CHARLOTTE, N.C. – With a halogen grin, Charlotte receiver Grant DuBose pulled out his cellphone and scrolled through the pictures.
He pulled up a shot from last September, when he spent the fall working at Wal-Mart after his season got canceled at Division II Miles (Alabama) College. He spent that time working three jobs, including two at a commissary on a local military base and at a local manufacturing plant, Glovis Alabama, in his hometown of Montgomery.
“I worked in online grocery pickup,” he said of Wal-Mart. “So people who placed online grocery orders, I took care of them.”
In his first game since transferring to Charlotte this summer, Dubose simply delivered the goods. In Charlotte’s 31-28 upset of Duke on Friday night, Dubose caught four passes for 118 yards and scored two touchdowns to power the school’s first win over a Power Five conference school.
DuBose's second touchdown was one of Charlotte’s two scores in the game’s final 2:59 that helped deliver the improbable upset.
“It doesn’t feel real,” DuBose said afterward. “I’m still trying to soak all of it in. I went from Division II and now I’m playing a Power Five opponent.”
As the stands emptied and a mosh pit formed in the middle of the field, the scene rekindled emotions of the enduring and endearing power that college football can deliver. There’s nothing like doing something for the first time, and Charlotte’s historic win under third-year coach Will Healy delivered the most powerful scene in the program’s nine-year history.
Fans ripped off their shirts, bobbed up and down and celebrated not only a seminal moment for the program, but the ability to feel the communal energy and elation that’s inherent to a campus community coming to together for a win.
“It’s like everyone is throwing up joy,” marveled Charlotte strength coach Chris Laskowski as he surveyed the mobs of students on the field.
At the postgame podium, with his 6-year-old son, Eli, on his lap, there was plenty for Healy to marvel at. Charlotte had nine games canceled last season, finished 2-4 and one of those losses was a 53-19 drubbing at Duke.
Healy’s voice got choked up a bit mentioning a scene he caught earlier in the day at the hotel. He spied DuBose, a 6-foot-2, 200-pounder, walking through the team training table at Charlotte’s hotel with his cellphone out videoing the Gatorades and food spread.
“'This is big-time, Coach, thank you so much for this opportunity,'” Healy recalled him saying. “That’s how thankful he is. That’s how he practices. He doesn’t realize how talented he is. But he’s a special talent. He’s been that way the entire camp.”
DuBose combined with redshirt senior star Victor Tucker (eight catches, 133 yards) to prove a formidable tandem. Quarterback Chris Reynolds completed 9 of 10 passes on the final two scoring drives for 161 yards, including the 11-yard game-winner to Shadrick Byrd with 33 seconds left.
That sparked a scene that flashes Charlotte's potential. With a student body of 31,000, a rich local recruiting base and a team that reached its first bowl in school history in Healy’s first season, Friday marked the collision of the students, talent and spirit that a historic night can foster.
It was indicative of Healy’s ability to galvanize the community that ESPN commentator Jay Bilas introduced himself to Carolina Panthers coach Matt Rhule on the sideline by saying: “Do you know Will?” Rhule spoke to the Charlotte team on Thursday and Healy has spoken at Bilas’ camps and impressed with his ability to capture the room.
Now the team is capturing campus, which is part of the battle. “I spoke at the commencement, and one of the things I spoke about was make this the big time,” Healy told Yahoo Sports after the game. “You go to Charlotte, don’t wear Clemson stuff on campus. Let’s make this place cool.”
Healy, 36, is cut from the mode of Dabo Swinney and P.J. Fleck, spending much more time on connecting, motivating and recruiting than he does on X's and O's. He began forming a strong reputation while head coach at Austin Peay, when he had practice cameras focused only on body language and mandatory celebrations for good plays. He famously celebrates every win in a thumping locker room scene known as Club Lit, where Healy takes off his shirt to expose his Dad Bod and crowd surfs over the mob of players.
“I wanted this job for a reason,” Healy said. “I feel like you can make it big-time here. Tonight was a good start.”
And it may be remembered as the start of a promising career for DuBose, who got here only because Charlotte backup quarterback James Foster, a Texas A&M transfer, worked out with DuBose back in Montgomery and recommended him to Healy. DuBose was in the transfer portal after Miles College’s fall season was off.
When DuBose came to Charlotte to work out, he immediately and obviously established himself as better than the Power Five transfers Charlotte was looking at. And Healy loved his attitude, recalling DuBose saying something to the effect of: “Coach, I’d die to be here.”
He arrived with a flourish on Friday night. The road from grocery pickup to national television is a long one. Perhaps there was a sign all along. When DuBose sent Yahoo Sports a picture of him in his blue Wal-Mart vest, the name tag proved prophetic: “We’ve got STAR POWER,” it read, with the phrase decorated by the most fitting predictor of Friday night — five stars.