Larry Fedora Weighs In on State of UNC Preseason Prep

UNC football head coach Larry Fedora knows time is running out on his preparations for the 2014 season. The sense of urgency and excitement is steadily building at the Navy Field practice facility.

***Listen to the story***

And with training camp wrapping up and the game plan for week one against Liberty being installed, Tar Heel observers may be wondering who impressed the most in the preseason grind?

Coach Fedora says unheralded sophomore linebacker Joe Jackson would top that list.

“If I had to pick out one guy out of the whole camp who has turned himself around, I would pick Jackson or Sam Smiley, but it would be one of those two. Joe’s right there,” Coach Fedora says.

Joe Jackson battles in training camp

Joe Jackson battles in training camp (UNC Athletics)

While young talents like Jackson are hitting the field hard looking to impress the coaching staff for coveted playing time next week, veterans like Ethan Farmer are just hoping to be afforded the chance to suit it up at Kenan Stadium.

Eligibility issues are a major concern for Farmer and in turn, the defensive line. Coach Fedora says Farmer being one of a mere six seniors on the roster makes him even more invaluable on the field.

“It’s definitely a concern. It’s a concern for me when any of our guys aren’t out on the field for whatever reason. But especially when it’s a senior, and you only have six scholarship seniors. It’s a concern. I’ve got a lot of concerns,” Coach Fedora says.

But Coach Fedora says there may be a silver lining in the Farmer situation. It gives younger Tar Heels a chance to step up, garner more reps and in turn, bolster the depth of the men up front.

“He’s [Farmer] a senior. He has experience. It’s not critical that he gets all the reps. It’s more critical that those younger guys get the reps. There’s a chance that they could be thrown in there right away. They have to perform. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. We can’t wait on them. They just may have to go,” Coach Fedora says.

One of the most loaded positions heading into the fall appears to be at running back. With a healthy stable of speed burners and power backs at the UNC offense’s disposal, Coach Fedora should be relishing the scoring possibilities in the backfield.

But with so many options, who will receive the heaviest load of carries? Coach Fedora says for now, it’s still a running back-by-committee effort.

“At this point, it’s about getting all of them reps. We want to keep all of them healthy as possible, but also we want to get them valuable reps – reps where they’re learning something, not just going through the motions. For me, I don’t ever know who’s in there, don’t really care. Right now, we want to make sure we’re efficient with what we do and are moving the ball,” Coach Fedora says.

One of the pillars of the Coach Fedora regime at Carolina has always been special teams. Last season, return specialist Ryan Switzer basked in the national spotlight for his record-breaking performances.

Although overshadowed by Switzer’s electricity, punter Tommy Hibbard may prove just as vital to the fortunes of UNC in 2014. Coach Fedora, for one, continues to heap praise on the strong-legged senior from Charlotte.

Hibbard boots the ball (UNC Athletics)

Hibbard boots the ball (UNC Athletics)

“Tommy has a good leg and knows what we want to do. He understands all of our schemes. Today, we had three live reps, and all three of them he put inside the 10-yard line. He’s really trying to make himself the best punter he can be. He understands the situation. It’s not just practice. This is critical. This is how we pin people. He knows that and is taking it to heart,” Coach Fedora says.

The countdown to Carolina game day sits at ten days, and the storylines only continue to grow for the Tar Heels as promising upstarts like Jackson emerge, leaders like Farmer await future fates, and reliable special teams athletes like Hibbard hone their crafts.

Confident Carolina Defense Raring To Go

UNC defensive coordinator Vic Koenning will be looking to build off the momentum of his unit’s successes in the latter half of the 2013 campaign. Armed with more experience and confidence, the Tar Heels on the defensive side of the football are eager to make more noise this fall.

***Listen to the story***

Senior linebacker Travis Hughes figures to be a pivotal piece of the Carolina defensive puzzle in 2014. Hughes tallied 76 tackles, including 40 solo stops in a productive junior season.

But Hughes says the defense aims to up the ante and be even more disruptive in his final go-around in Chapel Hill.

