CCU plays for something bigger than conference title after moving up to FBS

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While it is still a few months until fall camp commences, spring is a time when the page is turned to the new football season as coaching staffs tinker with personnel, competition at vacant positions heats up and young players receive increased reps in the hope of developing into somebody that can be counted on.

Unlike most Football Championship Subdivision programs, preparing for the 2016 season at Coastal Carolina does not include talk of chasing a conference title or making the FCS playoffs.

The reason why there is no such chatter is this spring marks the start of a year that serves as a stepping stone to FBS membership. The Chanticleers have left the Big South Conference and will play as an FCS independent not eligible for postseason play before joining the Sun Belt Conference as a probationary member next year.

One might think the lack of a conference title and being exempt from the postseason could provide a bit of an empty feeling this year. However, the message resonating through spring drills is there is still much to play for.

“If we are fortunate to be able to put things together, why can’t this be the greatest season that Coastal Carolina has ever had?” said coach Joe Moglia, the 2015 FCS coach of the year. “That is certainly something to shoot for.”

Regardless of parameters Moglia knows all about striving for lofty heights while maintaining focus on the task at hand. It is such a standard he established in a business career that included 17 years at Merrill Lynch followed by seven as CEO of TD Ameritrade, with whom he still serves as chairman. It is a standard he has set in Conway, S.C.

“While there may not be a conference title, there is still a mission,” he said. “Our mission is to put a team on the field that all of Coastal is going to be proud of. While winning is an important piece of that, what it really means is that we give 100%, 100% of the time.”

As a grad student who became part of the program in 2012, the same year Moglia took over, running back De’Angelo Henderson has gotten over the feeling of not being postseason eligible in his final season. He is also intent on leaving on a high note and setting the stage for younger players who will experience playing at the FBS level.

“We have had (since the September Sun Belt announcement) to think about it and digest everything,” said last season’s Big South’s leader in, among other categories, rushing yards (1,346) and rushing touchdowns (16). “The thought process now is that we have an opportunity to leave our legacy and jump-start the next group of guys that are going to the Sun Belt. We want to set the bar high for those guys so that they can see what we did and feed off of that heading into the Sun Belt.”

One of those guys is Josh Stilley. The redshirt sophomore is competing to take over at quarterback for Alex Ross, an All-American who completed his career as the Big South’s all-time leader in passing yards.

Stilley, who has been limited this spring because of a foot injury, hears the chatter around campus concerning the move to the Sun Belt and an expansion of Brooks Stadium that will more than double the current capacity (9,214) allowing it to meet FBS attendance requirements. But preparing for 2016 is first and foremost, even if the Chanticleers must call it a year following their final regular season game Nov. 26 against Hampton.

“We don’t talk about not playing for a title or anything like that,” he said. “We go out and try to be the best team that we can be whether or not there is a conference title at the end of the journey. We are going to be the best team that we can be no matter what.”

They are also going to go about their business with great pride. The outgoing seniors would have it no other way. After all this is a program that won four Big South titles in the five-year stretch of 2010-14 and went 9-3 last season.

“I can speak for the rest of the seniors and one of the things we are definitely striving for is to be the best Coastal Carolina team that has ever touched the field,” said Henderson, who enters his senior season.

“Even though we will not be playing in the postseason we have a lot to play for. We have a lot of pride and we want to finish off what we started when we became a part of this program.”

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Above: De’Angelo Henderson wants to help Coastal Carolina gain a foothold in moving up this season to FCS from FBS. (Courtesy Coastal Carolina Athletics)

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