Senior Day against Maryland was a pretty typical game for the 2012 Tar Heels. The Terrapins, perhaps motivated by the decision to leave the ACC in favor of the Big Ten, served as a mediocre but spirited opponent. Carolina fans had obvious reasons to be frustrated, as the Tar Heels repeatedly allowed big plays on the defensive side of the ball. The special teams performed particularly poorly, fumbling a kickoff return just before halftime to allow Maryland to take a 28-21 lead, and then gave up a touchdown on the kickoff to start the second half because they only had ten men on the field. The Tar Heels fought back in gritty fashion, though, with Bryn Renner throwing for two big touchdowns in the second half, leading to a 45-38 win. Overall, the defense was pretty bad (excepting one big interception on Maryland’s first drive), the offense was pretty good, Gio Bernard was brilliant (27 carries for 163 yards and a touchdown), there were some troubling mental mistakes…but the Tar Heels managed to emerge victorious. Sounds pretty familiar.
The inconsistency of the Tar Heels in any given game modeled their season as a whole. There were some clear highs this year: Gio Bernard’s late punt return touchdown to beat NC State for the first time in six tries, setting the record for points scored in a single game by a UNC squad in the 66-0 win over Idaho, four Tar Heels making 1st Team All-ACC (Bernard, Jonathan Cooper, Sylvester Williams, and Kevin Reddick), and winning the ACC’s Coastal Division on a tie-break over Miami (had either team actually been eligible to win anything). There were also some obvious lows: Losing to Duke for only the second time in 23 years, giving up a record 68 points at home against Georgia Tech on Homecoming, and getting blown out in the first half against Louisville come to mind most easily. It has been a season of unpredictability, to say the least, its meaning hard to define because of the postseason ban and the implementation of a totally new coaching scheme.
I’m really at a loss for words to describe how I feel about this team and this season. It happened. I was there, and I experienced the good, the bad, the ugly, all of it. Sure, we didn’t go to a bowl game or the conference title game. We didn’t go undefeated. But it was still special. Every season has its moments and memories that you will always carry with you, and this one was no different. Ultimately, I’m glad we’ve completely closed the door on the Butch Davis Era and can finally move forward as a team and university. There will be no bans, no asterisks, no drama as we look to next August. A new Blue Dawn, at last.
It’s finally here ladies and gentlemen…. the last game of the 2012 University of North Carolina football season. Wow, this season has absolutely flown by and, for me; this is when depression sets in. After Saturday, the countdown begins to the opening kickoff of the 2013 season (August 31, 2013) in Columbia, South Carolina. That’s right – 279 days till the flagship school of South Carolina and the Ole’ Ball Coach Steve Spurrier and his Gamecocks take on the flagship school of North Carolina. And if you’re like me, you will be counting down every one of those 279 days through national signing day, spring practice, summer workouts, ACC media day and the pigskin luncheon.
With that being said though, this has been a long and winding road for this group of seniors who have lived through 2 ½ years of an emotional roller coaster of change. Not many college football players can say they lived (and endured) through two head coaches, an academic fraud scandal, NCAA sanctions, scrutiny from peers, University faculty and officials, and constant negativity from local fan bases and major local media outlets in particular the Raleigh News & Observer. Within all of this adversity, a group of young men were truly developing before our very eyes not only on the field, but in the community as well (see last week’s column about Jonathan Cooper and Gentle Giants http://chapelboro.com/Gentle-Giants/14110127?pid=278297 ). These seniors have become valuable members of the University community and, despite the controversy that has surrounded their tenure here, will be remembered with fondness and distinction in Chapel Hill.
With the new hiring of Coach Fedora this past December and the reality that the 2012 Tar Heels would not be eligible for post season play, our football program was at a crossroads. All players had the right to transfer to a different University without sitting out a year and a special group of Tar Heel seniors led by Kevin Reddick decided to make a stand and finish what they had started. When Coach Fedora laid out the options to his Seniors during a meeting, Reddick was one of the first to address the possibility of leaving. “After we told the seniors, ‘Hey, you guys can leave if you want. You can do whatever you want,’ “Coach Fedora said.” Kevin was the first one to stand up and say, ‘I’m not going anywhere. We’re going to have a great season here next year.’ ” This shows the kind of character that is instilled in these young men not only by this University but also by the role models who have molded these athletes from prospects to lettermen. The parents, guardians, mentors, pop warner coaches, teachers and counselors all deserve credit for helping to make a forgettable situation a positive and something that the entire program can – and will – build on.