“We are trying to take those big plays away. We’re trying to cause the big play by getting interceptions and anything we can. We’re trying to be a fast, speedy defense that’s going to run around to the ball and eliminate all of that,” Hughes says.

But there’s some worrying news surrounding defensive tackle Ethan Farmer. It remains up in the air whether the senior leader will take the field in Kenan Stadium 11 days from now due to eligibility issues.

Hughes, though, says the situation is out of his control, and the team is dealing with the possibility of Farmer’s absence and will be prepared either way.

“It’s a definite concern, but Ethan is a positive guy. We’re all praying for him. There’s nothing we can do besides pray and make sure he stays encouraged. He comes out here with so much energy. He gets the guys ready. I feel good with Ethan and am hoping everything goes well for him,” Hughes says.

Promising redshirt sophomore cornerback Des Lawrence made a big splash a year ago in the Tar Heel secondary. But the N.C. native says he’s much more at ease this season, knowing exactly what it takes to perform successfully in the ACC.

“I’m a little more experienced. I know what the game feels like. I feel more comfortable, and I believe in myself more. I just know that I’m going out there to fight for my teammates every game,” Lawrence says.

Des Lawrence (ESPN)

Des Lawrence (ESPN)

A reoccurring theme in preseason training camp has been communication. Lawrence again stresses how much more chatty his teammates have been in the lead-up to Liberty.

“Before every play we’re talking a whole bunch before the ball is snapped, just making sure everybody is on the same key and chord. I feel like we’re good. We’re going to be fast and physical this year,” Lawrence says.

Another running motif expressed by a handful of UNC players has been the improved team chemistry.

Overall, Lawrence says he feels a more powerful sense of bondage and camaraderie in the team huddle this summer.

“This year, we’re really buying into what the coaches are telling us. We really believe in the cause. We really want to be out there and make plays for one another,” Lawrence says.

Freshman cornerback M.J. Stewart has been turning heads ever since he arrived on campus. Few would be surprised to see Stewart spend a majority of his Saturdays on the field, especially if the Tar Heels choose to go with two cornerbacks.

Stewart’s play has been catching the attention of sophomore Brian Walker. He says Stewart is the total package.

“He has an edge about him. He’s really aggressive. He’s confident and came here with great technique. He’s a smart player and doesn’t make that many mistakes. He doesn’t play like a freshman. He knows how to play corner and really wants to help the team. I think that’s what people really love about him,” Walker says.

M.J. Stewart (UNC Athletics)

M.J. Stewart (UNC Athletics)

There’s more attention being paid to the athletic array of talent flying around the Carolina secondary these days following the taste offered up by Walker and company in 2013.

Walker says he’s embracing the hype and is looking forward to backing it up with more highlights.

“I think we did a pretty good job last year. […] We made a couple plays, and I think that’s what people want to follow up on,” Walker says.

Plenty of eyes will certainly be on Lawrence, Walker and the rest of the Tar Heel defense as the finishing touches are put on the game plan for the No. 23-ranked North Carolina team.

UNC Football No. 23 In Preseason AP Top 25

The coaches and the media are in agreement: North Carolina Football sits just inside the top 25 in the preseason polls.

The Associated Press released its preseason rankings Sunday with the Tar Heels coming in at No. 23, just as they did in the USA Today Coaches poll.

UNC is coming off a 7-6 season in which it won five of its last six regular season games—falling to Duke in the regular season finale—and defeated Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl in Charlotte. In head coach Larry Fedora’s third season, the smart, fast, and physical plan he’s been preaching since day one has given onlookers a positive outlook.

Preseason workouts and scrimmages have pointed to a small but quick defense, and the offense still has a bit of a question mark to it with permanent positions to be filled. However, answers will start to roll in in just 12-days time when Carolina hosts Liberty with a 6:00 p.m. kickoff in Kenan Stadium.

Only two other ACC teams made it into the Top 25: defending national champion Florida State was nearly a unanimous pick for the top spot with star quarterback, sophomore Jameis Winston returning as the playcaller. Alabama, Oregon, and Oklahoma all received a first-place vote. Clemson came in at No. 16—also in the same position as the coaches poll. And, although it’s not a football member in the ACC, keeping an eye on Notre Dame, the Fighting Irish came in at No. 17.

