After coming up just one win short of a national title in 2015, the UNC women’s field hockey team is facing enormous expectations entering 2016.
Tuesday morning marked the release of the season’s first National Field Hockey Coaches Association (NFHCA) top 25 poll–with the Tar Heels being selected No. 1 in the nation.
Although it only received 16 first place votes while No. 2 Syracuse picked up 25, UNC tallied more overall points–915 to the Orange’s 898–in order to earn the distinction of top team in America.
In fact, it was Syracuse that beat the Tar Heels in last season’s NCAA Championship Game–meaning the rivalry is sure to heat up even more this season.
Connecticut, Duke and Virginia rounded out the top five in the rankings, with another ACC rival–Wake Forest–coming in at No. 7.
Tar Heel seniors Emma Bozek and Julia Young were also each named to the Preseason All-ACC team.
They’ll play a large role in helping UNC fulfill its goals in 2015–starting this Saturday with the season opener against No. 10 Michigan in Winston Salem as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
The Tar Heels will then play again on Sunday against Iowa.http://chapelboro.com/featured/unc-field-hockey-ranked-no-1-in-preseason-poll
Looking to end its longest national title drought since the NCAA Women’s Soccer Tournament began in 1982, the No. 9 UNC women’s soccer team begins its regular season Friday night at Fetzer Field with a game against the University of Central Florida (UCF) Knights.
It’s the first of two games for the Tar Heels this weekend, as they host the Carolina Nike Classic. They’ll also play host to the Charlotte 49ers on Sunday.
For UNC–which have gone three straight years without accomplishing their only goal each season–it will be an important weekend to figure out which new players are primed to step up.
Head coach Anson Dorrance enters his 38th season having lost six of last year’s 11 starters. Three more potential starters for this season may redshirt due to injury or National Team duties.
This comes after last year’s Tar Heels fell from their No. 1 ranking–and ended up losing in the NCAA Second Round–due to a rash of injuries.
“This season I just don’t know to be quite honest,” Dorrance said in a statement during the offseason. “It’s how well the injured players come back. It’s how well the freshmen are able to adjust to the collegiate level.
“The freshmen are good,” he continued. “Some of them are incredibly athletic. Some are incredibly technical and tactical. So of all the years I’ve coach here coming into the season this is the greatest mystery to me.”
UCF, meanwhile, is coached by former UNC legend Tiffany Roberts Sahaydak. In another interesting bit of history, the Tar Heels defeated the Knights in the sport’s first-ever NCAA Championship Game back in 1982.
Coming off a solid 12-6-2 record in 2015, UCF will surely be looking to build some momentum for its program with an upset over the heavily-favored Tar Heels.
In the end, it’ll likely come down to whether or not UNC can find some early offense. The Tar Heels scored just one first-half goal during their last eight games of 2015, as they watched their season come to a disappointing end.
If this new group of girls can gel together well in the opening minutes, they have the potential to put the pressure on UCF, while also finding some much-needed confidence.
The game is scheduled to begin Friday at 7:30 p.m.http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/unc-womens-soccer-opens-season-friday-vs-ucf
It appears now that the eastern hemisphere will now get a piece of one of Chapel Hill’s favorite local treasures.
Joel James, the lovable former UNC men’s basketball big man, announced Thursday via Twitter that he has reached an agreement to sign with the Kumamato Volters in Japan.
Thanks for the support Tar Heel family. I'm happy to announce that I'll spend next season playing for the @K_VOLTERS in Japan 🇯🇵
— Joel James (@joel_jamesnkz) August 18, 2016
A 6-foot-10 teddy bear from West Palm Beach, Florida, James averaged 2.2 points per game in his Tar Heel career.
His most notable statistic, though, is the amount of hearts he touched per game with his bench celebrations and antics. That number–while yet to be calculated–is likely somewhere between 20,000 and 20 million.
After graduating from the school this past May, James received an NBA Summer League tryout with the Indiana Pacers.
James saw the floor in two games with the Pacers, averaging 2.5 points in just over 8.5 minutes per game. He didn’t record a single rebound, assist, block or steal.
This next stop allows him to keep his dream of a pro basketball career alive, however, as he should have ample opportunity to prove his abilities out on the floor with his new team.
The Volters are part of the Japanese National Basketball League’s Western Conference, and have been in existence for only three seasons.http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/joel-james-signs-to-play-professionally-in-japan
For thousands of years scientists have held that each day consists of 24 hours. This discovery has gone unchallenged for much of human history.
That is, until UNC’s star tailback Elijah Hood made it his life mission to stretch the limits of time.
For most mere mortals, the grind of a high-level Division I football schedule brings with it an overwhelming workload.
That’s not even including all the schoolwork and extracurricular activities that come with it.
But for Hood–a former Eagle Scout who maintains a GPA above 3.8—comparisons to mortals don’t really do him justice.
