Linebackers Schoettmer and Rashad Have UNC’s Defense Ready For Its Close-Up

In just one week’s time the UNC football team will be in Charlotte for their season opener against South Carolina.

Under the lights at Bank of America Stadium and nationally televised on ESPN, the Tar Heel defense – led by senior linebackers Jeff Schoettmer and Shakeel Rashad – will have a prime opportunity to let the cameras capture their good side in the first game under new defensive coordinator Gene Chizik.

The complete overhaul of the team’s defense, which has carried on all throughout the offseason, has asked numerous players to take on different roles and positions as they learn Chizik’s new scheme. During that process, Head Coach Larry Fedora showered praise on his senior leaders for their efforts in trying to make the transition a success.

“There’s two guys right now, and that’s Jeff Schoettmer and Shakeel Rashad,” Fedora said recently at the team’s media day. “I mean, those guys right now, they’re giving everything they’ve got in what [Chizik] expects from them in practice, meetings, their mentalities–everything they’re doing.”

Although Chizik might be new in Chapel Hill, he’s not blind to the fact that there will be growing pains trying to turn around a defense that allowed more points per game than all but nine of the 128 NCAA Division I teams a year ago. Should this group run into struggles this season, he expects Schoettmer and Rashad to work together in order to find the solutions.

Senior Jeff Schoettmer has been a fixture in the Tar Heel defense throughout his entire career. (Elliot Rubin)

Senior Jeff Schoettmer has been a fixture in the Tar Heel defense throughout his career. (Elliot Rubin)

“Those guys have to be in a position when things aren’t going good to step up to the plate,” Chizik said after practice on Wednesday. “We’re gonna have some ups and downs in a game—just like we are the whole year. And that’s where they gotta step up to the plate and be the voice on the field.”

Having built a close relationship during their three years on campus together, Schoettmer and Rashad have certainly learned each other’s strengths and weaknesses. So when it comes to making the type of vocal impact on the team that Chizik is looking for, Schoettmer expects he and his buddy will each contribute in their own way.

“I think I’m more the vocal leader on the field, and he’s more the guy that rallies everyone together off the field,” Schoettmer says. “We kinda complement each other real well, in that sense.

“But he’s not afraid to speak up on the field as well. If he sees something from the sideline, he’s always the first one to come to me and point out ‘Hey Schoett, this is what they’re doing, this is what we need to be doing’, and I’m the guy that relays the message to the rest of the defense.”

As the middle linebacker, Schoettmer is the man who quarterbacks that side of the ball–something that’s always been his job in his time as a Tar Heel.

Rashad, on the other hand, has spent his offseason adjusting to a brand new role playing as a traditional outside linebacker after three years as a hybrid defensive end under the old coaching regime.

“It was a big change for me,” Rashad said. “I had to change my size and I had to change how I think in certain situations.”

The man they call "Shakkie Robinson" is transitioning well to his new role as a full-time outside linebacker. (UNC Athletics)

The man they call “Shakkie Robinson” (42) is transitioning well to his new role as a full-time outside linebacker. (UNC Athletics)

After shedding 10 pounds, he and Schoettmer are now each listed at 6-foot-2-inches and 235 pounds–making them just about clones of one another. The only thing Rashad needs to be more like Schoettmer at this point is a long blonde mane atop his head–something that is highly unlikely to ever happen.

But so far he’s done exceptionally well with the position switch, saying that, “It’s been fairly smooth–with the guys like Jeff [Schoettmer] at linebacker helping me out, with our whole coaching staff helping me out, helping me learn it.

“A lot of people had to change positions. A lot of guys are learning new stuff, and everyone’s there to help out with it.”

Since last season concluded with a disappointing 40-21 loss to Rutgers in the bowl game, much of the talk about this football team has centered on its defensive shortcomings—something Schoettmer is itching to silence.

“For the past eight, nine months we’ve been hearing all the negative things about last year, and how bad we were as a defense,” Schoettmer said Wednesday. “So that’s kind of lit a fire underneath us. We understand that we’re a completely new defense.”

Rashad, who wears number 42 and sports the nickname “Shakkie Robinson” to match, is just as excited for this group to get started in its attempt at redemption next week.

“All over the locker room, all over the stadium, people are excited,” Rashad said about next week’s opener. “It’s a big game. We feel like we’ve got a lot to prove, and it’s a great stage to do it on. To come out and just say ‘Hey, North Carolina defense. We’re back.’ “

UNC Training Camp: Hood and Logan Bringing “Thunder and Lightning” to Chapel Hill

They haven’t earned any nicknames yet, but if they carry their excellent play from training camp into the regular season, that may change in the very near future.