Four other ACC teams are just outside the top 25 receiving votes (in order): Duke, Louisville, Virginia, and Miami.

Pregame coverage of UNC and Liberty two Saturdays from now on WCHL begins, as it always does, three hours before kickoff with Countdown to Kickoff followed by The Good Sports with Art C and BobLee.

Roy Williams Takes #IceBucketChallenge

The UNC men’s basketball team is competing in a summer basketball tournament in the Bahamas, but the head coach took time out to cool off for a great cause.

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, former Kansas player Rex Walters and former Tar Heel and UNCG head coach Wes Miller challenged Coach Williams and his staff. Coach Williams in turn challenged UNC football coach Larry Fedora and the men’s basketball team.

To donate to the ALS Association, click here.

Check out other Chapel Hillians who have taken the challenge.

Additional reporting by UNC Athletics

UNC FB Adds California To Future Schedule

UNC will play a home-and-home football series with the University of California in 2017 and 2018, UNC Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham announced Wednesday. The Tar Heels will play host to the Bears on Sept. 2, 2017, and then play on the road in Berkeley on Sept. 1, 2018.

The Cal series replaces the Ohio State home-and-home series, which was cancelled after the Big Ten expanded its league schedule from eight to nine games.

“Our non-conference football schedule over the next several years includes matchups against opponents from the SEC (South Carolina), Big Ten (Illinois), Pac-12 (California) and Notre Dame,” says Cunningham. “The Big Ten’s move to nine conference games each year beginning in 2016 resulted in the cancellation of our series with Ohio State, which was scheduled for 2017 and 2018. Coach (Larry) Fedora and I will continue to look to add exciting matchups both in Kenan Stadium and on the road as we complete our future schedules.”

Carolina and Cal have never met on the gridiron. The Tar Heels’ most recent game against a current member of the Pac-12 was a home win over Utah in 2005. Carolina’s last games against a team from the state of California came in a home-and-home series vs. Stanford in 1997 (Chapel Hill) and 1998 (Palo Alto).

Carolina plays at Notre Dame this year on Oct. 11 in South Bend, Indiana. A future home game vs. Notre Dame will be played in either the 2017, 2018 or 2019 season. The ACC will announce future matchups with Notre Dame and all ACC teams at a later date.

North Carolina also has agreed to future games in 2015 against South Carolina (previously announced, Sept. 5, 2015, in Charlotte), North Carolina A&T (Sept. 12, 2015), Delaware (Sept. 26, 2015) and Eastern Michigan (Sept. 9, 2017).

9/5/15: vs. South Carolina (Charlotte)
9/12/15: vs. North Carolina A&T (Chapel Hill)
9/19/15: vs. Illinois (Chapel Hill)
9/26/15: vs. Delaware (Chapel Hill)

9/10/16: at Illinois

9/2/17: vs. California (Chapel Hill)
9/9/17: vs. Eastern Michigan (Chapel Hill)

9/1/18: at California (Berkeley)
9/8/18: at East Carolina

Undersized Carolina Defense Offering Speed, Energy

There may be a concerning lack of size and power, but the UNC defense is making up for it with speed and energy as the Tar Heels continue to hit the practice field hard in preparation for the Liberty contest Aug. 30.

***Listen to the story***

Losing defensive end Kareem Martin to the NFL leaves a noticeable void for the Carolina big men up front to fill. And what’s more, those ‘big men’ aren’t all that big.

Head coach Larry Fedora isn’t hiding anything. He recognizes what he has to work with on the defensive line and says the coaching staff will do their best to game plan around the absence of a single player on the defensive roster over 300 pounds.

“I’m concerned about it. You bring in some young guys that are going to have to get ready to play. There are a lot of ways that we can go, but we have to find the best scenario for us. We understand that we may not be as big or as thick as we might want to be, so we’ll probably doing a lot more moving,” Coach Fedora says.

Still, despite the relative lightness on the weight scales, positive developments have been on display during training camp, including a standout performance by the opportunistic unit last weekend in the first preseason scrimmage.

