For many college football coaches, the thought of packing up and moving to coach a first-year program is intimidating.
For Napoleon Sykes, outside linebacker coach of the Charlotte 49ers football team, the decision wasn’t exactly an easy one.
“There was a lot of thought that went into it,” said Sykes.
“What really sealed the deal was an opportunity to put a mark on a program at the ground level. The things that we do, the traditions that we start, will all outlive us here. It was a very unique situation that kind of sold itself.”
Seeing how his team of eight outside linebackers has come together to form a more than special bond, the decision has been worth it.
“Honestly, these guys impress me every day with how hard they work,” said Sykes.
“I could talk for hours about these cats. They are a good bunch of guys. Love these guys to death.”
For Sykes, making sure his team is focused both on and off the field has been of utmost importance. Only two of the eight outside linebackers – Mark Hogan (6-0, 210) and Tyler DeStefani (6-3, 215) – have college football experience, so being focused has remained a top priority.
Hogan, a transfer from Georgia State, is a graduate student at UNC Charlotte. Hogan holds the record in tackles for the Panthers.
DeStefani, a redshirt junior, played football at Newberry College in Newberry, S.C. He made the Charlotte team after a walk-on tryout in April of 2012.
For Nico Alcade (6-2, 205), Jalen Holt (6-4, 225), Zeb Little (6-1, 195), DaQuavius Reid (6-2, 195), Mark Pettit (6-4, 235) and Jordan Starnes (6-2, 230), the college football experience is completely new.
“They have been through a college football preseason, season and off-season, so their experience has been priceless for everyone in the room,” said Sykes regarding the experience between Hogan and DeStefani.
Sykes attributes the success of his linebackers in part to their self-motivating personalities. The outside linebackers vary in not only age, but also playing experience, yet all come to practice ready to tackle their job.
The outside linebacker motto, “We’re Different,” possesses a multitude of meanings.
“As an outside linebacker, you might have to play like a cornerback sometimes, then like a safety, an inside linebacker or a defensive lineman,” said Sykes. “No other position on the field has to do all of those things in a single game, so we are literally very different than any other position.”
That motto doesn’t just stick for when the “Myopic Maniacs,” Sykes’ nickname for the outside linebackers, are on the field. The motto is meant to hold true off the field as well.
“We want to be different than the average guy. We want to excel in the classroom and be gentleman. We want to be great men.”
Though the group may be self-motivating, there’s no denying that Sykes is an inspiring coach that wants nothing more than his team to be the best they can be – both on and off the field.
“We remind ourselves every day how important it is that each of us does our best, because there is a guy to your right or left that needs you to be at your best.”