***Listen to the story***
The 2014 Bednarik Watch List and all-conference candidate says there’s just something different about the run-in to the fall this year.
“You can just see the focus on everybody, even the younger guys that came in that are puppies right now. The focus is just amazing. Everybody’s ready to get after it,” Otis says.
That laser-like focus described by Otis has been well-documented by quarterback Marquise Williams, wide receiver Ryan Switzer and the head coach himself, Larry Fedora.
Where does the work ethic come from? Otis says it starts from the top. Strength and conditioning coach Lou Hernandez has been practicing what he preaches.
“He wants us to work hard. He pushes us to work hard. But the thing that gets us the most is he works hard as a strength coach too. You’ll see him out on daily runs. He’s running three miles. You’ll see him come back in. He’s lifting, foam rolling and stretching,” Otis says.
The Tar Heels, picked to finish fourth in the ACC Coastal by the media, will be hoping the rededication of effort and intensity will lead to a run at an ACC title in 2014. The urgency is certainly there. Coach Fedora says Carolina can’t afford to let this prime opportunity slip by.
One of the most charismatic players on the squad is Switzer. Otis says the sophomore sparkplug cares deeply for the football program, and that includes the Tar Heel fans as well.
“Ryan [Switzer] is a great guy. He does all the little things right. He wants everybody to be happy. If he loves you and is committed to you as a person, he does whatever he can in order to make you happy. Our fans are somebody he loves. They support him, and he wants to give them the same thing in return,” Otis says.
Through the hard work and sweat, Otis and his Tar Heel teammates are growing extremely close. Recently, Switzer wrote his fellow Tar Heels a personal letter. Otis says the family bonds are evident across the board, but says Switzer takes it to a whole new level.
“He was explaining why he does what he does – for us. He says he comes in and works hard every day for us. This is his family. We’re his brothers. He loves us. It meant a lot to us,” Otis says.
Otis is ranked second at UNC in sacks and tackles for a loss. The Gastonia native will be aiming to back up his strong performances a season ago in his Chapel Hill swansong in 2014.
At the media days earlier this week, Coach Fedora didn’t have any problems answering who was the defensive leader on his team in maybe the quickest response ever recorded.
“That’s easy – Norkeithus Otis,” Coach Fedora says. The Carolina skipper says when Otis speaks up, everybody listens. And that’s helpful to a defense that lost the veteran leadership of defensive end Kareem Martin to the NFL.
As for his playing position on the field, Otis says the bandit slot is right up his wheelhouse.
“It’s the best of both worlds. I get to be involved in run stop, I can be a pass rusher, I can be the guy that drops back into coverage, and I can stand back and rush from back. It’s fun. It creates different opportunities for me to make plays,” Otis says.
There is one area of the game, though; even Otis hasn’t always been so comfortable with – his eating habits.
“I didn’t like to eat 24/7. But I’ve learned you’ve got to eat like 6 times a day and eat snacks during the day. It’s fun now,” Otis says.
But if Otis isn’t always so hungry off the field, he’s certainly ravenous on it.