Senior safety Tim Scott attributes the improved play to a concerted effort to play with more optimism and passion.

“Practice is going really well. The team is more energized than last year. We’ve put a big emphasis on being energized and more positive in practice,” Scott says.

Tim Scott (

Tim Scott (

Even though Scott has no doubt assumed a strong leadership role heading into 2014, he says the rest of his teammates also have a big impact on him.

“It doesn’t take a senior to be a leader. I’m doing my best to lead the team, but we also have the young guys doing their best to make sure that if I’m off one play to energize me. If they’re off one play, I’ll energize them,” Scott says.

Scott has seen a noticeable increase in overall team speed in training camp. With the added boost, Scott says the defense is able to play more aggressively.

“We’re a lot faster than we’ve been in the secondary in past years, so we’ve been playing a lot of man-coverage, which means we’re closer to the receivers to make those plays,” Scott says.

Justin Thomason (

Justin Thomason (

Defensive tackle Justin Thomason is doing his best to beef up the UNC defensive line. The 289-pound junior is still looking to tack on a few more pounds before the opening kickoff.

“It’s the weight issue. I’m about 288, 289 right now. It definitely helps inside versus 260, 265. That definitely helps. I’m going to get a little bit above 290 and stay there for the season,” Thomason says.

With a heightened energy level and a spike in speed, the Carolina defense has seemingly held up thus far in preseason rounds, but the true test will come 16 days from now with live action in Kenan Stadium.

Coach Fedora: O-Line Work In Progress, Switzer Has No Limits

It’s been said over and over that an offense is only as good as its linemen up front. Will this be the case for Carolina in 2014?

If so, it’s tough to project the success of head coach Larry Fedora’s offensive machine based on training camp reports.

***Listen to the story***

Although returning starter Jon Heck has stood out above the rest on the O-line, Coach Fedora says the Tar Heels aren’t ready for game day just yet.

“Jon Heck may have had the best summer of all the offensive linemen with the improvements he’s made in his body and his mobility. We’re still not there yet. I’m not going to say we’re ready, because we’re not,” Coach Fedora says.

Offensive linemen trot on to field (N & O)

Offensive linemen trot on to field (N & O)

Coach Fedora isn’t getting impatient as the season draws near, though. It’s an exercise in patience up front for the entire team, and he says it just takes time for the pieces to gel together into a cohesive unit.

“I’m very confident we’ll have a group that’s ready to go, but they may not be a finished product on the 30th. You’re talking about five guys knowing what each other is going to do in every situation and how they’re going to do it. It’s critical. It’s going to take some time for them to grow. We have to understand that as a staff and offense,” Coach Fedora says.

Behind the line, the litany of offensive skill players has been well documented for the Tar Heels – none more so than electrifying playmaker Ryan Switzer.

Coach Fedora says Switzer is still learning the nuances of playing the wide receiver position. Switzer, after all, has never lined up as a wide out before. In high school, he sped away from opposing defenses as a running back.

“I think his biggest growth is in understanding what it takes to be a receiver and be a complete receiver – the blocking, running routes, understanding the whole concept of the route and how to get open on the route,” Coach Fedora says.

Switzer says the playbook has been expanding for him this year. Instead of quick out patterns, he’s being freed up to fly further down the football field. The sophomore says these deeper routes make hitting pay dirt a whole lot easier.

“What’s different from last year is I’ve been getting a lot more down-field passes. A lot of my catches last year were quick-gain and trying to get some yards after the catch. I’m happy with that. I don’t always have to make a guy miss. I can catch the ball in the end zone and don’t have to work too hard to get in there,” Switzer says.

Photo courtesy of

Switzer alludes a defender (UNC Athletics)

Although Switzer got his feet wet catching balls last season, Coach Fedora says to expect a breakout performance on the receiving end from the All-American in year two of his Chapel Hill career.

“I don’t think there’s any limit. Last year, he didn’t even scratch the surface with what he did at the receiver spot. He could break out at that position this year, he really could,” Coach Fedora says.

As for the man who will be slinging the football out to Switzer and company, Switzer says he doesn’t expect a final verdict to come until after the first two home contests against Liberty and San Diego State.

