Gio An 'Uncommon' Back

December 16, 2001 was a frigid day in Chicago and the Bears were playing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Soldier Field.  It was my first full season as Offensive Coordinator and our record was 9-3 at the time (we finished the year at 13-3).  We were pounding the Bucs pretty good behind our mammoth offensive line.  Pro bowlers Olin Kruetz and “Big Cat” Williams cleared the way for the NFL Rookie of the Year, Anthony “A-Train” Thomas.  At halftime of that game our Head Coach, Dick Jauron, was listening to me talk to the staff about pass protections and patterns that I thought would work well in the second half.  He came over to me with a stat sheet that said “A-Train” was averaging over 7 yard per carry in the first half.  I told him we had some nice play action passes coming up.  He looked me in the eye said very clearly, “John, I suggest you keep handing it to Anthony until that average goes down.”  The “A-Train” finished the game with 31 carries for 173 yards in a 27-3 Bears win.

I thought of that story when I saw Gio Bernard’s stats last week versus Va. Tech.  He averaged 11.4 yard on 23 carries. I pictured Dick Jauron wondering why he didn’t carry it more.
In my first article of the season I said that UNC would be undefeated in games Gio had 25 carries or more.  While he fell two short last week I stand by my prediction.  I have coached for 21 years, including 12 in the NFL, and have been around some great running backs.  Gio Bernard is uncommon.  He combines finishing speed with rare lateral quickness.  He has great strength, toughness, and intelligence.  If he has endurance and durability the second half of the season he could be an All-American. 
Endurance and durability in football players are qualities that can often be overlooked by the average fan.  The first question a good pro scout asks is how many games and practices has a player missed over his college career.  The best ability is availability.  With Gio available and running behind a mammoth offensive line, UNC will be tough to beat in the second half of the season. 
Duke v. Va. Tech
Having good game film to study is an important part of putting a game plan together.  As Duke coaches prepare for Va. Tech, they will study two weeks of spread offenses attacking the Va. Tech defense.  Cincinnati and UNC both had success against the Hokies and I am certain those game films have generated great ideas for Duke OC Kurt Roper and his staff.  Conversely, Va. Tech is usually pretty good at putting out fires and for them to be sitting at 3-3 right now is unusual.  I look forward to what Hokie DC Bud Foster will do schematically to douse the flames. 
The last thing a coordinator wants out in the world of video is a template for how to attack their schemes.  I am certain video coordinators from across the country are calling one another trying to get the last two games against the Va. Tech defense for their coaching staffs to study. 
When I coached at UNC I thought it was an advantage to play Duke late in the season.  I thought we had greater depth than they did, and by the last game of the season neither of us was playing with our starting 22. 
A team’s endurance and durability become evident in a number of ways during the season.   Within a drive they show up on about play ten.  One side of the ball is starting to cave as the other gets stronger.  Within a game they show up in the second half box score.  Within a season they show up at about the half-way point.  Some teams talk about how banged up they are and make excuses, others endure and keep fighting until they get players back.  Duke has demonstrated drive, game, and seasonal endurance.
Drive endurance was evident last week versus UVa.  Duke finished six drives with TDs. While I love Connor and Casey Barth, I regularly told them I hoped they only kicked extra points each week.  Converting red zone opportunities into touchdowns often has more to do with endurance and durability than it does schemes.  On the tenth play of a drive the team with greater mental and physical endurance and durability will execute better when tired. 
The Blue Devils outscored UVa 28-0 in the second half, a sure sign of Duke’s game endurance.
So far Duke has demonstrated seasonal endurance and durability, too.  Their team has had opportunities to make excuses for some uncommon injuries that happened in the off season. But their next man up attitude was evident to me than last week at the QB position.  I think Sean Renfree is a fine QB.  And when he went down, Anthony Boone played effectively and he went 18-31 with 4 touchdown passes.  Nothing gets an injured player back into playing shape like his back up going in and playing great. 
NC State – bye
When focusing on endurance and durability, the State win versus FSU last week is a good place to finish.  The Pack outscored the Noles 17-0 in the second half.  FSU’s second half pass rush was not nearly what it was to begin the game.  Mike Glennon worked the pocket beautifully behind a patchwork offensive line.  And in the fourth quarter, he engineered two memorable touchdown drives for the win. 
This week State has a bye.  There were three things I wanted to accomplish as a coach on an off week.  First, I wanted to do a self scout.  I would newsreel our games from the season so far and ask myself if we were forging the identity that we hoped for going into the season. 
Second, our staff would recruit.  As a coordinator it is hard to recruit in season as well as I would have liked.  I would watch a lot of high school film and talk on the phone with high school coaches and with players who we were recruiting. 
Third, and most importantly, I would try to rest.  The endurance and durability of the coaching staff is important too and often neglected.  In the coaching world there is a mentality that rest is for the weak.  But the older I get, the more I realize how much rest and sleep sharpens my senses as a coach.  It is hard to create a game plan and make snap decisions on game day when you are sleep deprived.