Elijah Hood and T.J. Logan are expected to give this year’s UNC football team an electric one-two punch at the running back position that could take this year’s offense to new heights.

While some offenses like to slow the tempo and hand the ball off to one running back all game long, UNC Head Coach Larry Fedora needs to constantly rotate in multiple backs due to the breakneck pace his teams play with.

But that’s not all that matters. With these two unique runners, defenses will always get different looks from the Tar Heel backfield.

“Well, there’s a size difference, a strength difference, a running style difference,” Fedora said. “One of ‘ems a big, physical, ‘pound you’ kind of guy, and the other one’s a slashing [back], got great speed—all those kind of things.”

Elijah Hood is known for his physical, bruising running style. (

Elijah Hood is known for his physical, bruising running style. (

The NFL’s Carolina Panthers, in recent years, have rotated (now-departed) speed back DeAngelo Williams with power back Jonathan Stewart. The two earned the nickname “Thunder and Lightning” as they found great success together for seven years.

Hood, a 6-foot 200 pound sophomore from the Panthers’ backyard in Charlotte, has shown plenty of people this summer which of those roles he’ll be in.

“I definitely can make some plays based off my physicality,” Hood told reporters after practice on Wednesday. “That first run in the scrimmage (an 80 yard touchdown run) was a pretty physical play. That’s how I broke it. Physicality’s definitely our thing this year—from an offensive and defensive standpoint.”

He came to Chapel Hill last year after being ranked number 47 on ESPN’s list of the top 300 high school prospects in the nation—and de-committed from Notre Dame before choosing UNC. However, injuries held Hood to just 67 carries in his debut season—which allowed the 5-foot-10-inch speedster, Logan, to take the reins as the team’s top running back for the second straight year.

With Hood healthy, Logan mentioned a goal they’ve set for themselves this season.

“We talk about getting at least 200 yards a game,” Logan said. “I feel like if we do that, the rest is just gonna come down to us just clicking as an offense, and on defense as well. So 200 yards for us, as a running back group, is where we need to be.”

Although no runner for the Tar Heels (outside of quarterback Marquise Williams) averaged more than 10 carries a game in 2014, Logan said that he hopes to get at least 15 per outing this season. Coach Fedora hasn’t made any promises there, but he has noticed one skill his best running backs have in common that could help them each get the ball a little more.

TJ Logan uses his speed to get away from potential tacklers. (UNC Athletics)

TJ Logan uses his speed to get away from potential tacklers. (UNC Athletics)

“It’s nice to have that punch, and that changeup–that not all the backs are exactly the same,” Fedora said. “One good thing is [Hood and Logan] both catch the ball very well. So that’s a big asset for us.”

The possibility of seeing either Logan or Hood get some time as a slot receiver is also something Fedora will not rule out.

“You could see anything,” Fedora said with a slight smirk on his face. “We’re gonna try to always put our good players on the field. We’ve got all kinds of things working, actually, right now.”

One thing is for certain about this year’s running backs. For that area of the offense to really show improvement, the quarterback can’t lead the team in rushing—something that has been the case the past 2 seasons. While Logan has talked about the importance of keeping Williams healthy–Hood is a little more matter of fact with his thoughts on the subject.

“Personally, as a running back I would hate that,” Hood said. “I would not want the quarterback to lead the team in rushing. I definitely think that should be a running back’s duty to lead the team in rushing. That’s why we’re the running backs.”

Camp Notes:

  • Williams led the team in rushing last season with 788 yards on 193 carries from the quarterback position. Logan finished second, but led all running backs, with 582 yards on 119 carries.
  • Hood missed 5 games last season due to various injuries–totaling 259 yards on 67 carries.
  • Coach Fedora has had Logan on the first team kickoff return unit so far in camp. Logan returned 16 kicks last year, but none of those came after Week 6 on the road against Notre Dame

Physicality the Theme at UNC Football Media Day

If everything goes according to plan this season, then all that chatter about the UNC football team playing too cute of a game should all be long gone. At the team’s Media Day on Wednesday, physicality was hailed as the potential savior of all things—from the top down.

As the football landscape, both in college and the professional ranks, gears itself more towards wide-open spread offenses—like UNC’s—hard-hitting smash-mouth defense has largely gone by the wayside.

New Tar Heel defensive coordinator Gene Chizik has come to Chapel Hill on a mission to change that.

