CCU Liberty (copy)

Photo by Ian Livingston Brooking

Last season, the Coastal Carolina football team went to Lawrence, Kansas, and pulled off one of the greatest victories in program history.

The 12-7 win over the Jayhawks on Sept. 7, 2019, was Coastal football's first-ever victory over a Power 5 school. On Saturday, the Chanticleers return to Lawrence in hopes of starting the 2020 season with a major boost.

“We have been gearing up for this moment for a while,” second-year head coach Jamey Chadwell said. “Our guys are tired of hitting each other. It’s been a long time coming with a lot of ups and downs. Mentally, they are ready.”

The Chants return to the gridiron with a strong defense that includes returning defensive end Tarron Jackson, defensive tackle C.J. Brewer and linebacker Teddy Gallagher.

CCU also has a few newcomers in linebacker Kendricks Gladney and cornerback D’Jordan Strong. 

“I have been ready for this game,” Strong said. “This is something that I have been dreaming about since I was a kid at 7 years old. It’s going to be surreal after everything I have been through playing in junior college. I might even cry, honestly.”

Emotions will certainly be running high for senior linebacker Silas Kelly, who left the Kansas game last year due to injury and then missed the rest of the season.

For Kelly, going back to where it all happened makes his return to the field “a little sweeter.”

“Everything I have been through has been a blessing to be able to get on the field with my team,” he said. “I remember the first time I was able to get back out on the field. I was overcome with so much joy. I can’t wait for this Saturday. I know that I’m up for it.”

Kelly spoke highly of his teammates, particularly Gallagher and Strong. He said they are ready to show the college football world what Coastal’s all about.

“Teddy is a dog,” Kelly said. “He is the run-through-your-face type of guy and he isn’t afraid of anyone. [Strong] brings the attitude to the cornerback position, which is what you need, and he is one hell of an athlete that brings a lot to our team that we were missing … and it’s a blessing to have him [as] a part of our team.”

Of the Chants’ seven losses last season, five of them were by 10 points or fewer. Though Coastal pulled off a huge victory out in Kansas last year, the team remains focused on closing out games this fall.

“The little things are what got us beat last season, so that is what we have been focusing on,” Strong said. “Things like running to the ball, stopping the opposing team on third down is what has been stressed to us.”

Kelly said playing like a unit is “critical” to the team’s success — both against Kansas and throughout the season.

“We’re going to trust each other, and we’re going to hit hard every time,” he said. “We feel like we have a bunch of playmakers on our team, especially on defense, that can make something happen. Playing as a unit will help us a lot this year.”

Strong said there is going be an “excitement” when the team takes the field, especially on defense.

“We bring a lot of energy,” he said. “We are going to rough you up. We’re going to let you know how bad we’re going to rough you up, too. I promise that the fans and the opposing team are going to get 100% out of the defense.”

The weather is expected to be in the mid-50s out in Lawrence at kickoff. That would be a lot different than the scorching heat the team’s been practicing in leading up to the season opener. 

Some players, however, feel the Grand Strand’s recent weather puts the Chants at an advantage.

“It is only going to help us,” Kelly said. “It gets you in better condition. Once you get warm, you’re warm. So I think it is going to be an advantage out there with the cooler weather.”

The matchup between the Chanticleers and the Jayhawks will be featured on live television with a 10 p.m. kickoff on Fox Sports 1.

Chadwell said live television exposure is something “you can’t say no to.”

“Any time you can get on national television, it’s a positive,” he said. “No matter who you are playing, you get to showcase your university and your football program.”

A 10 p.m. kickoff means the game will be done well past midnight, possibly later than 1 a.m. — a timeframe Chadwell’s team isn’t particularly used to.

“We’ve been playing at 10 p.m. before, but we are usually in the third quarter by that time,” Chadwell said. “It is unique. It is something that we will have to work through, and we have had some time to figure that out. We’ve played late before, but we have never kicked off that late." 

The Chanticleers are 10-7 all-time in season openers. Of their 17 season openers, 11 have been on the road, where the Chants have won six games.

This is the fourth time in program history that the Chanticleers have opened a new season with a Power 5 opponent. Coastal lost all three prior matchups.

The last time the Chants opened their season on the road against a Power 5 team was in 2018 when the Chants traveled to Columbia to take on South Carolina. The Gamecocks defeated the Chanticleers 49-15.

Heading into the season, the Chanticleers were picked to finish dead last in the Sun Belt’s East Division and the conference overall.

But the team is using that as motivation.

“We are sick and tired of people ranking us 10th,” Strong said. “We are going to prove out there that we not only belong out there, but that we are one of the top contenders in the conference. We are going to bring so many new things to this program.”

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