Written By: Matthew Sokol, Blog Contributor
Being a Blackshirt player on defense means much more than just the color of a practice shirt, it represents certain qualities that a player must demonstrate. Campbell head football coach Mike Minter feels it must represent key character traits like excellence, sacrifice, commitment, and trust. The tradition can be traced back to the dominant Nebraska Cornhuskers’ defensive units of the early 1960s, but the legend is just starting to grow here in Buies Creek.
South Carolina State redshirt sophomore transfer Carlos Merritt is new to the team at defensive back this year, but his understanding of the Blackshirt concept is becoming an instant reality.
“It is humbling [being a black shirt] and it stands for something that we work for all camp to be named a black shirt to able to lead the team in a strong way,” said Merritt.
Entering the second year as a newfound tradition here at Campbell, the team is really starting to experience the effects of wearing the Blackshirts in practice. Redshirt freshman Jack Ryan, who is tied for the team lead with 5.5 tackles per game, has instantly bought in to the hard working mindset that goes into earning that spot.
“This is what we’re all striving for all through camp and all spring,” said Ryan. “Everybody is out fighting to get one, and it is not like you get one where it’s automatic you keep it for the rest of the season. It is what all of the defense wants to do.”
Just last year, Minter wanted to provide a similar experience for his players as what transpired for him during his legendary playing career, so the Fighting Camels’ head coach implemented the Blackshirt tradition that brought about such great joy.
“I was lucky enough to get mine my freshman year, and it came in the locker where it was in a cubby hole,” the passionate head coach explained, adding, “I pulled it out and I wasn’t expecting it. (Then) boom there it is, I am a Blackshirt, so I was excited.”
The Campbell coaching staff works together to help decide who deserves the honor of being named a Blackshirt – searching for a player on defense that represents qualities of excellence, sacrifice, commitment, and trust each and every day in practice.
Minter, the third-year head coach, has used this reward as a way to implement toughness into the program. The former Carolina Panther safety thrived under that Blackshirt mantra at Nebraska and loves how many of his current Campbell players are now buying into the commitment that goes into earning the honor.
“Blackshirts started way before me, and when we got there it was really about how can we be part of it,” said Minter. “That is the number one thing you want as a defensive guy is to get your black shirt. When you get your black shirt, it means you have arrived.”
That hard working mindset has transformed the Fighting Camels defense into an instant contender, allowing merely 11.5 points per game while giving up just 198 total yards per game.
With this new mindset fully ingrained, and sticking out among team leaders, the defensive crew knows what it will take to both earn their Blackshirts and keep the tradition going.
The success for Campbell Football is limitless, especially following the values that Mike Minter learned at Nebraska, playing on back-to-back National Championship squads in 1994-95. Winning is the only thing on the mind of the Blackshirts defense, built around that unique Cornhusker hard-hitting mentality.