Though still a matter of weeks until kickoff, the butterflies had already started welling up for Gardner-Webb defensive end Ty French during July's Big South football media day.
“I’m ready, ready right now,” French said. “We’ve been waiting for this. We believe there’s a special season on tap. Everything is being taken personally.”
The wait ends for French and his Gardner-Webb teammates Thursday, with the Runnin’ Bulldogs welcoming Limestone to Ernest W. Spangler Stadium in the opener for both teams. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.
It is the first of four home games for Gardner-Webb this season. The Runnin’ Bulldogs will also host Mercer (Sept. 24), Bryant (Oct. 29) and North Carolina A&T (Nov. 19).
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As Gardner-Webb prepares to open its 2022 season, here are few things to keep an eye on this fall.
Can Gardner-Webb turn close losses into big wins in 2022?
Gardner-Webb finished 4-7 in Tre Lamb’s second year as coach. However, the Runnin’ Bulldogs’ 32-year old head man readily admits his team left plenty of meat on the bone last fall.
Gardner-Webb lost four games by eight points or less in 2021, three of them coming against Big South opponents Kennesaw State, Hampton and Charleston Southern.
Lamb said such has been a point of emphasis during practices leading up to the 2022 season.
“We’ve talked a lot about mental fortitude, physical fortitude,” he said. “Anyone can say these guys ‘have to learn how to finish. Yeah, but there’s a lot more that goes into that. We’ve been diving into the details of us taking that next step, finding a way to get over the hump.”
Can Narii Gaither live up to lofty expectations?
Narii Gaither was taught as a youth that if you want something enough, it’s up to you to go get it.
The 5-foot-10, 181-pound all-purpose back from Rock Hill has seized everything owed to him at Gardner-Webb, including 2022 preseason Big South Player of the Year honors. Such comes after a season in which he rushed for 966 yards and seven touchdowns, along with 43 catches for 375 yards and five more TDs.
“I like to say that I’m not great at anything, but versatile enough to get better in every aspect needed,” he said. “I can always get better at something, whether that be blocking, catching out of the backfield, even passing. I just want to contribute any way the coaches see fit.”
What area talents have an opportunity to make an impact?
A converted defensive end heading into the season, Burns product Stormy Mosteller looks to make an impact at defensive end. A 6-3, 258-pound talent, he begins the season projected to start opposite preseason all-conference defensive lineman Ty French.
Defensive back Tyler Arrington and running back Jalin Graham could also be in line for more snaps. A Shelby product, Arrington made seven tackles in 11 games last fall. As for Graham, he has 24 carries for 161 yards and a touchdown in two seasons.
Other players from Cleveland, Gaston and Lincoln counties on the Gardner-Webb roster include Caleb Borders (Crest), Larry Dowdy (South Point), Kendall Massey (Ashbrook), Jaycob Neely (Forestview), Jacob Patterson (South Point), Chris Richardson (Crest) and Jamie Wilson (Kings Mountain).
Other players to watch
In addition Gaither and French, returning all-conference standouts include quarterback Bailey Fisher, offensive linemen Clayton Frady and Gabe Thompson, defensive lineman Janathian Turner, linebacker William McRainey and defensive back A.J. Thomas.
Wideouts Justin Franklin and T.J. Luther, tight end Deland Thomas and defensive back Jamari Brown are also expected to contribute mightily this season.
You can reach Joe Hughes at 704-914-8138, email email@example.com and follow on Twitter @JoeLHughesII.
This article originally appeared on The Shelby Star: NC college football: What to know as Gardner-Webb kicks off 2022 season