The reason why I bring this up is because Saturday will be the last time that the majority of these seniors will ever play the game of football and ever be a part of a family atmosphere and brotherhood like the one at UNC. I was fortunate enough to get to experience two Senior days (due to a medical hardship) so I know exactly what these guys are going through this week. The week will fly by and the players will experience a sense of loss as they experience everyday moments for the last time – the last Monday practice, the last game plan meeting, the last Tuesday lift session, the last time out with the guys for the weekly dinners. And as they walk through the tunnel and hear the final roar of the crowd and run through the smoke, they will remember back to the day four or five years ago when they first walked through the tunnel with the magic of college football and Kenan stadium awaiting, and they’ll feel as if it passed in the blink of an eye.
As hard as it is for the players to know that the end is near, sometimes the parents or guardians take it that much harder. They have supported and fostered the growth of this player from the days when he couldn’t tie his own cleats to now seeing him play for the last time. Maybe this player achieved his goals and lived up to his potential and maybe he didn’t. Either way, the end is here and it’s a sobering time for all involved. What I hope comes out of this last Saturday and what I think we’ll see is two things:
Please make sure to tune in one hour after the final whistle to 97.9FM to listen to more post game coverage with Paul Connell and myself on “ON THE HEELS.”
Smart. Fast. Physical. Happy Thanksgiving!!!http://chapelboro.com/huddle-up-2012/the-players-perspective/the-light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel/
With that out of the way, the purpose of this week’s article is to address the great work that our student-athletes do out in the community, much of which goes unnoticed and underappreciated. Unless you’ve been a player in a big time college program, it’s hard to really understand what the rigors of being a college athlete are — long weeks of practice with hours of film study, coaches on your back critiquing and always judging you, keeping up with your academic progress and just having a normal social life in general (keeping up with friends and trying to date.)
And on top of all that, our Tar Heel football players find extra time to take part in community service efforts of all kinds. Anything from hospital visits at UNC Children’s Hospital or the UNC Hospital Burn Center to speaking to our local youth football programs about the importance of an education, our past, current and future football players make us proud by doing the right thing. One of many examples where a difference is being made was this year’s UNC Blood Drive where we spearheaded the collection of 784 productive units of blood. The impact is significant when you realize that each unit of blood can help three different patients so if my math is correct, 2,352 sick or injured human beings just got a helping hand that they might not have otherwise received. That’s the kind of outcome that transcends first downs and three-and-outs.
In a recent visit to the Burn Center that was covered by Megan Morketter from goheels.com, she really captures the influence our guys had in their recent visit and how they can lift the spirits of the center’s patients, and give them untapped strength to continue on in their recovery:
The recurring theme of the visit was one of lasting impressions. Throughout the Tar Heels’ stay, medical staff reiterated the increased motivation they see in their patients after meeting the athletes.
“The patients may take a few more steps during physical therapy; they might eat a little more. Their (the athletes’) presence here lasts so much longer… just look in the room, look at that,” Dr. Cairns said pointing to a mother beginning to decorate her 15-year-old son’s hospital room with a football helmet and poster gifted to the boy by Cooper, Williams, Johnson and company.
“I know that there are people who are thinking about Carolina athletics and what it really stands for,” Dr. Caims said. “Well I wish they could see this, and then they would know.”
One of those players Dr. Cairns is referring to is offensive lineman Jonathan Cooper who was a midseason All-American selection by SI.com, ESPN.com, Phil Steele and the Sporting News. Additionally, Cooper is one of 117 college football players nationally to be recognized for community service contributions by the American Football Coaches Association “Good Works Team.”
