Johnson C. Smith football usually begins spring practice on its home field, but this season has been different.
McGirt Field’s grass field is being replaced with synthetic turf, its first renovation since opening in 2003.
In the interim, the team held its first three practices at West Charlotte High School. Its latest session was held at Bank of America Stadium on Thursday.
JCSU football head coach Maurice Flowers said the team views each practice as a “road game.” Coincidentally, all seven losses in Flowers’ 2-7 debut campaign last season were away from home.
This year, he’s expecting a different result.
“We’re not the same team that finished the season last year,” he said. “We’re looking to contend for a CIAA championship.”
Reaching out to a neighbor
Flowers said when he learned that their home field wouldn’t be ready for Spring practice, he knew he had to find a temporary practice location.
Bank of America Stadium was a dream destination less than 2 miles from JCSU’s campus.
JCSU officials contacted the Panthers in March to inquire about using Bank of America Stadium for a spring practice.
“I was always taught they can only say no,” Flowers said.
After reviewing the stadium calendar, they agreed to host the practice on April 6.
Riley Fields, Panthers director of community relations, said the organization was “thrilled” to fulfill Flower’s request.
They viewed it as an opportunity to grow its connections with local schools, particularly those with football programs.
“To provide resources, opportunities and experiences that support the growth of the sport is a strong mission for the organization,” Fields said.
Flowers said players began expressing their excitement shortly after learning they would practice on the field.
And though he wanted them to enjoy the moment, the real focus is on having a productive practice.
Junior transfer Jack Smith said playing in the NFL has always been a childhood dream.
He said JCSU’s coaching staff gave him a “second chance” to continue his career. The opportunity to practice at the Panthers’ stadium makes the goal feel more obtainable.
“It makes you want to go even harder, knowing that you could be a step closer to [getting] there,” he said.
Year two improvements
Flowers said the team was much better than their final ranking in 2022.
Last season was a developmental year for the Golden Bulls. The 84-player roster consisted of 53 freshmen and 12 transfers.
Despite their record, the team was competitive throughout the season, Flowers said. Six of the team’s seven losses were decided by one score.
Senior quarterback Tyrell Jackson said the team grew closer during the difficult season.
That bond, paired with the experience they earned last season, will lead to more wins, he said.
Jackson said the team must focus on the “little things” that caused their losses to improve heading into the new season.
Flowers said the team has spent more time in the weight room and studying film over the past three months.
He hopes the work they’ve put in during the off-season will be evident on the field.
“We’ve grown so much. We’re a team that’s really gotten better,” Flowers said.
“We’re older. We’re better. We’re stronger. We’re faster.”
McGirt Field is scheduled to be completed within the next two weeks, just in time for the team’s intrasquad scrimmage on April 22.