Art's Angle: All White Is All Right

Hey, Coach, can we wear all white the next two weeks in Dade County and Durham?

White was sure right Saturday, as Carolina kicked old nemesis Virginia Tech around antiseptic Kenan Stadium for a signature win that pretty much showed us the full measure of Larry Fedora’s football program.
The less-than-capacity crowd made enough white noise so it seemed full, increasing the decibel as the slow-starting Tar Heels followed three straight three-and-outs and a Virginia Tech touchdown with Sean Tapley’s 94-yard kickoff return to the White House that tied the game. From there, all those Marooned in the northeast corner had little to cheer about.
Since it was the first such score given up by the vaunted Beamer Ball special teams since 1993, 237 games ago, they kind of knew there was more white lighting to come. Giovani Bernard lost three yards in the first quarter, then gained 265 over the last three to pass names like Voight, Means and Bryant as the 5th highest single-game rusher in UNC history.
Sure there was sloppy play and eight penalties in the first period alone by the amped-up Heels, who relinquished a 93-yard kickoff return and several long bombs of their own. But where the Hokies usually excel, on the ground, they were limited to 40 yards all sun-splashed afternoon. Go figure.
Carolina has now rung up its first consecutive 45-point games since 1993, when Mack Brown had his program smoking. And although it was 66 last week, Virginia Tech ain’t no Idaho. Any time you can manhandle a Bud Foster defense like the White Phantoms did, you’ve had a good day at the office. Make that a great day.
The Tar Heels remain unbeaten at home in Fedora’s freshman season, but they finally gave up a touchdown in their own house – four, as a matter of record. But they still own the cumulative third quarter (83-6) and second-half (119-24) scores. And they’re getting better in the first half, leading 28-20 at the break that should have been more lopsided but for Bernard’s bobble of a punt near mid-field. Since there has been so much talk of academics lately, it was Gio’s only “F” of an otherwise straight-A day.
The human bowling ball from Florida, where he’ll go home to Saturday against Miami, may be the most versatile player Carolina has ever had. He’s both a finesse and ferocious runner, has great hands to snag Bryn Renner’s passes and is dangerous from anywhere on the field as long as Coach Larry leaves him in the game, which was almost till the happy ending of the Great White Out that was more like a Wipe Out.
Gio’s first 62 yards came on the first snap of the second quarter on a bit of chicanery from Fedora and O-coordinator Blake Anderson, who say they were talked into it by the offense during the timeout between quarters. Facing a 4th-and-1 from their own 38, play resumed with both the offensive unit and the punting team standing on the field near the home sideline. Would they try a hard count to draw the Hokies off side and then punt, or just kick it away with the score tied at 14?
When the whistle blew, the punting team jumped back out of bounds, and the offense sprinted right to the line of scrimmage, as the Hokies bunched everyone in the box to stop whatever was coming. Fedora must have some nickname for the play, like Sprint or Scram or Hiccup.
I would call it SUCKER. The moment the offense was set, Russell Bodine snapped the ball to Renner, who handed it to Gio off left tackle. With tight end Jack Tabb sealing the edge, Bernard bolted through the stunned defense and was in the end zone before the Hokies knew what the hell happened.
The Virginia Tech dam was leaking and it burst in the third quarter when linebacker Travis Hughes stripped the runner and returned the ball eight yards. A few snaps later, Renner hit Tapley with his second score down the left sideline. All White was All Right from there to the alma mater in front of the Tar Pit and into the tunnel.
Here are a few more numbers from the 48-34 whitening of Virginia Tech: 