“It’s going to take the first two games to really see. If you want to give Mitch [Trubisky] a fair shot, you need to see what he can do when it’s live and the lights are on. I think those couple games are going to determine who our starting guy is going forward,” Switzer says.

A relative unknown situation at offensive line, a two-horse race at the quarterback spot and a dynamic player attempting to master a new position make for a tantalizing trifecta of offensive storylines for the Tar Heels

Close-Knit Tar Heels Test Offense, Showcase Defense in Scrimmage

The No. 23 North Carolina football team held its first fall preseason scrimmage last weekend in preparation for the 2014 kickoff in just 18 days. And in a somewhat surprising twist, it was the Tar Heel defense that made the most noise.

***Listen to the story***

Head coach Larry Fedora’s scrimmage evaluations are out. And so far at least, the defense has the early edge over the offense.

“It was sloppy in some areas. We had too many balls on the ground offensively. But on the other side of the football, the defense created some turnovers, which was a really good thing,” Coach Fedora says.

A disruptive defense is a positive sign for the UNC defensive unit that displayed steady improvement a year ago. The ability to create havoc in the opposing backfield and produce turnovers bodes well for Carolina’s chances moving forward in 2014.

In Saturday’s scrimmage, defensive tackle Ethan Farmer ran rampant in the backfield and stirred up fumbles, while safety Tim Scott snagged a pick-six.

But the offensive-minded Coach Fedora says objective one for his team is to take better care of the football.

“There was a common theme. There were too many balls on the ground. That was the common theme,” Coach Fedora says.

Photo courtesy of UNC Athletics

Photo courtesy of UNC Athletics

Overall, though, Coach Fedora says the maiden scrimmage was a positive experience, especially for the underclassmen just getting their feet wet in big-time college football.

“It was a typical first one. Everybody’s effort was really good. We got a bunch of reps for some young kids that were swimming mentally. It was good for them to get out there and see themselves doing it,” Coach Fedora says.

On Saturday, the biggest question mark for Coach Fedora’s Tar Heels, the offensive line, validated a disappointing assumption the Carolina skipper had made earlier in the spring.

“The thing that I found out was that we don’t have enough depth, which I knew beforehand. The good thing is we’re getting a lot of learned reps – the guy gets out there and something else happens that he hasn’t seen yet in practice. That’s one more experience that he gets before we get to game time,” Coach Fedora says.

There is a bright spot up front on the offense, however. Coach Fedora says sophomore center Lucas Crowley is developing nicely in the preseason, growing steadily in confidence as he gets set to fill the big shoes left by Russell Bodine, who is now a member of the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals.

“You’re the quarterback of that offensive line. You have to be able to make every single call. You have to understand the tempo. On top of it, you have to get the ball back to the quarterback in the perfect position. It’s just a comfort level of doing it over and over that I think he’s finally got to, so now he can start excelling as a player,” Coach Fedora says.

Photo courtesy of UNC Athletics

Photo courtesy of UNC Athletics

The focus and intensity level is at a fever pitch on Navy Field right now, and a lot of that oozes from Coach Fedora. But he says he can sense a far greater belief out of this year’s squad thanks to the close bonds these Tar Heels have formed.

“They are enthusiastic and excited about the season. They know how much work they’ve put in to this year. They know they’re a closer team than we’ve been in the past with better team chemistry. It doesn’t mean we don’t have problems. There’s just a different feel amongst them. They’re excited about the potential,” Coach Fedora says.

That potential will look to be realized soon enough when the Tar Heels rush out of the Kenan Stadium tunnel Aug. 30 to take on the Liberty Flames under the lights.

Summer Green Named To Hermann Trophy Watch List

KANSAS CITY, KANSAS – UNC junior forward Summer Green (Milford, Mich.) is one of 35 NCAA Division I women’s soccer players tagged as the leading players to watch this season that could vie for the 2014 MAC Hermann Trophy.

The MAC Hermann Trophy is the most prestigious individual award in NCAA soccer presented annually to one male and one female athlete. The winners will be announced Friday, Jan. 9, 2015, at the trophy presentation banquet at the Missouri Athletic Club in St. Louis.

