Coastal Carolina began preparations for its first season with bowl eligibility in the program’s 16-year history on Friday with the team’s first practice of the 2018 season at Brooks Stadium.
The Chanticleers are entering their second season in the Sun Belt Conference, but were not eligible for a bowl game as part of their transition to the Football Bowl Subdivision from the school’s 14 years at the Football Championship Subdivision level.
Coastal went 3-9 overall and 2-6 in the Sun Belt last season.
“This year we really want to make our mark on the FBS level, so we’re really hoping for a bowl game this year,” said sophomore running back Alex James of Florence.
The Chanticleers open the season at noon Sept. 1 at South Carolina.
They were picked to finish last in the Sun Belt Conference’s East Division in a preseason poll of the league’s coaches.
“What’s going on now is frankly a function maybe of what took place a year ago, but no matter where anybody picks you, whether it’s No. 1 in the country or last in the country, it’s irrelevant. It really, really is,” CCU head coach Joe Moglia said.
“We look at [the poll], we don’t really pay it that much attention though because we know what we have on this team,” James said. “We have a very talented group of young men. We look at it as motivation. We don’t focus on it, but we definitely use it when we have down practices to get through those tough times.”
Moglia returns to the sideline this season after sitting out last year due to a medical leave for a bacterial infection affecting his lungs. Offensive coordinator and associate head coach Jamey Chadwell will be able to focus more on the offense after serving as the interim head coach last season.
“We all welcomed [Moglia] back with open arms and we’re really excited to get him out here again and start to get this thing rolling this year,” said Silas Kelly, CCU’s only representative on the preseason All-Sun Belt Conference First or Second Teams. “I just want to win.”
Moglia was 51-15 while coaching the Chanticleers for five seasons through 2016.
“I think there is always a value to stepping away from something and observing it a little bit more from the outside,” Moglia said. “Sometimes when you’re on the inside you get a little too emotionally involved, you don’t see the forest through the trees. I don’t know if I learned anything different than I would have learned had I been there, but I’m certainly aware of the mistakes we made and some of the things we can do moving forward.”
The Chanticleers have a new defensive coordinator in Marvin Sanders following the retirement of Mickey Matthews. Sanders is a former defensive coordinator at North Carolina who has 23 years of collegiate coaching experience.
“I couldn’t have more respect for Marvin as a man, as a football coach and as a coordinator,” Moglia said. “I think our coaches have learned a lot from him. I think he has a great understanding of how to prioritize. The kids so far I think have responded to him and I know the staff has.”
“. . . He brings a lot of experience and open-mindedness to the table which is something that will always help us down the road.”
The returning defensive players have taken note of Sanders approach to coaching. “I really feel like he has energized us as a team, and we’re all really motivated to work his system and get out there and show people what we can do,” Kelly said. “We all want to put the best thing we can on the field for him because he’s got a great scheme, he’s a great guy.”
Coastal will be playing the season with just 70 available scholarships as part of its transition to FBS, while its established FBS opponents have 85 available scholarships.
“A 15-scholarship differential is a significant disadvantage in a sense that it impacts our depth on a relative basis as well as our special teams,” Moglia said. “But we’ve got to be able to make up for that, and we’ll work hard to do that.”
The Chanticleers endured a program-record nine-game losing streak last year, but registered their first ever Sun Belt win in the 11th game and ended the season with a two-game winning streak.
“We always knew what we were capable of. We really felt we were beating ourselves last year,” Kelly said. “It felt good to win a couple games last year, but we’re all just focused on this season. . . . We’re all just moving forward trying to get the things we need to get done during this camp, and not worried about anything else except for the games we have ahead of us.”
Five of Coastal’s nine losses in 2017 came by eight points or less. “We need to focus on the little things, just really emphasize the things we didn’t do last season that really cut us short,” James said. “So just focus on the little things to do what we can to propel us to a bowl game.”