Baby steps. Building a college football program is all about baby steps.
Many times, you see a former NFL star take on a program for a few years, and his presence helps give a quick, caffeinated boost of energy … and it seems like moments later he moves on. But that is not what former Carolina Panther and Nebraska standout Mike Minter has done at Campbell.
Minter has taken the Camels from being at the bottom of the standings in a non-scholarship FCS league (Pioneer) to three straight winning seasons – including the last two years while playing in the ever-improving Big South Conference, which is a scholarship league.
There is an energy in this program, a humble swagger in its step – if that makes any sense. Battling 12 other Carolina FCS schools and four Group of Fives is brutal when it comes to recruiting. And there are good programs in Virginia, Georgia and Tennessee eyeballing the Carolina two-state “hotbed” too, but the Camels have carved their niche.
“One thing I understand is that in order for you to master any of this (as a coach), it takes 10 years to make that happen,” Minter told HERO Sports this week. “I can’t be naïve enough to think that just because I played the game, that automatically makes me a mastermind coach. That was one of the driving forces for me, that if I’m going to get into something, I’m going to give it my all and it’s not going to happen overnight.”
Minter has been at the Buies Creek, N.C. campus – about 20 miles south of Raleigh – since 2013.
A couple of weeks ago, the Camels went into the fourth quarter leading Georgia Southern – a lead of which if it had held would have been the school’s first-ever win over an FBS opponent. In the next game, Campbell outrushed Coastal Carolina and had the ball nine more minutes.
The program is 0-2 against FBS schools so far, with clearly its toughest test coming against Appalachian State this weekend – but the Camels have shown glimpses of what is to come in this program. In a way, Campbell is a microcosm of what is happening in the Big South Conference – they’re growing together, and the Camels have had two straight ESPN-network audiences to display it on.
And if Campbell is mirroring what is happening in the conference, seasoned senior DB Darion Slade – the team’s leading tackler and a HERO Sports Preseason All Big South selection – is a microcosm of how his head coach once played for the Cornhuskers in college, and later the NFL’s Panthers.
“We definitely would rather be 2-0,” Slade told HERO Sports this week. “But before CoVID we probably wouldn’t have had nearly as much exposure as we are now. With this year, with the teams we’ve played, it has helped put us on the map.”
Slade is an example of the growth of the program. He actually started two games for the Camels as a true freshman way back in 2016, leading the team in kickoff return average. He’s been around and seen the growth under Minter and his staff.
When he was recruited out of high school, he had Power Five football options but chose Campbell so he could play football and basketball.
“It’s a different mindset with the guys now,” Slade said. “Coach Mint wants to build something. He could easily have gone somewhere else, but he wants to show that in this program, we can build something.”
Campbell is using this short, four-FBS game fall stint as a tool. Last Friday, the program played Coastal Carolina on ESPN on a Friday night. Not ESPN7 or ESPN-Belgium … ESPN. In its season-finale next week, the Camels will face off against Wake Forest on the ACC-Network, another good chance for exposure in a talent-rich region.
Part of the build-up equation is internal, and some of it is external – as in TV exposure and recruiting. If anything good has come from this pandemic, for Campbell it has gotten a chance to get on the radar with people who may not have known much about the Camels.
It’s all about opening that door. Coach Mint and his staff and the program will take it from there.
“When I get into that living room, we’re going to win that kid,” Minter said. “Just get me that meeting in the living room, and we’re good. That was the biggest thing, since people still sometimes think we are a D-III school.
“I feel like once we can get them to see our campus, see our stadium, see our weight room and we can get Mom and Dad on campus and we can meet them? … Just give us that chance.”