Green is currently in Canada playing with Team USA as a member of the 2014 Under 20 World Cup squad. Green heads into her junior year at fourth-ranked North Carolina, which begins its slate August 22 versus Stanford in Chapel Hill, after being named third-team All-ACC as a sophomore in 2013. As a freshman in 2012 on Carolina’s NCAA championship team, Green was named to the ACC All-Freshman Team as well as to the Soccer America All-Freshman Team and the first-team Top Drawer Soccer Freshman Team of the Season.

The 2014 Watch Lists were announced earlier today on on the “2014 NSCAA College Soccer Review Show,” which also revealed the 2014 NSCAA/Continental Tire Preseason College Rankings for NCAA Division I men’s and women’s teams.

The lists are compiled by the NSCAA Men’s and Women’s NCAA Division I All-America Committees, based on their analysis of returning All-America and All-Region players, as well as any prominent newcomers.

Green was Carolina’s third-leading scorer in 2013 with 24 points on nine goals and six assists. As a freshman in 2012, Green scored seven goals and had eight assists for 22 points.

Near the end of the collegiate regular season, NCAA Division I coaches that are NSCAA members will vote on their top choices and the lists will be narrowed down to the top 15 players. College soccer fans will also have the opportunity to participate in the selection process, by voting for their favorite semifinalist in November at the MAC Hermann Trophy website, managed by LockerDome.

Carolina’s Hermann Trophy winners have included Shannon Higgins, Kristine Lilly, Mia Hamm, Tisha Venturini, Cindy Parlow, Catherine Reddick and Crystal Dunn. Dunn is the most recent Tar Heel to win the award in 2012.

From that pool of 30, six finalists (three men, three women) will be chosen for the award. The winners will be announced in January.

For more information about the history of the MAC Hermann Trophy and a list of past winners, visit the MAC Hermann Trophy information page at the NSCAA website.

For more information about the history of the MAC Hermann Trophy, and news and video from previous MAC Hermann presentations, visit

MSoc’s Okwuonu Tabbed For Hermann Trophy Watch List

For a second-straight season, North Carolina defender Boyd Okwuonu has been identified as a potential candidate for the Missouri Athletic Club’s Hermann Trophy as announced on Wednesday.

The reigning Atlantic Coast Conference Defender of the Year has anchored a Tar Heel defense that has ranked first and sixth, respectively, over the last two years in goals-against-average in the nation.

Okwuonu, a senior from Edmond, Okla., has been recognized already by on its preseason Best XI list.

The MAC Hermann Trophy is the most prestigious individual award in NCAA soccer presented annually to one male and one female athlete. The winners will be announced Friday, Jan. 9, 2015, at the trophy presentation banquet at the Missouri Athletic Club in St. Louis.

Near the end of the collegiate regular season, NCAA Division I coaches that are NSCAA members will vote on their top choices and the lists will be narrowed down to the top 15 players. College soccer fans will also have the opportunity to participate in the selection process, by voting for their favorite semifinalist in November at the MAC Hermann Trophy website, managed by LockerDome.

From that pool of 30, six finalists (three men, three women) will be chosen for the award. The winners will be announced in January.

For more information about the history of the MAC Hermann Trophy and a list of past winners, visit the MAC Hermann Trophy information page at the NSCAA website.

For more information about the history of the MAC Hermann Trophy, and news and video from previous MAC Hermann presentations, visit

Carolina opens its exhibition schedule with home matches against Gardner-Webb on Friday, Aug. 15 at 7 p.m and versus the Carolina Railhawks on Monday, Aug. 18 at 7 p.m. The Tar Heels will also face ACC rival Wake Forest in an exhibition on Aug. 23 in Winston-Salem, N.C., at 7 p.m.

The regular season opens with a pair of powerhouse programs traveling to Chapel Hill over Labor Day weekend to take part in the annual Carolina Nike Classic. The Tar Heels will take on No. 7 California on Friday, Aug. 29 and No. 4 UCLA on Sunday, Aug. 31. Both matches will begin at 7 p.m., at Fetzer Field.