“In this day and age, you can’t win games saying that ‘Well we play X amount of spread offenses, so we’re gonna finesse ’em and bring ’em down in space,”‘ Chizik said. “No, that’s part of being physical. That’s part of being in the right spots.

“Everything in this game is about physicality. I have never been around a good defense that’s not physical. Never.”

Gene Chizik talks physicality with a reporter on Wednesday. (UNC Athletics)

Gene Chizik talks physicality with a reporter on Wednesday. (UNC Athletics)

Many of last season’s woes have been attributed to defensive failures, as the team gave up 39 points per game—good enough to rank a whopping 119th out of 128 eligible Division I schools. It would be wrong, though, to assume that the players aren’t fully aware of that fact heading into this year.

“Nobody liked the results of last year any less than they do,” Chizik said about the group he’s inherited. “Nobody. No coaches, no media, no fans, nobody. They did not like the results either.

“So [the players] care enough to work every day to change them. They gotta play through the good times and the bad–and it always has to be consistent as we move. I think that’s really the message with them.

“We’re not playing any Dr. Phil games,” he added.

For Larry Fedora, the team’s offensive-minded head coach, that same approach can be taken on both sides of the ball even while playing out of the spread. It just has to show itself in a different way.

“When we evaluated what our problems were and all those things, we knew we had to establish ourselves running the football,” Fedora told reporters. “And so that was a point of emphasis, again, going into the part with being physical.”

Sophomore running back Elijah Hood ran for close to 200 yards in Sunday's team scrimmage, and will be counted on to have a big year. (UNC Athletics)

Sophomore running back Elijah Hood ran for close to 200 yards in Sunday’s team scrimmage, and will be counted on to have a big year. (UNC Athletics)

It was the quarterback, Marquise Williams, who ended up leading the team in rushing a year ago. But in order to keep Williams and his surgically repaired hip healthy, it’ll be important to get a breakout year from sophomore running back Elijah Hood, who had close to 200 rushing yards in Sunday’s team scrimmage.


However, Williams won’t be afraid to repeat last year’s performance, if necessary.

“I mean, there’s still pass progressions. I’m on my ‘1, 2, 3, and down to my checkdown [receivers],” he said. “But if there’s nobody there, I’m still gonna take off. But, with the running backs we have, and the offensive lineman–how confident those guys are this year–we’re gonna move the ball in the running game.”

Ironically enough, if there’s one player who may need to tone his physicality down a little, it’s Williams.

In order for the Tar Heels to be at their strongest from September all the way through December, their signal-caller can’t be taking too many hard hits when he runs the ball.

“There was times [last year] where I could have protected myself, but I just wanted to be that hero,” Williams said, pausing for just a second afterwards. “Sometimes I shouldn’t be that hero. Sometimes I need to lay down.”

He continued on, saying, “I gotta be more smart this year and protect myself, because it’s not about me. It’s about my team–and those guys gonna need me.”

UNC Training Camp: Receivers Expected to be Loud–On and Off the Field

Fresh off its first full-team scrimmage on Sunday, the UNC football team resumed training camp Monday morning with a clearer picture starting to develop of this year’s Tar Heel roster.

And if there’s one thing that can be said for certain about this year’s team just six days into practice–it’s that the deep stable of wide receivers will be making noise in many different ways.

Depth is a key component in UNC Head Coach Larry Fedora’s high-tempo offense, and luckily for the Tar Heels, they have plenty of it flanking quarterback Marquise Williams.

Senior Quinshad Davis, along with juniors Bug Howard and Mack Hollins, give the team three targets outside the numbers standing at least 6-foot-4, with the other main pass-catcher being 5-foot-10 whirling dervish Ryan Switzer out of the slot. That kind of talent leads to some great battles in practice, Davis says.

“Shoot, we all considered number one [receivers],” Davis said after practice Monday. “I wouldn’t say nobody is better than the other. But I mean, we all push each other to the limit, because we all know its competition. We got each other breathing down each other’s back. All that does is make each one of us better.”

Mack Hollins hauls in a pass during Monday's practice. (Avery Trendel)

Mack Hollins hauls in a pass during Monday’s practice. (Avery Trendel)

Williams, the man who gets to throw to all these freakishly athletic receivers, has noticed the same thing from his spot behind the line of scrimmage.

“Those guys have been running routes tremendously well,” Williams told reporters about the improvements he’s seen in his receivers. “Bug [Howard], Quinshad [Davis], and Mack [Hollins]—those are big receivers. They feel like if you throw the ball in their area, they gonna come down with it. And that’s what I love about them the most. They gonna compete for everything.”