  • Most points against the Hokies since 42 in the 1998 Gator Bowl (Brown’s last team, although Mack was already unpacking in Texas).

  • In what is generally a drudgery game, most combined points since a 39-21 score in 1930, the last decade Carolina beat VaTech at home.

  • The 339 yards rushing was Carolina’s most since 341 against Bill & Mary in 2004. The school record by the way is 555 against Virginia in 1943. So, clearly, the Heels love to run wild over institutions from Thomas Jefferson’s state.

  • Bernard’s sick 11.4 average-per-carry set another school record, beating out Kelvin Bryant’s 11.1 against East Carolina (which began this three-game home winning streak) in 1981.

  • And Renner’s two more touchdown passes in not even two full seasons gives him 41, passing four-year QBs Jason Stanicek and Ronald Curry on the hit list.  

  • Oh, yes, Casey Barth made it 153 straight PATs and increased his UNC-record to 60 field goals with two more that split the uprights, politically correctly booting one into the Tar Pit net and the other into the Blue Zone (which actually had people there for most of the game).
That’s another good reason to keep the White Out going, Coach. In the east end zone, you can tell the sun-bathers from the seats.

Answering the Bell

In a segment that was created by Holden Productions Group at the 2:18 mark of the clip, Coach Larry Fedora beats the drum to his young Tar Heel team. “The success of the team depends on me…”   Then it builds and gets louder.  “The success of the team depends on me…” and with a final cry, repeat after me “The success of the team depends on me…”

Who is he talking to?  The starters?  The offense? The defense? The fans?  Himself?  Try all of the above.  Like any company or organization, a football team needs buy in from the top on down and back up again.  And we finally got to see some of that buy in last Saturday afternoon.  With a loud home crowd behind them, the Tar Heels decided to uphold their end of the bargain and gave Tar Heel Nation 60 minutes of effort, 60 minutes of enthusiasm, 60 minutes of dependability – “The success of the team depends on me….”
Welcome back star tailback Gio Bernard who made two different trips into the end zone, well done quarterback Bryn Renner who offered up another strong performance and hats off to our aggressive, shark-feeding defense which played at a frenzy pace all afternoon recording seven sacks, five in the 3rd quarter alone.  It was a long day for Ruffin McNeil and his Purple Pirates and frankly that’s the way we like it. 

Clearly there is still room for improvement as we look to put consistent plays, drives and halves together but this was our best showing of the season thus far against FBS competition and something that this program desperately needed.  I think that most fans that were sitting in Kenan or watching on the “U” were waiting to see if we were going to slip that cleat on and tie it up or it if was going to drop.  Again, if you reference that segment clip, Coach Fedora clearly puts it, “The success of the team depends on me” and that means everyone.   

Kenan Stadium for the most part was abuzz due to the tension that an in-state rivalry offers.  Granted, we are North Carolina’s flagship school but we have to give kudos to the little Pirates down the road whose fans gobbling up all of their 3,500 ticket allotment and then some.  Remember fellow fans, we need to support this team through thick and thin, and not lose our passion after two L’s.  “The success of the team depends on me…”
The fans who were at Kenan were fantastic and there needs to be special recognition brought to the Tar Pit.  Having a special view from the field for warm-ups (lettermen get to help build the tunnel of people that the players run through on lettermen weekend), I got a renewed feeling of the energy and excitement that our student section brings to the program.  With the renovations that were made in 2008 in the student section end zone, it has allowed the players and students more interaction with energy and excitement passing from the stands to the field and back again. 