Among Cooper’s community service highlights are offering golf lessons to underprivileged youth, actively participating in the “Share Your Holiday” campaign which fundraises to provide assistance for local families in need, and building a home for Habitat for Humanity. Many of you Tar Heel fans know about Jonathan’s accolades on the field, but this fellow O lineman is just as impressed with how he handles his business off the field. But, hey, that’s how we lineman roll. An offensive lineman is smart, nasty and violent on the field but off it, caring, compassionate, community oriented and are labeled by many (just ask my Mom and wife) that know us best as “Gentle Giants.”
As much as the O line loves to pancake an opponent or make a block on the final play against NC State to score the winning touchdown, nothing compares to the feeling you get when you can put a smile on the face of a sick young child or helping a complete stranger in need. I know these young men understand the honor and privilege of giving back because I felt the same way when I was in their shoes at Carolina six years ago. These are the moments that help shape you as a man and make your fans truly proud of what the University of North Carolina stands for.
Smart. Fast. Physical
The records are dead even – both teams 5-2 overall and 2-1 in the ACC. And they are mirror images of each other, playing a no huddle, fast-paced offense and an ameba-like 4-2-5 defense. So, it seems like an even game at Wallace Wade Stadium at 7 p.m. on national TV, even if it is ESPN with a U at the end.
But I always tell people that the surest way to predict the future is to look at the past. And Carolina has won an astonishing 21 of the last 22 games between these arch rivals who ARE dead even on the basketball court. Football has been a different story since Duke white-washed Carolina 41-0 in 1989 and posed in front of the scoreboard when some dummy from UNC should have turned it off!
The series was pretty even after that game 37-35 and 4 ties in Carolina’s favor. But Duke’s only win since then was in 2003. Now the Blue Devils believe that the circumstances have conspired to make this their year. Not so. Wallace Wade, as always will be half light blue, and the visiting team is better in every category. When Larry Fedora’s first season has hit a blip, the Heels have beaten themselves.
Both teams play the hurry-up offense, which by the rules can leave the defense out of position. If a team substitutes on offense, the defense has to have time to substitute, too. But if the same offensive players stay on the field, they can snap the ball as soon as they are ready. Carolina has been better catching opponents with 12 men on the field or not being lined up when Bryn Renner gets the ball.
Carolina’s NFL front line, led by future pros James Hurst and Jonathan Cooper, will blast open Duke’s defense, and Giovani Bernard will have a field day at night. The defense did a good job of keeping Miami from completing the long ball, and Duke’s offense isn’t better than the Hurricanes, whether pocket passer Sean Renfree or scrambler Anthony Boone plays quarterback.
And the UNC special teams, which punts and covers well, blocks kicks and tries trick plays, is still superior to the the Blue Devils.
So, it’s one, two, three what are we fighting for? Duke tries to get its sixth win and first bowl bid since 1994. Carolina tries to keep rolling toward 10-2 and the North Carolina state championship, whatever that means. This particular game, it means the Tar Heels in a blowout and 22 of the last 23.http://chapelboro.com/huddle-up-2012/guest-blog/not-this-time-either-duke/
The Carolina offense had 25 first downs in each of the last two games against the Blue Devils. On one hand these can be viewed as good stats, but on the other it’s cause for concern because we couldn’t score on big plays. The tailback position of the Heels carried the ball 66 times for 340 yards against Duke in their last two meetings. Over those two games, Dwight Jones had 21 catches but for only 222 yards. Any Tar Heel fan knows that Dwight was capable of a 200 yard receiving day with only seven catches.
Coach Knowles and the Duke staff limited our quick strike ability and made us play a patient, grind it out style of football. Sometimes commentators refer to this as a “bend but don’t break” style of defense. I think that has negative connotations. Aggressive zone schemes that don’t give up big plays and force an offense to have mental and physical endurance while going the “long hard way” is sound football.
Last week against Virginia Tech I was surprised that the Blue Devils gave up four touchdowns of 40 yards or more. This is highly uncharacteristic for their style. In fact the Duke defense hadn’t given up a scoring play of more than 40 yards since the second play of the season, on September 1, against FIU. Good coaching staffs have a way of correcting problems from week to week. I imagine Duke spent a great deal of time this week on eliminating big plays.
