The top 10 Charlotte football players you need to know for the 2016 season.
NT Larry Ogunjobi, Sr.
Charlotte moved to the FBS, and Ogunjobi was one of the players most ready to accept the challenge. A terrific run defender, who can also impact the pocket, he posted 62 tackles, a 49er-high 14.5 stops for loss and 2.5 sacks to land on the All-Conference USA Second Team. The 6-3, 294-pound Ogunjobi is a tireless worker, wearing down his man by constantly fighting through blocks and playing to the whistle.
RB Kalif Phillips, Sr.
Phillips continues to be the cornerstone of the Charlotte offense, earning Second Team All-Conference USA in the program’s debut in the league. He averaged more than five yards a carry, rushing 190 times for 961 yards and five scores. At 5-10 and 205 pounds, Phillips works the hole with ideal pad level, and has the lower body strength to break arm tackles in between the tackles and at the goal line.
OT Jamal Covington, Sr.
For one final season, Covington will serve as Charlotte’s best blocker. He’s a 6-4, 305-pound veteran of 30 career starts and one of the trusted leaders of the entire offense. Covington is unexpectedly agile and light on his feet, making him a perfect fit for left tackle. Had it not been for an injury that shelved him for all or most of five games, he would have been a lock to earn All-Conference USA honors.
WR Austin Duke, Sr.
Duke’s numbers declined in 2015, the result of stiffer competition and awful play from the quarterback position. Still, he led the team in receiving for a third year in a row, making 53 grabs for 534 yards and five touchdowns. A slippery 5-9, 161-pounder out of the slot, Duke can turn short dump-offs into long gainers, though the offense did a poor job of employing his array of talents in 2015.
QB Kevin Olsen, Jr.
Fingers are crossed Charlotte has solved its quarterback quandary with the addition of Olsen, a former four-star Miami recruit who eventually reinvented himself at Riverside (Calif.) City College. In 2015, he had some accuracy issues, finishing with 13 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions. And while the 6-3, 220-pound Olsen wouldn’t be rated four stars today, he left no doubts in the spring that he’s going to be a much better option than what the 49ers had behind center last fall.
LB Nick Cook, Sr.
Cook bounced back from an injury-shortened sophomore season to become one of the defensive standouts of 2015. Despite missing a couple of games, he led the 49ers with 73 tackles, six stops for loss and a pair of forced fumbles from inside linebacker. The 6-1, 223-pound former JUCO transfer plays to the whistle and does a good job of wrapping up in space.
CB Terrance Winchester, Sr.
Winchester was Charlotte’s top back seven performer a year ago, quite an ascent for a former walk-on. He’s the team’s best pass defender, picking off a school-record four passes to go along with 50 tackles, 3.5 stops for loss and two fumble recoveries. Winchester is a long and fast 6-1, 178-pounder whose biggest concern is being outmuscled for jump balls.
LB Daquan Lucas, Sr.
Lucas is a 5-10, 221-pound tank for the 49ers, playing the game with maximum intensity and physicality. He roams the field from outside linebacker with a sense of purpose, providing pressure in the backfield and pass coverage support when needed. Indicative of Lucas’ range, he was second on the team with 10 tackles for loss and first with seven pass breakups.
OG Casey Perry, Jr.
A veteran of 25 career starts, Perry will be one of at least three starters up front for the 49ers. Second only to Jamal Covington on the team, he’s a terrific run blocker who uses all of his leverage and 6-3, 336-pound frame to move the pile. Perry can be susceptible to the inside swim moves of opposing linemen, which is an issue that needs to be addressed this summer.
DE Zach Duncan, Soph.
Duncan finished his rookie year strong, a trend the program hopes will continue in 2016. He started six of the final seven games, ending with 31 tackles, 7.5 stops for loss, a team-high four sacks and two forced fumbles. Since Duncan is just 6-4 and 240 pounds, he could be a liability in run defense, but his motor and quickness will help make him Charlotte’s best pass rusher.
S Devin Pearson, Jr.
Pearson brings 18 career starts into his third season as a 49er. Last year, he chipped in with 46 tackles, a pair of interceptions and a couple of forced fumbles. The 5-10, 189-pounder possesses the requisite versatility to again handle the safety position, providing support to both Charlotte’s pass defense and run D.