When Casey Barth kicked his final warm-up field goal through the pipes that a Tar Pitter caught, several Tar Heel players ran and jumped into the stands with body painted students and classmates that are 100% in their corner, and the tone was set for a game that would put two tough weeks on the road behind us. 

From there, the students cheered on the players as they went in for the final 10 minutes of preparation before they came out for the kickoff which got them back on track and “Answer the Bell.”  This is the kind of culture change from our fan base that I believe helped us to be successful on Saturday and will only continue to grow with the leadership we have in place.  “The success of the team depends on me.”  The success of the team depends on us all.

Smart. Fast. Physical.


To most Carolina fans, ECU is like a much younger brother. It’s sort of cute and amusing the way he thinks that he can compete with you and all your friends when you play pick-up games, much like how ECU thinks that they have a football rivalry with UNC (Seriously, check their Wikipedia page) and how they want to join the Big East. You sort of just laugh and shake your head when you hear his protests that he’d be really good if you just gave him a chance. Occasionally you let him play with you to be nice, and most of the time, he gets crushed, but you don’t rub it in because it’s not a big deal or even important to you. You’re expected to win because you’re bigger, stronger, faster:

End of story. The trouble is that every once in awhile, you play poorly, your brother plays out of his mind, and you get a little bit unlucky, resulting in a rare victory for the younger sibling. This, while obviously a little embarrassing, wouldn’t be such a terrible thing in and of itself. It’s the way your younger brother then proceeds to talk about it 24/7 to every person in the entire world, like it’s the greatest achievement of mankind since the lunar landing, that’s the real problem. Suffering through unwarranted arrogance, as UNC fans were forced to do following the loss in Greenville in 2007, is the worst punishment of all.

The desire to avoid shame is a powerful motivator, and the atmosphere was very energetic as football returned to Kenan Stadium following a two-week reprieve. Chase Rice got the crowd going before the game with a tailgate concert, and tons of students were painting up in support of the Heels just outside the stadium. As annoying as it was to see roughly 25% of the crowd in purple, complete with a fan in a full pirate costume in the Tar Pit shouting idiotic cheers like “ARRRRRRRRRRRRRRGH” and “ARRRRRRRRRRRRRRGH,” I respect ECU fans for showing up. The same could not be said of UNC Greeks, who, despite a well-run pep rally the night before, did not come close to filling their section prior to kickoff.

Even though UNC supporters were largely fired up, the Heels were not ready to go at the outset of the game. Gio Bernard returned from injury to score a nice touchdown in the first quarter, but he never seemed quite as electric as he did in the opener against Elon. The defense played pretty well, holding ECU to two field goals, but the offense couldn’t capitalize on its chances. The first half was epitomized by the sequence that concluded the second quarter. UNC took over with under two minutes to play and moved the ball down to the ECU 16 with relative ease, but then Renner was strip-sacked on third down, forcing the Heels to attempt a field goal after recovering the fumble. Casey Barth, normally automatic inside 40 yards, missed the chip shot, leaving the score 10-6 going into the half. In short, what should have been a dominant performance was derailed by a few mistakes and missed opportunities.

The Tar Heels looked better on offense in the third quarter, scoring on a quick strike to Sean Tapley, immediately recovering a fumble on the next ECU possession, and turning the short field into another touchdown. Still, the game was sloppy on both sides of the ball, as UNC racked up a total of nine penalties for 91 yards, including a stupid personal foul for blocking a player without a helmet. Despite recording five sacks in the second half and holding the Pirates scoreless, the tackling on defense was less than stellar, particularly on a 36-yard scamper by Vintavious Cooper that allowed ECU to pick up a 3rd-and-31.

Ultimately, UNC was lucky to have been playing an inferior opponent, and it’s unlikely that the Tar Heels would have won had this been an ACC contest. Still, a win is a win, and though it may not have felt that way, Carolina did win by three touchdowns.
My favorite moment of the game occurred as I was leaving the stadium. On my way out, I overheard a father explaining to his young son that “ECU is the kind of team that you want to beat really badly.”