Each of the Tar Heels’ top four receivers (Switzer, Davis, Howard, and Hollins) caught at least 35 passes and gained at least 450 yards last season, which may not seem like much, but it is when you consider that there’s only one ball to spread around.

However, there are other attributes that Coach Fedora appreciates about his experienced receivers.

“Quinshad Davis, Mack Hollins, I mean all those guys that have experience. They’re very vocal. And they have no problem being vocal—and leading,” Fedora said.

Although it often falls into the lap of the quarterback to talk a lot and keep the team loose, Williams is quick to point out that the receivers have that job locked down on this team.

“Mack, he’s one of the funniest guys,” Williams said. “He’s always gonna run his mouth. But that’s Mack, and we love that. We need that.

“Quinshad and Bug bring the energy,” he added. “Bug’s one of those guys that’s always dancing and thinking everything’s funny. That’s what you need around a team. You can’t have a dull moment. Like I was telling those guys today, ‘Y’all quiet like we at a funeral, man. Let’s have some fun ‘cause you don’t get this opportunity too many times’.”

Senior Quinshad Davis (14) leads an established group of Tar Heel wide receivers into 2015. (Avery Trendel)

On top of that, Howard often hosts dance competitions in the locker room to help ease tensions. But it’s not always fun and games. Sometimes, business gets in the way.

When it’s time to buckle down and focus on football, that’s where Davis, the senior, steps in.

“I mean, we joke and laugh around—but [we] know there’s a time to play and a time to be serious. So I just let the guys have fun and enjoy themselves, but I let ‘em know when it’s time to go, it’s time to go,” Davis said.

Asked what the receivers needed to improve on the most for 2015, Howard–definitely not a man lacking confidence–thought to himself for about ten seconds before conceding that he didn’t really know, outside of cleaning up a few simple errors.

Only time will tell if that’s true or not, but right now the Tar Heels’ receiving corps are feeling (really) good about themselves heading into the heart of training camp.

Up Next:

Wednesday is Media Day for the Tar Heels, so WCHL will be out there to cover all of the important (and not-so-important) things that happen out there. Coach Fedora will be holding a press conference during the proceedings.

Camp Notes:

  • Fedora said that Quinshad Davis is feeling good coming off surgery for his broken leg suffered against Rutgers in UNC’s bowl game last December.
  • A reporter asked Davis if the metal rods inserted into his leg are flagged by airport security. With a laugh, Davis said no.
  • The defensive line has been making waves on that side of the ball, getting singled out by Fedora after practice for their impressive work so far.

UNC Training Camp: Chizik’s Presence Looms Large Over Schoettmer, Defense

Since Larry Fedora’s arrival as UNC’s head football coach in 2012, the Tar Heels have never struggled to score points. However, the results on the other side of the ball have been a bit shaky under the offensive guru.

So for 2015 Fedora landed his most talented recruit yet—a defensive coordinator by the name of Gene Chizik.

Just four days into training camp, Chizik has already made his mark on the team.

In 2005, Chizik was a co-defensive coordinator for Mack Brown’s national championship team at Texas. And then in 2010 as the head coach at Auburn, he picked up another national title led by quarterback Cam Newton.

From the first day Chizik stepped on campus, Coach Fedora and his team couldn’t help but show respect for him and his impressive resumé.

“Guys were excited,” Fedora said. “I mean, his reputation precedes him. So everybody, whether they had met him or not, they already knew what he had accomplished. That gave them a sense of confidence, and a swagger about them, from the very get-go. And I think that’s continued through to this point.”

Jeff Schoettmer (10) will be counted on by Gene Chizik to lead the way on defense in 2015. (Avery Trendel/

Senior linebacker Jeff Schoettmer, who comes into the year as the team’s unquestioned leader on the defensive side of the ball, says Chizik is exactly what the doctor ordered for this particular team.

“His presence is just something that our team needed,” Schoettmer said after practice on Thursday. “The leadership he shows, the background, the experience that he has—it’s great for our team.

“The defense can learn a lot from him, but he helps the offense as well. He was a head coach at one point. He’s coached in national championships. He’s been there, he’s been to the highest level. So that experience and knowledge–and just the swag he brings to our defense–is really what we needed.”

Although he’s seen as the man who is supposed to clean up the mess left behind by last year’s squad, Chizik sees his challenge a little differently—especially with the switch in schemes from former coordinator Vic Koenning’s ‘4-2-5’ to a more conventional ‘4-3’, which uses three linebackers instead of two.

