For many high school students with hopes of becoming a college athlete, academics do not usually rank high on the priority list when choosing a school. It might help persuade them in their decision-making process, but most future college athletes are seeking a winning team – not a 4.0.
For Zeb Little, academics came first.
“I had a chance to play football out of high school, but decided to come here for academics,” said Little, a 6-foot-1, 215 pound outside linebacker on the Charlotte 49ers football team.
In 2009, Little gave up his dream of playing college football to focus on school. At the time, rumors of a Charlotte 49ers football team were just beginning to stir.
“I wanted to be an international business major and Charlotte had the program, so I came here and there were whispers back then that there was going to be a football program.”
With no knowledge of whether or not the rumors of a 49ers football team would ever turn true, Little’s playing days were thought to be over. He traded in his high school football pads and helmet for textbooks and a normal college life.
And the normal college life allowed Little to have the time to tune into one of his oldest passions.
“I sing a little bit,” said Little. “I’ve been singing since I was 5-years-old, so I love it. R&B is my favorite genre.”
Little spent two years as the president of UNC Charlotte’s Men’s Choir. He also spent two years as treasurer.
Being immersed in the 49er student life gave Little a different appreciation of the university than most. He started college as a student, not a student athlete, and was active in on-campus groups.
Outside linebacker coach Napoleon Sykes says Little’s experience as a student and not a student athlete brings a perspective to the team that no one else has.
“What he brought to us was knowledge about life as a UNC Charlotte student,” said Sykes. “He knows everything about the university, and has really helped everyone get adjusted.”
Although Little has adjusted to his new role of being a college athlete, he understands the addition of the football program didn’t come without a cost to students.
“I know a lot of people have been upset about the tuition hike, but I think the biggest thing is that the fans and everybody that has doubts about the football program really need to understand that we’re just as appreciative of them as they are of having us here,” said Little.
Little sympathized with his fellow 49ers about the 4 percent tuition-fees hike knowing college expenses are growing exponentially. The sympathy was real. The Lexington, N.C. native is as humble and genuine as they come.
“We just want to make everybody aware of the fact that we’re glad they’re supporting us,” said Little. “We really appreciate the opportunity.”
The opportunity was there for Little, but the adjustment wasn’t easy.
“He came to us from a student tryout and hadn’t played football since he was in high school,” said Sykes.
“On top of a hiatus from the game, he had never played linebacker before. So from the first day, he didn’t step right in as an on-the-field leader.”
Little remained active by playing in flag football tournaments, both regional and national. Staying in shape during the few years between high school and tryouts proved to be difficult.
“That was the biggest challenge,” said Little. “Two to three years of working out on my own, doing my own thing. I was just hoping and praying that it would all pay off.”
Little’s hoping and praying has more than paid off. He went from a college student at a walk-on student tryout to being one of the leaders of the outside linebackers on the first-ever Charlotte 49ers football team.
“I just decided, ‘Hey, I’m going to come to school and if they get a program together, I’ll take a shot, try to walk on,’ and it ended up working out.”