“But why?” asked the curious child.

After thinking for a second, the father replied, “Because they don’t understand that we’re a lot better, so we have to show them just how much better we are.”

And as I veered off the path back toward my dorm, I heard the kid’s voice carrying over the crowd, “But we just beat them by a lot, and we didn’t even play good. How could they not know that we’re better?”

I wish I could have heard the answer.

Art's Angle: A Win For Losing


A lot has happened since Carolina last won a football game before Saturday’s 27-6 victory over East Carolina.
UNC lost its chief fund-raiser, a former star quarterback who flew the coop with the mother of the school’s most decorated basketball player.
UNC lost a chancellor, who resigned effective at the end of the school year over the distractions his embattled office was causing.
And UNC hoped not to lose, even for a single practice, its beloved basketball coach, who had one of two tumors removed from his kidneys.
While all this was going on, UNC had lost its best football player with whom the Tar Heels would not have avoided all of the above but might have won two games and be standing 4-0 today instead of 2-2.
It’s been one helluva a fortnight.
All is certainly not right with the world after Carolina shook off its third straight sluggish start and put away the Purple Pirates from down east with its third straight shutout third quarter and improved second half performance.   
But with Giovani Bernard back at tailback and Bryn Renner continuing to leapfrog other quarterbacks in the UNC record books, the Tar Heels are in a position to peel the winless Idaho potatoes this week and be ready for their “white out” effort against big, bad Virginia Tech on October 6, both games in Kenan Stadium.
Coach Larry Fedora’s first team remained undefeated at home by trying to get Gio and his healed knee back in shape despite the Pirates loading up the box with as many as nine defenders. It lead to a ho-hum first half in which both teams had trouble scoring points and subdued the sun-baked crowd of nearly 60,000 hoping for a continuation of Carolina’s sensational second half at Louisville last week.
The first 30 minutes ended with Casey Barth, UNC’s record-setting placekicker who owns the most field goals in UNC history and would eventually set the new PAT mark as well, missing a chip shot from 34 yards right in front of the moaning Tar Pit students. It was Barth’s first miss of the season after 16 makes.
Fedora denies that he delivers a Rockne rendition at halftime, but the Tar Heels again came out to dominate both ends of the field, scoring two touchdowns that put the game away and improve UNC’s aggregate score in the third quarter to 52-0 on the season. They added a field goal in the fourth, running their summative second-half to 79-10.
Bernard was not Elonesque, but he did have 102 total yards and two touchdowns without returning a single punt. The real story of the game was Carolina’s special teams that backed up the Pirates throughout the second half, recording seven sacks of ECU’s young QB Shane Carden, and Renner finally burning the encroaching ECU defense and going over the top to finish with 321 yards and moving into third place on UNC’s all-time touchdown pass list even though he’s only played in 17 games. At this rate, he’ll surpass in two full seasons what T.J. Yates took four to accomplish. And Renner had more than 100 yards of passes dropped, including a bomb that slipped through the hands of WR Erik Highsmith, who had his man beaten down the left side (he had eight others that he caught).
Renner, who entered the game leading the nation in touchdown passes, can be called a masterpiece (instead of work) in progress. He’s still learning Fedora’s fast-break offense, making mistakes as he goes while accumulating amazing stats. He’s really a pro-style passer trying to adjust to the so-called “Fed Spread” and looks destined to be playing in the NFL someday. Saturday, at least, he just looked like a damn good college quarterback.
As long they as they keep score, especially in this worrisome period of untimely departures at UNC, a boring win is always better than an exciting loss.

Consistently Inconsistent

Last week’s blowout of Elon gave Tar Heel fans plenty of reasons to be optimistic heading into our first ACC showdown against Wake Forest last Saturday. The Phoenix certainly aren’t a college football powerhouse, but UNC still excelled in all three phases of the game. The offense played well, scoring with relative ease in putting up our highest point total since Mack Brown was head coach; the special teams were a revelation, with the electric Gio Bernard taking a punt return back 70 yards for a touchdown; and the defense posted a shutout for the first time since blanking Duke back in 1999. Students were truly excited about the football team for the first time in my tenure at UNC, and taking on a Demon Deacons team that struggled to put away FCS-school Liberty last week seemed to be the perfect recipe to keep the excitement level high.