“I don’t think you can look at last year’s [film] and really compare,” Chizik said. “It’s just two different ideas totally. Not that one idea is right and one idea is wrong. They’re just different. So it’s comparing apples and oranges”

Listening to Chizik talk football is something that immediately captured his players’ attention, especially for Schoettmer—the quarterback of the defense.

Dajuan Drennon (17) is expected to have a breakout season up front on Chizik's defensive line. (Avery Trendel/

Dajuan Drennon (17) is one of the top returning starters up front on Chizik’s defensive line. (Avery Trendel/

“He’s very smart,” Schoettmer said. “He’s the most intelligent football mind I’ve been around in my life. In the time he’s been here, I’ve learned more about football—about the game, about what my role and responsibility is, about how to read the offense, how to read the lineman, how to read running backs, how to read routes and stuff. Just listening to him day in and day out, you can pick up something every day.”

But Chizik’s not just doing it with his words out on the practice field. So far during training camp, he’s also made his presence known just as much with his actions.

“He’s going around to each position group and coaching every one of them,” Schoettmer said. “He’s not just, you know, coaching the DB’s, or the linebackers, or the D-line. He’s bouncing around during practice and really coaching everybody. And his knowledge, and the confidence that he has and instills in us—it’s great.”

For all this talk, though, it’s still just the first week of camp.

Chizik has just under a month left to prepare for his debut against one of college football’s great offensive minds—Steve Spurrier and the South Carolina Gamecocks—in Charlotte on September 3rd.

Up Next:

WCHL will be back out at training camp with the Tar Heels next Monday, with a look at how the offense is progressing.

Camp Notes:

  • When asked about the team’s uncertain situation at kicker, Coach Fedora said the only thing he knows is that he has “fewer days to make a decision.”
  • Fedora singled out true freshman Aaron Crawford as someone showing great potential on the defensive line.
  • Malik Simmons, a senior cornerback, was not at practice Thursday. He was in court for a pair of misdemeanor charges from earlier this summer. Fedora reinstated Simmons to the team on Monday after a brief suspension.

UNC Training Camp: Marquise Williams Ready For the Spotlight

As the UNC football team opened its preseason training camp Monday morning, all eyes were focused on senior quarterback Marquise Williams. Motivated by a disappointing finish to 2014, the dual-threat signal caller is expected to lead the way this year on a Tar Heel roster loaded with experience.

After toying with the idea of a two-quarterback system at times during last season’s 6-7 finish, UNC Head Coach Larry Fedora has given Williams the keys to the offense heading into 2015—noting the tremendous growth in Williams’ leadership ability.

“I didn’t necessarily just see [Williams’ leadership gains] today,” Fedora said. “I mean, that’s been happening all offseason, all summer, everything. He just knows he feels like its his team and he’s stepped up. He’s got more confidence, and when you have more confidence everybody wants to follow a leader that’s confident.”

Despite splitting time with backup Mitch Trubisky to begin last year, Williams finished the season with over 3000 passing yards, while also picking up 788 on the ground—but struggled to find consistency week in and week out.

Entering his final season in Chapel Hill, Williams is hungry to prove that he can take his game to another level while under the spotlight.

Williams will be unafraid to lean on experienced teammates (like junior WR Ryan Switzer) when things get tough. (Elliott Rubin)

Williams will be unafraid to lean on experienced teammates (like junior WR Ryan Switzer) when things get tough. (Elliott Rubin)

“I’m excited,” Williams said, smiling. “This is my last go-round, and I feel like there’s a chip. I still have more to prove to others that believe I can’t do it. And I’m excited to do that.”

Refusing to shy away from his lofty ambitions for this season, Williams has his eyes set on bringing home all kinds of hardware—both individually and with the team.

“The goal for myself is to, you know, be the ACC Player of the Year and make First-Team All-ACC,” the confident Williams said after practice concluded Monday. “But my main goal is to take us to the ACC Championship–something that’s never been done here. And also play for a [National Championship]. This year it’s looking like we’re gonna be down in Charlotte [for the ACC Title Game] come December.”

While it’s quite the stretch to think the Tar Heels have any shot at winning a national title (with conference hopes not much brighter), their success will largely be determined by how well their quarterback can perform. So if Marquise Williams ends up being the ACC Player of the Year, you can also safely assume the team will win its share of games to go along with it.

A Second-Team All-ACC selection a year ago, Williams will spearhead Coach Fedora’s high-flying attack notorious for making scoreboards, and opposing defenses, work up a sweat. He won’t have to do it by himself, however, as the Tar Heels bring back every offensive starter from 2014—something that has not been lost on their quarterback.

