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Hawks continue building

MURFREESBORO n It’s been a tough week on Chowan University’s football field.

Second-year coach Lorick Atkinson said as much during his weekly press gaggle Tuesday.

“It’s been tough,” he said. “That one Saturday really hurt.”

Saturday was the day when the Hawks came within two yards of reaching the endzone when time expired during a 10-5 loss to Brevard College.

While the loss still stings, the coach said his team was resilient and they were fighting back.

“When you get that close n six feet away n it’s tough,” he said, “but we’ve got to keep fighting. We’ve got to win the little battles and the rest will come.”

The coach said his team had learned heart and character during an 0-6 start and it would continue to show as the final four weeks of the season come around.

“Our kids play with heart,” he said. “You have to give the kids a chance to win. When you have the ball first-and-goal from the two, that’s about as good as you can do. We just didn’t get it across the line.”

While the mounting losses admittedly take their toll, Atkinson nor his team are ready to phone in the season.

“Each one is tougher,” he said. “If you don’t take losing personally, you’re in the wrong business. I hate it for these coaches and players. They have worked so hard. I keep saying it, but these guys deserve to win.

“Sometimes losing creates character,” he continued. “These kids have shown a lot of heart.

“It’s tough going to class and being the joke,” he added. “It’s tough on the kids, the coaches and the coaches’ families.”

While admitting it’s tough, the Hawks will keep on moving, he said.

“We’re going to work to get better,” Atkinson stressed. “We will keep on. We’re playing freshman and sometimes when you do that, things happen. Make no mistake, though, we’re making progress.”

One of the reasons the season has been so difficult is the upgrade in schedule. While last year’s slate included mostly National Collegiate Athletic Association Division III opponents, this year’s club has is facing D-II and NAIA schools.

“Obviously at this point in the transition, we’d love to be playing Division III schools until we’re fully funded at the D-II level,” Atkinson said. “Unfortunately, all the D-III schools dropped us. That leaves us in a position of building the program playing mostly NAIA and D-II schools.”

The coach said all the programs at Chowan would have to make the same sacrifice as the school moved to the D-II level, but that football showed more only because of the number of players involved.

“That’s not an excuse,” he said. “We have to go play them.

“We’ve got to recruit D-II players and that’s going to take time. The staff has to do a better job of recruiting D-II players.”

As he looks to this week’s game at North Greenville, the number one ranked team in the National Christian College Athletic Association, the coach said his focus would be on his team.

“We’ve got to get some confidence back,” Atkinson said. “We’ve had three tough losses where we got beat in the last few minutes of the game,” he added. “It’s hard to keep going, but our focus this week is on our morale.

“We’re not as worried about our opponents as we are on our team,” he added.

Atkinson said the Hawks were facing the second-best team on their schedule behind Division I-AA Western Carolina.

“We’ll have to play above our heads and then some to have a chance to win,” he said.

The Hawks will continue the building process through this week and the rest of the season, the coach said.

“It’s a building process and we will continue to build this program,” he added. “The retention rate was better this year and it should be even better next year. We have to keep kids in the program.”

If they do that, the results on the field will come, the coach said.

“Winning will come,” he said. “Programs are about more than winning and we are becoming a program and that’s the first step.

“We have to continue creating an identity,” he added. “Once we see the fruits of this labor, it’s going to be very gratifying for the coaches and the players and that’s going to happen.”

The coach said he was proud of the team and proud of the student body at Chowan.

“I’m proud of the fact this team of players and coaches come to work every day,” he said. “We could have tanked it, but we haven’t.

“The student body n the Nest, I thank them personally,” he said. “We appreciate their support. Saturday had a college game atmosphere. Unfortunately, we came out on the short side, but it wasn’t due to their lack of support.”

The coach said the support and effort were part of the puzzle he and his staff were assembling.

“It was a bigger puzzle than I previously thought,” he said. “The key to fixing a puzzle is to get the right pieces. The pieces are starting to fall.

“Do we have all the right pieces? Absolutely not,” he added. “We’re going to keep putting the pieces in place.”