The rain delay that pushed back kickoff by more than an hour and the news that Gio Bernard was being held out due to a knee injury quickly put a damper on my mood, though. The Tar Heels turned in a frustratingly inconsistent performance on both sides of the ball, demonstrating at various times just how good and how bad we can be. The major takeaways from the tough loss to Wake are below.

The Positives:

1. Early Offense:

  • Larry Fedora’s Fed Spread seemed to be clicking early on. A particularly memorable sequence involved a 28-yard AJ Blue rush followed immediately by a big completion to Eric Ebron down the middle of the field, and then eventually another acrobatic grab bv Ebron for the touchdown to take the lead. The “No Huddle, No Mercy” moniker is incredibly apt; forget about having no mercy on the defense, I didn’t even have time to respond to texts regarding the Tar Heels’ drive.

2. Running Back-Ups:

  • AJ Blue and Romar Morris filled in admirably for Giovanni Bernard, rushing for a combined 176 yards on 33 carries. Both showed some playmaking ability and explosive bursts at times, which is encouraging given that no one really knows the prognosis of Gio’s injury.

3. Tremendous Turnover:

  • Tim Scott’s interception just after a UNC touchdown tied the game at 21 was a huge momentum-shifter and just a beautiful play. The front seven didn’t bite on the play-fake by Tanner Price, got good pressure, and Scott jumped in front of the throw and took it back to Wake’s 8-yard line. The energy of the players after the pick was palpable through the TV. If you had polled Tar Heel fans after that play, I think most would have said that we would end up winning.

4. “Special” Special Teams Plays:

  • Kevin Reddick had tremendous coverage on a punt with about seven minutes left in the game, bringing down Campanaro and pinning the Deacs inside their 10-yard line down six. It’s one of those plays that get lost in the shuffle when you lose, but had we been able to come up with a quick stop on the ensuing Wake Forest drive, it would have been one of the key moments in the contest. Also, Casey Barth hit two field goals to pass his brother Connor for the all-time UNC record for field goals made. Unfortunate that it couldn’t have come in a win, but it was still a nice moment for a fan-favorite.

The Not-So-Positives:

1. Concussive Forces:

  • With the offense driving again midway through the second quarter, Renner attempted to scramble in for a touchdown and got absolutely obliterated by a Wake defender. The slow motion replay showed Renner turn toward the bench, point at his head, and then collapse onto the ground before being examined by trainers. On the hit, my roommate and I immediately turned to each other and said, “He’s concussed.” The cameras later panned to Renner talking on the sideline phone with a goofy grin on his face, and I assumed there was no way he could return to the game. Given that UNC is an institution at the forefront of sports concussion research, I felt stunned when Renner was out on the field for the next series. It was soon clear that Renner was not 100%, as on consecutive plays he took a sack, missed a throw, and then fumbled on another sack. With the quick decision-making and on-field adjustments needed in Fedora’s offense, if the quarterback isn’t completely focused mentally, the offense isn’t going to work effectively. While he looked better after halftime, Renner still fumbled a snap, missed a number of throws and looked somewhat out of sorts, especially on the second-to-last drive of the game. In a weird way, I hope that Bryn was simply playing poorly, because I don’t want to believe that the coaching staff would put him in if he had any sort of head injury.

2. Defen-sieve Effort:

  • The Heels struggled to get pressure all day on Tanner Price, generating just one sack and very few quarterback hurries against an inexperienced offensive line that has been hit fairly hard by injuries. This enabled Price to find his receivers, rather, receiver, for big gains; Michael Campanaro was a one-man wrecking crew, catching 13 balls for 164 yards. With no other Wake player catching more than 4 passes and their running backs combining for just 64 yards on the ground, it seems like Campanaro really should have been the focus of the defensive gameplan. Instead, #3 ran free through the secondary and Wake was able to punch the ball in for a touchdown on each of the four possessions that they reached the red zone. It’s true that Fedora’s defensive system is predicated on generating turnovers more than limiting yardage by forcing three and outs, but the Tar Heels had trouble doing both on Saturday.

