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.
“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.
“Understand that if you go up to get a drink, you just missed a Tar Heel touchdown” is what Head Coach Larry Fedora promised the Tar Heel faithful when he took the helm last December, and, boy, did his Heels deliver on Saturday with a dominating 62-0 winning performance against Elon.
Coach Fedora and his staff have given us a peek at his aggressive offensive scheme and it’s exactly what Tar Heel Nation has been starving for. The Heels set an ACC punt return yards record with 260 yards, which were split among dynamic playmaker Gio Bernard, track star Roy Smith and the senior leader of the group, Erik Highsmith. Add these 260 yards to the dominating 524 total yards of “basketball on grass offense,” and it was a long, hot day for the Phoenix at beautiful Kenan Stadium.
As a player, there is nothing better than opening up the season in front of your home crowd, running through the Tar Pit section and knowing that you are about to square off with another guy for 60 minutes. The feeling of confidence and knowing that you are going to be successful against an inferior opponent makes it all that much sweeter, especially in such a violent game like the one so many of us love to play or watch! There is no better feeling than to look across the line of scrimmage and know that your opponent is too tired to compete with you, too worn down to get off your block, too slow to cover your route or too fatigued to tackle you.
As they look to their sideline for a substitution, your sense of pride can almost beat right through your chest and shoulder pads. While there have been some brief conversations from non-UNC media outlets about whether or not the Heels ran the score up on Elon, as a former player, the “foot on the gas mentality” is the mindset that must be embraced from the moment you enter a program and it instills confidence in players, coaches and fans alike.
Sylvester Williams put it perfectly when he stated after Saturday’s game that “As a whole unit, we put in a lot of work over the summer. Coach always told us, ‘You put money in the bank (over the summer), then on September 1st you take it out.”’ – (GoHeels.com UNC Athletics Communication).
With temperatures in the mid 90’s and reports of 20 incidents of heat related issues at Kenan Stadium, there would have been plenty of opportunities for the Heels to “turn it down” (quit playing) with a huge early lead and an overwhelmed opponent. Instead, the Heels continued to run the “NASCAR” type offense and the attacking style defense which we all hope will show the fan base that we are here to play in 2012 amidst all of the dwindling outside controversy. By doing this, they sent a message to the country, to the ACC and, most importantly, to the teams on our schedule, that playing the Tar Heels this year is not something to look forward to.
Smart. Fast. Physical. This is Coach Fedora’s blueprint for success, and the new era of a great football program has officially begun…
You better stay in your seat; it’s going to be a great ride with a lot of Touchdowns!http://chapelboro.com/huddle-up-2012/the-players-perspective/smart-fast-physical/