“It’s not about me, it’s about those guys surrounding me,” Williams said. “I don’t have to do anything flashy as the quarterback. Just put the ball in Ryan Switzer’s hands, or get it off to T.J. [Logan], or Elijah [Hood], Mack Hollins, or Quinshad Davis. Those the guys right there that’s gonna make this team this year. I just gotta play my part and do my role.”

With all of that experience returning, Williams doesn’t hesitate when pointing out the biggest difference he sees in his teammates so far this offseason.

“I’ve never seen a group of guys excited to get back to training camp,” he said. “In my five years here, guys usually dread training camp–like ‘Man, it’s the hardest thing’, but everybody’s excited, everybody’s ready to learn, and everybody’s ready to come out and compete. And that’s what it is. When we compete against each other, we cannot be stopping.”

Up Next:

Later on this week, we’ll check out the new-look defense led by defensive coordinator Gene Chizik–a controversial hire by the school, but a man that has won a pair of national championships (as the head coach at Auburn in 2010, and as a co-defensive coordinator at Texas in 2005).

Camp Notes:

  • Senior cornerback Malik Simmons was in uniform on Monday morning, after being reinstated to the team following a suspension for two misdemeanor arrests this offseason. He practiced with the backups, however, which was something Coach Fedora would not comment on.
  • Quinshad Davis practiced at wide receiver as he eases himself back into action following a broken leg in the 2014 finale against Rutgers. Fedora said that Davis is still not quite ready for game action.

Benton Moss Named First Team Academic All-American

UNC senior pitcher Benton Moss was selected to the 2015 Capital One Academic All-American first team on Thursday—the first Tar Heel baseball player to earn the honor since current New York Yankee pitcher Adam Warren in 2009.

A Morehead Scholar double majoring in business and economics, Moss has already received other prestigious awards for his educational pursuits—such as the Jim Tatum Memorial Award, given to one UNC varsity student-athlete per year for excelling in athletics and academics, and the ACC Senior Scholar-Athlete of the Year.

Although he was chosen in the 15th round of the 2014 MLB Draft by the defending world champion San Francisco Giants, Moss opted to come back to Chapel Hill this year to finish his degree–and for one last shot at college glory on the diamond.

Despite the team’s struggles in 2015, Moss posted a 7-1 record on the mound, with a 3.44 ERA in 13 starts. He also moved into second on the all-time school strikeout list, becoming one of just four men in UNC history to strike out more than 300 hitters.

Academic All-American honors are selected by the College Sports Information Directors of America and are based on athletic and academic achievement.

Moss was the only ACC player to be named to the first team.

He was profiled here on before the season. You can find that story here.

UNC Baseball Misses NCAA Tournament For First Time Since 2001

For the first time since 2001 the UNC baseball team will not play in the NCAA Tournament. It marks just the second time in head coach Mike Fox’s 17-year tenure that the Tar Heels will not be playing into June.

“I never thought we were immune to this,” Coach Fox said. “It’s not a given. You can say that, but all of a sudden when you’re not in, that’s the reality. No program is immune to this. There’s a lot of really, really good teams out there.”

The team finished the season with a record of 34-24 overall and 15-18 in the ACC.

Junior left fielder Landon Lassiter was suspended indefinitely on Friday. (Smith Cameron Productions)

Junior left fielder Landon Lassiter was suspended indefinitely on Friday. (Smith Cameron Productions)

UNC struggled to close out the season after being thought of as a potential top seed and regional host just a few short weeks ago. It also didn’t help that the team went 3-8 in its last 11 games, which is a large factor into the selection committee’s decisions.

“I think it’s that [the close to the season], and I think our conference record,” Coach Fox said. “I think anytime you finish below .500 like we did in the conference, I think those two things probably–in the committee’s mind, I’m not speaking for them–were hard to overlook.”

The indefinite suspension of junior left fielder Landon Lassiter—the team’s top hitter with a .300 batting average on the year—announced on Friday could also have played a role in the decision.

Fox has declined to comment on Lassiter’s status since the announcement, other than to say that Lassiter would not rejoin the team for the NCAA Tournament no matter how far they advanced.

UNC ended the year ranked 24th in the nation’s RPI rankings, which measure teams based on win percentage and strength of schedule. That was the highest of any team in the country that was not selected for the 64 team tournament.

The ACC had seven schools selected to play for a national title, including the Clemson Tigers–who the Tar Heels defeated last Friday by a score of 6-3.

“We talked to our players about this, that it’s not a right that we have being in this conference, or being anywhere, that [we’re] in,” Coach Fox said. “So now that it’s a reality we’ll see how it affects us going forwards. Hopefully, in a positive way which it should. We have the right approach and the right kids and the right coaches.”

