’ve got to stay humble and it’s a humbling experience,” Grant said. “It’s tough, but if I stick with the program and do what they (the coaches) say, it works and I get my opportunity and I just make it happen.”
With a handful of players sitting out during the spring semester to save their eligibility for the fall, including last season’s starting quarterback Patrick O’Brien and placekicker Matt Davis, Richardson says his team should have a little different complexion come August.
“There’s a little bit of a dynamic right now where we are not functioning at all levels of our personnel,” Richardson said. “We’ve got a lot of personnel right now that didn’t play tonight that should be ready to go in three months … Guys that are great contributors.”
Freshman Josh Sheridan, a former Robeson County and Southeastern Conference Player of the Year at running back for Lumberton, redshirted last season and is now transitioning to playing linebacker. Sheridan had five tackles, including one for a loss for the Gold team’s defense.
“It’s a difference. I wasn’t expecting to move, but I’m trying to get the best opportunity possible to play,” Sheridan said. “I like tackling better. Instead of absorbing the hit, I like being on defense delivering it.”
On top of adjustments to his new position, he’s also adjusting to being back at the bottom of the proverbial food chain on the team.
“At Lumberton, I was used to being the star. Now, I’m starting from the bottom like I did when I was a freshman (at Lumberton). You can’t expect to be the man your first year out,” he said.
“It’s a process. We have to be committed in the summer to keep working, so when August comes, we’ll be ready to go.”
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.