The Fayetteville Observer
BUIES CREEK - A framed picture showing three sides of a Pioneer League championship ring hangs in the hallway outside of Campbell coach Dale Steele's office.
Steele, who was hired in 2006 to lead the rebirth of the school's football program, helped design the ring before he had any players. The picture serves as a symbol of his long-term goal for the Camels.
It requires time and patience to build a championship team from scratch, Steele acknowledges. There are steps that have to be taken, and Campbell made progress last year by posting its first winning record. The next step is becoming a consistent winner, the precursor to title contender.
"I've said from the start that this is a process," Steele said. "We didn't in our wildest dreams believe we were going to wear that ring the first year, the second year. We didn't know when we're going to get it, but we know that's the ultimate goal.
"You don't know the schedule, because there are outside forces involved in those things, but it's part of what we want to be. It's a part of getting where you want the program to be overall."
The Camels lost 32 seniors from a group that went 6-5 overall and placed fourth in their 10-team league last season. Picked to finish fifth in the 2012 coaches poll, they open Aug. 30 against Shorter under the new lights at Barker-Lane Stadium.
Campbell returns nine starters, and several players stepping into more prominent roles were valuable backups last season. That's a change from a few years ago, when Steele would have to replace departed seniors with inexperienced underclassmen.
Thirty-six players stayed in Buies Creek this summer, about 10 fewer than the total from the previous one, but Steele was encouraged because the group included a lot of young guys who already understand the commitment needed to excel at the college level.
"When you have a goal to be great or be winners, to win a championship, it takes a long period of focus because we are young, but you can't use that as an excuse," senior safety Paul Pizzuti said. "You have to carry it over through the offseason and use the summer as an asset."
The secondary should be a strength for the Camels, with Pizzuti, senior Brandon Chandler, senior Steth Monroe, junior Jeff Swinton and two redshirt freshmen (Aaron Nichols, Justice Walker) headlining a deep group.
Senior quarterback Braden Smith, the SMU transfer, returns to lead the offense, which moves forward without several key linemen, receivers and running backs from last season. The Camels have had the Pioneer League's best rushing attack for three straight years, but they lost their top three backs from 2011, leaving junior Kurt Odom and several underclassmen to carry the load.
Pizzuti said the standard of play at Campbell has been raised by players like Odom, who plans to apply what he learned from last year's starters and serve as a mentor to the younger backs.
That's part of the blueprint for turning a 6-5 season into a foundation for consistent success.
"We're expecting to win, and we've been practicing like we expect to win," Odom said. "This fall camp has been brutal. The coaches know that; everybody knows that. We have to push ourselves to be at that top level now. We've had a taste of winning, but now we want the whole thing. That's what we're pushing toward."
Senior quarterback Braden Smith threw for 1,965 yards with 14 touchdowns and seven interceptions in his first season after transferring from SMU, where he was a backup QB and linebacker for respected coach June Jones.
Defensive back Brandon Chandler was a second-team all-conference performer last season, when he had 50 tackles with two interceptions, and he's a 2012 preseason all-league pick along with teammate Steth Monroe.
Campbell will play its first Thursday night game when it opens at home on Aug. 30 against Shorter, which has moved up to the Division II level after seven NAIA seasons. The school is located in Rome, Ga. . The Pioneer League has 10 teams and an eight-game league schedule. Dayton, which is picked to finish fourth, is the only league team Campbell doesn't face this season.
Aug. 30 - Shorter, 7 p.m.
Sept. 8 - Va.-Wise, 6 p.m.
Sept. 15 - at Old Dominion, 6 p.m.
Sept. 22 - at Butler, noon
Sept. 29 - Drake, 6 p.m.
Oct. 13 - at San Diego, 5 p.m.
Oct. 20 - Davidson, 6 p.m.
Oct. 27 - at Morehead State, 1 p.m.
Nov. 3 - Valparaiso, 1 p.m.
Nov. 10 - at Jacksonville, noon
Nov. 17 - Marist, 1 p.m.