3. Perplexing Penalties:

  • UNC was called for 8 penalties, incurring 87 yards of damage. It would be one thing if they were false starts as a result of a raucous crowd, but several were simply inexcusable, bonehead plays. A running into the kicker penalty permitted Wake another shot to add a field goal just before halftime, and a horse collar tackle gave Wake a first down on what had been a third down stop. Additionally, two personal fouls were called against the Heels on special teams plays, including one on the kickoff return after Wake scored to take the lead with two minutes left, which forced the offense to start on its own 13-yard line. Those are the kinds of avoidable penalties that make fans wring their hands in frustration, and are ones that I’m sure Coach Fedora will be addressing before the Heels head to Louisville next week for what will likely be an even tougher matchup.

Something We Should All Be Rooting For

As students begin classes, and the weather…well, remains hot and humid for now, football is in the air here in Chapel Hill.

Despite the beautiful Carolina Blue sky, a figurative cloud hangs over campus as the local and national media continue to dissect the scandals erupting from the bowels of Kenan Stadium. It is easy to say that many other major college athletics programs likely commit similar infractions on a regular basis, but that doesn’t excuse UNC for its mistakes.

It’s obviously disappointing to know that your team can’t win the conference title nor play in a bowl game before the first coin toss of the season, but I’ll leave it to others to discuss the validity of the punishments handed down by the NCAA.

What I will say is that the continued focus on past wrongdoings is incredibly frustrating. It’s never fun to hear constant criticisms about something you love, and, as a student, it’s especially disconcerting to hear that the academic integrity of your school is in question. UNC’s educational reputation was a big reason I chose to apply to Chapel Hill, and facing many awkward questions from UVA fans and alumni while interning in Richmond this summer was not exactly the experience I had imagined when I was accepted.

In addition to generating a negative impact on future recruiting for athletes and students at large, the scandals are eliminating much of the excitement that would ordinarily accompany a team such as this season’s Tar Heels. Carolina has a number of electrifying playmakers on both sides of the ball, which include star running back Gio Bernard and wide receiver Jheranie “Jay” Boyd on offense and linebacker Kevin Reddick on defense.  Given that quarterback Brynn Renner now has another year under his belt, and given that the special teams should improve with the return of beloved kicker Casey Barth, Tar Heels fans would be eagerly anticipating a decent bowl game appearance and possibly an ACC title without the penalties. Instead, the football team seems to be an afterthought at best and a source of shame at worst, with casual fans asking, “When does basketball season start?”

It’s really an unfortunate attitude, especially considering the arrival of new Head Coach Larry Fedora.  With his frenetic spread offense and creative special teams, Fedora was the perfect choice to replace the bland Everett Withers and get Carolina fans energized about football again. The guy is a walking Red Bull advertisement, downing several cans a day, and his motor never seems to stop.

The team even had a series of spring practices starting at 6:00 AM dubbed “Blue Dawn” (explanation video here), with Fedora yelling encouragement and involving himself in drills (check out a fan favorite example here). Most importantly for this season, his passion for the game extends to the fans. Fedora has taken time out of his schedule to meet with various student groups, including Carolina Fever (some of the most dedicated fans), Greek organizations, and incoming freshmen during orientation. His message is simple: Be early, be loud, and have fun. Having seen the student section quiet and half-empty just before noon kickoffs, his mantra is appropriate and well-targeted.

Kenan Stadium could be one of the premier gameday atmospheres in all of college football, though. We have just seven home games a year to get together with our friends and cheer on our fellow classmates. Regardless of what’s happened in the past, the football team still represents UNC.

Isn’t that something we should all be rooting for?