The good news is that UNC appears to have the mental and physical endurance to put drives together. They also have the talent. Gio is an uncommon back running behind an uncommon group of offensive linemen. I had dinner with an NFL scout recently and he remarked that the three most talented lines he has seen in the country this year are Alabama, Texas A&M, and North Carolina. James Hurst, Jonathan Cooper, Russell Bodine, Travis Bond, Landon Turner, and Brennan Williams are fully capable of maintaining long sustained drives again this year.
“Gio the Great” rushed 27 times for a grinding as well as electric 177 yards (a 6.6 average) and registered two first half touchdowns. Additionally, he caught four passes for 36 yards, including a 16 yard, shoe string grab on 4th and 6 that would make even Jerry Rice proud. That catch kept the momentum going on a key drive and led UNC Coach Larry Fedora to say, “Gio’s a complete player. Whether it’s pass blocking on protections, catching the ball or running, he’s going to do whatever he can to help us win.” Coach Fedora calls him complete – I call him the most dynamic player in the ACC this year. He is running behind an offensive line that ESPN NFL gurus Mel Kiper and Todd McShay have called the best O line in the country so there is a growing chemistry working where the boys up front have Gio’s back and he has theirs.
Other Florida products wearing the Tar Heel blue made their presence felt on Saturday as well: LB Tommy Heffernan (Miami, Florida) came up huge with a big time sack on Miami’s final drive and continues to be a new fan favorite with his underdog story and tough play; Tre Boston (Fort Myers, Florida) had a huge game and highlighted great Tar Heel secondary play with one pick and another one called back due to a questionable pass interference call. Boston is one of three UNC defensive backs from the great state of Florida with the final spot being occupied by Virginia product Tim Scott. Boston knew what to expect when he said, ”South Florida boys can run, and that’s exactly what I am,” and indeed our defensive skill players were stride for stride with Miami’s running backs and receivers.
So as trilled as I am by getting our first road win in Miami, I’m also excited about what this does for the game within the game. W’s like this help give Coach Fedora and his staff an upper hand when it comes to the game of recruiting. Coach Fedora has stated on record very clearly that his first and foremost goal in recruiting is to put a barbwire fence around the state of North Carolina and make sure that the most talented prospects from this state commit to the flagship University in North Carolina where they will have the opportunity to experience what I did six years ago – the magic of being a Tar Heel and everything that it stands for. I am 100% on board with this strategy but, at the same time, you cannot ignore the hot beds of talent that sit in close proximity to us in Florida and Virginia respectively. With two great back-to-back wins over perennial Coastal Division juggernauts Virginia Tech and Miami, Fedora and his staff will have a great selling tool and recruiting momentum when they enter the living rooms of high school prospects this off-season to sell them on the dreams of where this program is going. The culture change of Carolina Football has been front and center the last two weeks in the ACC and people are taking notice. You can see below that our current starters have a strong Virginia and especially Florida background and I know we will build on this going forward.
LT – James Hurst (Plainfield, IN)
LG – Jonathan Cooper (Wilmington, NC)
C – Russell Bodine (Scottsville, VA)
RG – Travis Bond (Windsor, NC)
RT – Brennan Williams (West Roxburry, MA
TE – Eric Ebron (Greensboro, NC)
QB – Bryn Renner (West Springfield, VA)
TB – Giovani Bernard (Fort Lauderdale, FL)
WR – Erik Highsmith (Vanceboro, NC)
WR – Sean Tapley (Jacksonville, FL)
WR – Quinshad Davis (Gaffney, SC)
DE – Kareem Martin (Roanoke Rapids, VA)
DT – Sylvester Williams (Jefferson City, MO)
NT – Tim Jackson (St. Petersburg, FL)
BANDIT – Dion Guy (Washington, D.C)
WILL – Travis Hughes (Virginia Beach, VA) / Tommy Heffernan (Miami, FL)
MIKE – Kevin Reddick (New Bern, NC)
RAM – Gene Robinson (Memphis, TN)
CB – Jabari Price (Pompano Beach, FL)
SS – Tre Boston (Fort Myers, FL)
FS – Sam Smiley (Jacksonville, FL)
CB – Tim Scott (Fredericksburg, VA)
Next stop: Duke under the lights, protect the Victory Bell at all cost!!