For comparison, the Tigers finished the season at 32-27 and ranked 55th in the RPI rankings–but they closed out the year 8-3 in their last 11 games.

Skye Bolt's time in a Carolina uniform is likely over, as the junior center fielder is expected to be an early MLB draft pick. (Smith Cameron Productions)

Skye Bolt’s time in a Carolina uniform is likely over, as the junior center fielder is expected to be an early MLB draft pick. (Smith Cameron Productions)

ESPN had Clemson listed as its “Last Team In” to the tournament, and the Tar Heels as its “First Team Out”–meaning the decision for the final spot in the field came down to those two teams.

Now the eyes will turn from a potential postseason run over to June’s MLB Draft, where Tar Heels such as Benton Moss, Skye Bolt, and Korey Dunbar have a great chance to be selected–but that doesn’t make the sting of missing the tournament for the first time in 14 years hurt any less.

“You hope when you don’t have good feelings about things that you’ll do things to put yourselves in a position this time next year to not feel this way,” Coach Fox said.

“That’s what we’ve gotta find out about ourselves, starting with me from the top down, meeting with all of our players. Who wants to help and really be part of the solution?,” Fox added.

ACC Baseball Tournament: Tar Heels Pick Up Big Win Over Clemson

Feeling the unfamiliar pressure of the NCAA Tournament bubble, the UNC baseball team rebounded from back-to-back losses to defeat the Clemson Tigers by a score of 6-3 on Friday at the ACC Tournament in Durham.

Both teams finish with records of 1-2 in ACC pool play and are eliminated from conference championship contention.

The Tar Heels are now 34-24 for the season, finishing league play at 15-18. Clemson also ends the year on the bubble–at 32-27 overall and 17-16 in the ACC.

Freshman flamethrower JB Bukauskas (5-3)–like his team–bounced back from a couple of rough starts on the mound in his previous two outings. For the game he gave up five hits in 5.2 innings of two-run ball, striking out seven hitters without walking anyone on his way to the win.

“The last couple times out I haven’t been very sharp, just felt like I didn’t have anything. And I felt a little bit like that in the bullpen today [before the game] until I got out on the mound. It just kinda started to click.” Bukauskas said.

Skye Bolt (20) broke the game wide open with a three-run homer in the third inning. (Sara D. Davis,

Skye Bolt (20) broke the game wide open with a three-run homer in the third inning. (Sara D. Davis,

“I felt like I had my fastball more than I did [in recent starts], and the slider just started snapping off better,” he added. “Once I had that, once I felt confident with it I just started throwing it more. And it ended up with a good result.”

In the bottom of the third inning Skye Bolt blasted a three-run homer against Clemson senior right-hander Jake Long (2-1) to break a scoreless tie. From there the Tar Heels never looked back–although they managed all six of their runs on just five hits, taking advantage of eight walks and four errors by the Tiger defense.

“It was a big swing of the bat,” Bolt said. “[We] go ahead 3-0 and JB’s throwing the way he was. It’s important for our guys, it’s important for the team. It’s a good feeling. You wanna be ahead. You wanna have your starting pitcher up there with confidence having a little bit of leeway.”

“And that’s what I was able to provide,” Bolt continued.

UNC found some more offense in the fourth with an RBI single from left fielder Adam Pate and a bases loaded walk drawn by Bolt, who finished one for three at the plate with four RBIs.

Left fielder Reed Rohlman had three hits and second baseman Tyler Krieger had a pair, along with an RBI, to lead the Clemson offense. Krieger drove in the Tigers’ first run with a hard-hit single off Bukauskas in the sixth before coming in to score the second one himself later in the inning after a wild pitch by senior reliever Trevor Kelley.

Neither team picked up a hit until UNC right fielder Tyler Ramirez legged out an infield single in the bottom of the third after Pate previously reached base on a throwing error from Clemson shortstop Eli White–setting up Bolt with two men on base.

Bolt then turned on a 3-2 pitch from Long, sending it deep into the right field bleachers for the homer that gave Bukauskas plenty of breathing room–and that served as the difference in the game.

JB Bukauskas was back to normal after struggling in recent starts. (Sara D. Davis/

Clemson put up two runs in the sixth, but they immediately gave one of them right back. White made his second error at shortstop when he lost a pop-up by Bolt in the sun, which allowed Tyler Ramirez to come home and score UNC’s sixth run of the afternoon.

From there, Kelley worked the next three innings to close up shop– despite Clemson creeping to within three on a single by third baseman Weston Wilson.

