Ex-rivals Bumgarner, Fleming on same side of ball
Two years ago, Zach Bumgarner and Tanner Fleming were battling each other as rivals on the prep gridiron.
Now, both Charlotte 49er football players share the same side of the field heading into the program’s second-ever season.
Bumgarner, who played offensive tackle and served as longsnapper last season, made the move to defensive line this past season and changed his physique.
“I love it,” Bumgarner said of his position change. “I have put on about 15 pounds since last season. I feel much more prepared to make an impact in the trenches.”
Bumgarner also traded numbers — switching from No. 71 to 51.
The 6-foot-4, 250-pound Bumgarner returns to his roots during his prep days at St. Stephens High School, where he played defensive end.
Not much has changed for Fleming, who is entering his second season at UNC-Charlotte after transferring from the Air Force Academy.
The 6-foot-1, 275-pound defensive tackle recorded 21 tackles (1.5 for a loss) last season, including a season-high five against No. 16 James Madison. He also made one sack.
Fleming was named third team FCS Independent All-conference by collegesportsmadness.com.
The former Fred T. Foard High School standout feels better physically heading into the Niners 2014 campaign.
“I've gotten stronger in the weight room, as well as the rest of the team,” Fleming said. “The offseason program under coach Jim Derning really gave us substantial results this summer, which will really highlight our physical improvements.”
Bumgarner and Fleming, along with Niners starting quarterback Matt Johnson, have bonded off the field of play. The two have been seen playing golf together and swimming among other things.
When Fleming found out he’d be playing next to Bumgarner on the defensive line, he was ecstatic.
“Playing beside Zach is a lot of fun,” Fleming said. “We grew up playing against each other and have always had that competitive edge, which really helps us work together now at the same position.”
Fleming said Bumgarner’s experience at offensive line helped the former Indian understand both sides of the ball better.
“As Zach transferred from the offensive line, he has been able to help us as a unit point out offensive tendencies and sort of break down the offensive side of the ball for us,” Fleming said. “In return, I've been able to help him develop as a defensive lineman, and hopefully, we will both be out there on the field together making plays this season.”
In its first season, the UNC-Charlotte football program won its first two games of the season before finishing the year with a 5-6 record.
Bumgarner said the 49ers are much more prepared heading into the 2014-15 season.
“Not only are we much more experienced this year, we are a lot stronger,” he said. “Our strength staff has done a great job preparing us this offseason. Having year one under our belts will be a huge plus in year two. We have been in games, and we know what it takes to win at this level. We think this team has potential to be special. We are ready for the opportunity to go out and prove it.”
The Charlotte 49ers kick off their second-ever season on Thursday, Aug. 28 in Buies Creek, N.C. against Campbell.
The Niners first home contest is Saturday, Sept. 6 against Johnson C. Smith at noon.
Fleming believes he and his teammates can improve on their record for just a second ago.
“With year one behind us we have gotten the experience under our belts, which only motivates us to set the bar higher,” Fleming said. “Finishing with a 5-6 record was not acceptable for our team, and this year, we plan to raise the number in the ‘W’ column. We really want to make a statement heading into Conference USA the following season.”