Smart. Fast. Physical.
It’s finally that time. GAME WEEK!
No more long days/weeks of training camp at the football facility (including, if you were lucky, naps you might be able to catch by hiding in any available dark spot in the facility), coaches on your back 24 hours a day, waking up to the 5:30 am bullhorn, uncomfortable dorm living arrangements (although not for this year’s team that stayed at the Aloft hotel for training camp…I never thought I would be so jealous in my life), or being locked away from civilization as we know it.
When you are locked-up in training camp, your normal everyday life is snatched away from you and your primary focus is solely on getting better as a team and as a player. When you can muster the strength or find some down time, another important priority is to joke around with and forge new bonds and friendships with your 120 teammates. These are the guys that you are going into the “Arena” with on the football field and who will become your brothers off the field and in the game of life.
We are now a mere 48 hours away from kicking off with Elon and for a lot of these guys it will be like getting back on a bicycle and, for some, the jitters will be at an all-time high. The anticipation and build up to that first kickoff to the season is unlike any feeling a player can have. I wish there was a way to bottle it up — it’s something that I miss every year around this time, and if you ask anyone who has laced it up at any level, they are probably going to tell you the same thing.
There is nothing like college football, especially in the South.
Carolina Football fans are very excited to see this new era of Carolina Football begin under the leadership of Larry Fedora and the era of Butch Davis finally coming to a close. With Coach Fedora and his staff’s high flying “basketball on grass” type offense and attack style 4-2-5 defense, he is the right man that this team and University needs to take this program where all Carolina fans want it to be – to first win the Coastal Division on a consistent basis and then win the ACC to play in a BCS bowl.
Yes, this can happen with this man at the helm; I truly believe it can be executed with the support of the UNC community and its fan base. As funny as this may seem, Saturday will be an important step in moving that ball forward. Fans want to support this program and rally around these young men (they are not kids) and this new staff, and I believe they are going to get it done in an impressive way.
There are several reasons to be excited about what we’re going to see this year. As a former offensive lineman, I believe it all starts up front and with an O line that has been ranked in the top 5 nationally by several major publications, this unit is led by preseason All-American Jonathan Cooper and Future NFL 1st day prospect James Hurst and will lead the charge out of the gates. They will be opening holes for preseason ACC-Player of the Year candidate Gio Bernard as well as protecting our gun slinging, fiery quarterback Bryn Renner.
On the other side of the ball, we have a true leader at linebacker to lead this year’s defense in Kevin Reddick. When all is said and done, there is a lot to be excited about in Kenan Stadium this year!
Come early, tailgate, enjoy beautiful Chapel Hill and all it has to offer, be obnoxious, be loud and stay late.
Also, “understand that if you go up to get a drink, you just missed a Tar Heel touchdown.” – Coach Fedora.
Let’s get ready for a new and exciting era of Carolina Football to begin!http://chapelboro.com/huddle-up-2012/the-players-perspective/from-the-eyes-of-a-heel/
Following football in the Triangle will be hard for me this season. I’m taking a year off from coaching since being fired by UNC. I won’t be watching many games on TV but will be getting game films weekly to study. Watching the more sterilized game film copy may ease some of the pain of not coaching a team.
I have some great friends on the Duke and State coaching staffs that I will be able to root for in a way I never have before, and that will be pleasing. Most importantly, there are many fine young men on the Carolina team in whom I have deeply invested feelings. I hope great things happen for each of them.
In this column, I will provide a coach’s perspective this football season. Since I’m not calling plays for now, I will, for once, look forward to all your comments.
N.C. State v. Tennessee (Friday night)
In 2010, I had the chance to coach in the Chick-fil-A bowl when UNC played LSU. We were without 14 starters who were suspended but gave the Tigers all they could handle behind T.J. Yates’ memorable performance. It was a very exciting atmosphere, and the State fans are in for a treat.
