MANHATTAN — There will be a pocket of Charlotte supporters Saturday in Snyder Family Stadium, though allegiances among many will be directed toward the Lambert family.
Hoxie claims Brad Lambert as its native son. The former Kansas State defensive back coaches the 49ers and his nephew, Trevor, serves as director of football operations.
“Between the two of us, we should have over a hundred people there,’’ Brad said, “but I told our AD I couldn’t guarantee they’ll all be wearing green.’’
Rooting interests in Hoxie, situated in northwest Kansas along US-24 highway, often tend to carry a purple hue. They did when Lambert was a Wildcat from 1984-87, though demand for tickets was minimal during that period before Bill Snyder took control.
“In the football world, in coaching circles,’’ said Lambert, “in my opinion it’s the best job that’s been done in college football, because from my perspective I saw how it was before he got there.’’
The degree of difficulty to the challenge Lambert accepted is similar.
He started Charlotte football from scratch. The competitive venture began with the 2013 season when the 49ers played a mix of FCS and Division II opponents. Yet already, they are playing their third season in the Bowl Subdivision.
“The plan all along was to be an FCS team,’’ Lambert said. “Well, when we started football, all that (conference) realignment started. All this national movement took place.
“Originally, UNC-Charlotte had been in Conference USA, but had to leave because they didn’t have football. Ironically, we started football but hadn’t played a game and Conference USA called and invited us back in the league.’’
All things considered, Charlotte’s 4-8 finish a year ago, including a 3-5 mark in C-USA, was quite respectable.
Especially when it was not that long ago Lambert accepted, and even initiated, speaking engagements just to build awareness about the football start-up at Charlotte.
He also attempted to sell recruits on a vibrant NFL city, a growing enrollment (29,000-plus) and an unbridled passion for football in the South.
“I actually had some guys in recruiting tell me they can’t do the start-up thing and for some guys, it’s not for them,’’ Lambert said. “But we found a group we felt like wanted to take risks and be a part of the first team.’’
The process prompted Lambert to comb the Jayhawk Juco League. One of the players he landed was a Topekan, Branden Dozier, who played high school football for Washburn Rural and is now in the CFL with the Montreal Alouettes.
While Lambert and two original assistants were busy branding Charlotte football, Trevor Lambert was handling day-to-day operations. Trevor actually came from K-State, where he worked in a variety of capacities for the football program and applied that experience to online rush orders.
“Trev was our guy on the ground and he was a critical piece,’’ said Lambert, who also has a K-State teammate, Matt Wallerstedt, on staff as defensive coordinator.
Coaching has obviously taken Lambert, 52, a long ways, to different places with different resources, since his days playing for the Wildcats.
Starting off, he was spotted working a summer camp in Missouri. Word spread to a former K-State assistant, Jim Donnan, who then offensive coordinator at Oklahoma. Donnan seized the recommendation, helped Lambert become a graduate assistant for the Sooners, and their connection spread to head coaching positions Donnan accepted at Marshall and Georgia.
“I remembered him as a player being one of the better corners in the Big Eight and did a good job to the optimum of his abilities,’’ Donnan said.
“We could see how he could develop as a coach from how he worked at that camp. Brad has great people skills and a good awareness of how to coach kids and teach them right. As a young coach, you have to learn that rapport with your players means a lot.’’
You learn too to take some ribbing from veteran coaches, particularly those working at OU for Barry Switzer.
“We’d play golf and we knew Brad was from Hoxie,’’ said Donnan, “so we’d tell him, ‘You can’t go. We don’t have sand greens down here.’’’
Those rural roots, however, remain invaluable and are proudly shared by those who will watch Lambert return to K-State as an opposing coach.
His father and brother (Trevor’s dad) plan to attend the game at K-State, along with Warren Sager, Lambert’s football coach at Hoxie.
“I haven’t seen the new building and I haven’t been back to a game since the late ‘80s,’’ Lambert said, referring to his time at OU. “Looking forward to coming back. The only problem is the team on the field is going to be waiting for us. Kansas State is pretty good.’’
Contact Kevin Haskin at email@example.com or @KevinHaskin on Twitter.