• NEWS FLASH: Charles Brown, the notoriously taciturn senior receiver out of Robeson High, is talking. "Charles, he used to be really quiet," reports Jeremy Ebert, another senior receiver. "Now he doesn't shut up."
"I'm opening up as the years go along," says Brown himself. "I was pretty much a shy guy when I came in. Quiet, to myself. But I've gotten real comfortable with everybody and as I've gotten more comfortable, I naturally opened up."
• BUT SERIOUSLY, FOLKS: 'Cat coach Pat Fitzgerald is traditionally stingy with compliments this time of the year. He instead prefers to wait until the dust settles and victors emerge from the competitions now going on at many positions. But Monday, after his team's first practice of the spring, he singled out Brown for his work this off-season.
"Charles is just a young man who's worked his tail off every day he's been in our program and improved. And I like the way he's playing right now," he explained when asked about that. "He's playing fast. He's playing like a guy who has a lot of experience. He's having fun, and he's getting out of his comfort zone. Charles is not a man of a lot of words. So to see him get out of his comfort zone and lead that way (vocally), I'm very proud of him. Not surprised. But I'm very proud of him."
"Basically, just keep working hard and to continue the drive to be the best I can be," Brown said when asked what it told him to have his coach single him out like that.
• STILL BEST BUDS: Nowhere, of course, is there greater
competition than at wide receiver, where the 'Cats return a talented
group that includes Ebert and Brown, the junior Demetrius Fields and the sophomores Venric Mark and Tony Jones and Rashad Lawrence.
"I see a bunch of talented receivers who can take it to another level,"
Brown says when asked what he sees when they're together in a meeting
room. "Everybody in the room is capable of producing on the field and,
with the right leadership, we can take it to new heights."
This, they both say, motivates each in the group to push himself and the others even harder than before. But, we wonder, doesn't it also create an environment for potentially poisonous rivalries?
"It's part of the game, I guess," says Ebert. "But our room, we're so close knit. We're close friends. We look at it as a friendly competition. We just want to win. We don't care who's out there as long as we get the 'W.'"
"I think everybody's personality in the room, we like challenges. We embrace them. We look forward to taking stuff on," says Brown. "Everybody's competitive on the field. We're a highly-competitive group. But we like to have fun with each other. There's no hard feelings. It's friendly competition. We're just trying to be the best we can be."
• CHECK, PLEASE: In fact, the group is so close it dines together weekly to engender camaraderie and trust. Ebert is the one who usually picks the place for its feast.
• LET'S HEAR IT: Tuesday's practice was nearing conclusion and now, from its sideline, the 'Cat defense started to chant. "Kill! Kill! Kill!" it chanted.
"I think we're trying to emphasize some things we maybe let go as a coaching staff during the last three weeks (of last season)," Fitzgerald would say when asked if that meant that unit was working with a collective chip on its shoulder. "I think more importantly the guys are working their tails off to get better."
And what are those things they let go of?
"Oh, there's plenty. Some I'm going to share and some I'm not. But I think more importantly just coming together, unifying and having fun. You know. We lost that attitude and that demeanor that had really been the hallmark of the way we play defense around here. And the only way you do it is you work at it. That's what they're doing right now."
• TIME TO GET DRESSED: On Tuesday the 'Cats practiced in shorts
and shirts. "That's hard," said Fitzgerald. "You're in underwear. So
it's hard to be a football player at this time."
But Thursday, when they next gather, they will work in full uniform. "That," said Fitzgerald, "means we get to play football. Everybody looks good in shorts. Otherwise they wouldn't be here. But I'm encouraged by where we're at today. Now let's see where we can get to by Thursday afternoon."