This is a great match-up between two similar QBs and two accomplished play callers. Tyler Bray and Mike Glennon are both tall, lanky QBs with strong pocket presence and good production. The difference is that Bray will have to throw against one of the best secondaries in the country. I know from experience (bad experience) that David Amerson is an All-American. If this becomes a pass fest, which it may, you can bet that Amerson will get his hands on two or three balls. What separates him from common corners is that when he touches it, he catches it. Some corners are satisfied with PBUs (pass break ups). Not him. He has the hands of a great WR. His playmaking ability reminds me of Dre’ Bly. I’m setting the over/under for combined pass attempts at 92.
I also think this is a great match-up of play callers. I have a profound respect for Dana Bible, the OC at State. Jim Chaney, the OC for UT, loves to call passes and is good at it. After all, he was Drew Brees’ coordinator at Purdue. However, I know UT has a seasoned and talented OL and some strong RBs. If the Vols can run the ball, control the clock and keep the ball out of Glennon’s and Amerson’s hands, they have a shot at winning. But I think State will be tough to beat because of strong senior leadership and a staff that is seasoned and able to handle the inevitable unexpected that comes with a big time opening game.
UNC v. Elon
I think Elon has a chance to contend for a conference title, but will run into too much talent in Chapel Hill to open the season.
UNC has great talent on offense. It starts with Bryn Renner. He was the most efficient QB in the conference and averaged 8.91 yards per pass attempt last season. Steve Young once said the most telling stat for a QB is yards per attempt and anything over 8 yards is special. I think Bryn is special and a future NFL player. And Bryn played all of his record-breaking last season with three bone spurs the size of grapes in his foot. The trainer told me he had never seen a person able to play with such an injury. His amazing toughness, uncommon leadership skills, and humble demeanor make him a person the entire Carolina community can rally around. He stands for what is right in college sports.
Bryn is lucky to have six offensive linemen on the team that will make a living playing football on Sundays. James Hurst, Jonathan Cooper, Russel Bodine, Travis Bond, Brennan Williams and Landon Turner are all NFL prospects. I’d challenge anyone to find a better-looking offensive line in college ball. They are big, strong, and athletic. But most important, they all love one another and have uncommon chemistry.
A guy just as lucky as Bryn to have these giants in front of him is RB Gio Bernard, who is strong, powerful, fast and quicker than a hic-up. He is also a wonderful person. I will bet that Carolina doesn’t lose a game in which he has 25 carries or more. Gio also had 45 catches last year. If he gets 30 touches a game, he will be in the Heisman conversation.
Finally, a sleeper to keep an eye on is Eric Ebron. He is the most talented player UNC has had at TE since I started coaching here, and that includes a couple of NFLers in Zach Pianalto and Ryan Taylor. If you are in a fantasy league, you want Eric on your roster. Trust me on that one.
Duke v. FIU
Florida International is a team I’m glad we never had to play. I watched them a number of times against a common opponent and remember thinking they had fine athletes and were well coached. This is a tough draw for Duke. I think FIU has a great coaching staff and athletic administration, led by AD Pete Garcia. They are aiming high. Some in the coaching world believe FIU could overtake the U in coming years. I wouldn’t bet against Pete Garcia and Mario Cristobal.
I think Duke has an outstanding staff, too. OC Kurt Roper is bright and creative. I have always valued studying his schemes when we played common opponents. He will draw up anything to score some points including sets with three QBs. Duke will be fun to watch on offense this year.
On defense, they play solid zone football. In zone, eleven pairs of eyes are on the ball creating more gang tackling. You can play fast in zone because you’re never the last line of defense. FIU will have a new OC this year as Scott Satterfield left to return to Appalachian State. But the schemes should be the same. Rest assured it won’t be something Jim Knowles, Duke’s DC, hasn’t seen before. Duke’s staff has marvelous chemistry that will continue to serve them well on their march to a bowl game this season. This would be a quality win for Duke. Those in the coaching business know how good FIU is even if the rest of the country doesn’t yet.