After the game Bolt said he was confident that the Tar Heels would get into the NCAA Tournament, but UNC head coach Mike Fox still has some reservations about whether his team will make the final cut.

“I think if we [had went] 0-3 [in pool play], there’s a reason to leave us out,” Fox said. “It was a big win for us. Is it enough? I don’t know. I certainly hope so because I’ve enjoyed coaching this team. They compete, and I want my seniors–and obviously these other guys–to experience it.”

Up Next:

The Tar Heels now find their fate in the hands of the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee. The 64-team NCAA Tournament field will be announced at noon on Monday–and shown live on ESPNU.

Game Notes:

  • UNC announced via Twitter on Friday that junior left fielder Landon Lassiter has been suspended indefinitely for conduct detrimental to the team. He did not play against Clemson.
  • Skye Bolt’s home run was his 10th of the season and 20th of his career at Carolina.
  • After going 2-4 on Friday, Tyler Ramirez has reached base in 28 straight games for the Tar Heels.


ACC Baseball Tournament: Bats Fall Flat, Tar Heels Downed by No. 13 FSU

Led by a solid effort on the mound from junior Mike Compton, the No. 13 Florida State Seminoles cruised to an 8-4 victory over the UNC baseball team on Thursday night at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

With their second straight loss in pool play, the Tar Heels (33-24, 14-18) are eliminated from contention for the conference crown.

The Seminoles (40-19, 19-13) are now in position to advance to Sunday’s ACC Championship Game thanks to 5.2 stellar innings from Compton (4-3), who gave up just two runs on five hits. Florida State defeated Clemson on Wednesday and is now 2-0 in the tournament.

DJ Stewart and the Seminole offense picked up four runs against Trent Thornton in the first three innings, while their pitching staff kept Carolina in check. (Liz Condo,

DJ Stewart (8) and the Seminole offense picked up four runs against Trent Thornton in the first three innings, while their pitching staff kept Carolina in check. (Liz Condo,

Carolina’s offense–which has consistently been the team’s Achilles’ Heel this season–picked up just one hit through the first five innings.

Throughout that time period Compton shut them down with fantastic control of all his pitches.

“[Compton’s] good. He’s really good,” UNC head coach Mike Fox said. “I mean, Florida State’s always had pitchers that pound the strike zone. If you look at the box score that’s the difference in the game I think. We walk one time, they walk eight.”

Tar Heel Right fielder Tyler Ramirez finally sparked some life into the largely pro-UNC crowd when he hit a triple to kick start a two-run sixth frame capped by RBIs from Alex Raburn and Korey Dunbar.

They added two more tallies on Brian Miller’s two-run single in the bottom of the ninth, but by then it was too little, too late–as Florida State preceded that by putting up three runs in the eighth against the UNC bullpen.

Trent Thornton was up and down for the Tar Heels in his first start since March. (Liz Condo,

Trent Thornton was up and down for the Tar Heels in his first start since March. (Liz Condo,

Junior Trent Thornton (3-7) made the start for UNC and looked impressive, going 5.1 innings on his way to a career-high 10 strikeouts. He surrendered five runs though, four of which came in the first three innings–as the strong Seminole lineup made thunderous contact on the pitches they did connect with.

“It took a little bit for me to get in a groove, but it came down to making pitches in big situations that I wasn’t able to do tonight,” Thornton said. “And that was the difference in the game.”

Florida State outfielders Josh Delph and Ben DeLuzio each had three hits and combined to drive in four of the Seminoles’ eight runs to lead the Seminole offensive charge.

Although the Tar Heels have been knocked out of championship contention, they still have one more game to play as pool play finishes up in Durham.

“Tomorrow means a whole lot to us, the way I think we have to look at it,” Coach Fox said after the game. “I have no idea about what the [NCAA Selection Committee] is thinking or any of that, but I think it’s very important for us to win our last game before the NCAA tournament. If nothing else, just to have a win.”


Up Next:

The Clemson Tigers (32-26, 17-15) will be their opponent, with first pitch set for 3 p.m.

The Tigers took two of three games from UNC in their series earlier this season, which was played at Clemson.

Game Notes:

  • UNC falls to 1-10 all time against Florida State in the ACC Tournament.
  • The Tar Heel pitchers combined to strike out 17 Seminoles in the game.
  • First Team All-ACC outfielder DJ Stewart went 1-5 for Florida State, striking out twice against Trent Thornton.
  • Landon Lassiter picked up the first hit of the night for the Tar Heels in the fourth inning, when he tripled out to right field.