Spotlight on Charlotte: Most likely to appear in a Super Bowl? Jamal Covington.
The redshirt junior offensive tackle has spent the last month thinking about the legacy created by another man, a man he called “my father figure away from home.”
That was 49ers line coach Phil Ratliff, who died Aug. 9 at 44 from what has been described as “a cardiac event.”
“He had a strong influence on my life,” Covington said. “He was the person I came to with everything. … He was actually like my dad in Charlotte.”
Ratliff, one of the first hires made by head coach Brad Lambert when he started Charlotte’s program in 2012, talked about playing tough; he would always tell his guys that every play is “like a five-second fistfight,” Covington recalled. And Ratliff emphasized they were part of something bigger than themselves — and not just when they dropped into a three-point stance, either.
“That was his biggest thing,” Covington said. “He always told me when I came in his office, he always wanted to help people.”
Covington’s parents, Clinton and Amelia, have always been mindful of that, too. They have long been career developers, steering folks in Fayetteville, Ga., toward the type of training needed to improve their job prospects.
Jamal realized the importance of such jobs when he accompanied his dad to work one day.
“There were people that would come out of his office crying,” the younger Covington said, “just saying, ‘Thank you for giving me an opportunity, thank you for impacting my life and doing the things you did for me, to help me better myself.’”
Jamal took that to heart, and he now serves as president of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee at Charlotte. He is a student-athlete rep on the Minority Opportunity Committee.
And he is always thinking about those who line up beside him. Also behind him — another of Ratliff’s lessons.
“He reminded me constantly of who we’re doing this for,” Covington said. “One thing he said was, he never wanted to let his family down, in everything that (he) did.”
Coming out of Fayetteville’s Lovejoy High School, Covington had scholarship offers from Jacksonville State, Louisiana-Monroe, Coastal Carolina and Navy (among others). He chose Charlotte, remembering that Lovejoy coach Al Hughes was always big on the whole legacy thing.
There was something else, too.
“Me, I always wanted that extra challenge,” Covington said. “I knew it was going to be difficult. I knew there was going to be criticism from people: ‘Why are you going there? Why are you doing this? Why are you doing that?’ But I always wanted to do things that were difficult, that were going to challenge myself.”
He was the team’s offensive MVP in 2013, its inaugural season. Last year he was part of unit that averaged 38.9 points and 487.4 yards per game. And last week’s season-opening 23-20 victory over Georgia State was the first FBS game ever for Charlotte, which hosts Presbyterian on Saturday.
It came in the Georgia Dome, making it a homecoming for Covington. Twenty-eight friends and family members were on hand.
It was special for another reason, too. After the game Lambert presented the game ball to Ratliff’s daughter, Haley.
“Of course we all miss Coach Ratliff, but I feel like he would be very proud of the way we performed last weekend,” Covington said.
Which is the whole idea, he added — “remembering him and trying to honor him every day, in everything that we do.”
Doing his legacy proud, in other words.