He consistently seeks out new and exciting off-the-field opportunities in an effort to expand his worldview—a trait head coach Larry Fedora says sets him apart
“He really wanted an internship this summer and he turned one down up in Washington [D.C.] because he didn’t want to leave his teammates,” Fedora explained to reporters after Thursday’s practice.
“He ended up taking one over here in Raleigh. Every day he would work out, then put on a tie and go to work,” the coach continued. “He’s just a special guy.”
The job Hood took this past summer was with the North Carolina General Assembly.
There, the man who tallied the second-highest single-season rushing total in UNC history was tasked with duties much different than running over defenses.
Working under a legislative services officer, Hood helped senators and house representatives with fiscal analysis and research as they worked to make decisions for the state.
And while he was definitely interested in what he was doing, don’t pencil him in for a career in politics just yet.
“I don’t know about Senator Elijah Hood,” the running back said, with a laugh.
“But understanding some things about law, fiscal analysis and things like that—looking at the way they do budgeting,” he continued. “It’s really opened my eyes to how complex things get when you talk about running a state.”
What makes Hood’s journey into the legislature the most impressive is that it really was something he did out of his own natural interest.
A perfect world might see Hood– playing for his hometown Carolina Panthers–knock someone’s teeth out on Sunday, before fixing their computer on Monday. After all, the information science major has gone on the record before saying his dream job is to be an IT security analyst.
However, his busy schedule requires him to put in an extreme level of commitment toward different goals. But it’s something his teammates—like quarterback Mitch Trubisky—have certainly taken notice of.
“Elijah’s just an all-around great person,” Trubisky said. “I mean, that’s what [we all] want to be.
“It’s not just on the football field,” he continued. “It’s off the field, how you carry yourself in the community and especially in the classroom.
“He’s a top-notch guy, and it really shows with his work ethic and how he carries himself all the time
Even when you do talk to him about football and his role for this upcoming season, Hood likes to focus on the mental aspect.
As someone who’s visibly confident in his running ability, he said his biggest focus this offseason has been on studying the playbook the same way a quarterback would—learning each person’s role on every play.
“The way I read defenses is quicker now—way faster,” Hood said. “That’s helped slow the game down.
“It’s kind of weird sometimes,” he added. “The way I feel I can predict blitzes that are coming just by looking at safety rotations and the fronts—whether it’s three down linemen or four down linemen.”
It goes without saying that a bright future awaits Hood, no matter what he chooses to do.
Before turning 21 years old, he’s already turned himself into quite possibly the most interesting man in Chapel Hill.
How has he done it, though?
Well, when asked Thursday how he stays motivated, he simply shrugged and said: “It’s not work if you’re having fun, right?”http://chapelboro.com/featured/elijah-hood-the-most-interesting-man-in-chapel-hill
With the college men’s soccer season set to begin late next week, the ACC released its annual preseason coaches poll on Wednesday–with UNC chosen to win the league this year.
The Tar Heels earned first place votes from five of the conference’s 12 head coaches, which was two more than runner-up Clemson.
Notre Dame picked up two votes for first place, while Wake Forest and Virginia each had one.
By virtue of being chosen to win the whole league, UNC was also the favorite to take home the Coastal Division crown.
Clemson, last season’s NCAA runner-up, was picked to win the Atlantic Division.
The ACC is looked at by many as the best conference in college soccer–as it led the NCAA with seven tournament teams in 2015, while also being the highest-rated league in the RPI rankings.
For 15 straight seasons, the ACC has also had at least one team qualify for the national semifinals.
UNC put together a solid 15-2-3 season last year, but had its season ended with a loss to the Creighton Blue Jays in the NCAA Round of 16.
The Tar Heels will again count on the production of 6-foot-5 forward Tucker Hume. A redshirt senior out of San Angelo, Texas, Hume led the team with 11 goals and five assists in 2015–which was more than any of his teammates had in either category.
Cal Poly will help get the season officially underway when they travel to Chapel Hill for the opening game on Friday, Aug. 26.
2016 ACC Men’s Soccer Preseason Coaches Poll
(First place votes)
North Carolina (5)
Notre Dame (2)
Wake Forest (1)
1. Clemson (6) – 64
2. Wake Forest (6) – 62
3. Syracuse – 50
4. Boston College – 34
5. Louisville – 28
6. NC State – 14
1. North Carolina (8) – 66
2. Notre Dame (4) – 62
3. Virginia – 50
4. Duke – 33
5. Pitt – 21
6. Virginia Tech – 20
The NFL’s Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos—two of the last three Super Bowl Champions—won titles largely because of their fearsome pass defenses, known as the Legion of Boom and the No Fly Zone.
Meanwhile in Chapel Hill, UNC hopes its talented secondary—the “Rude Boyz”—can help elevate the Tar Heels to the top of the ACC in 2016.
In the first year under coordinator Gene Chizik, UNC’s defense rose from the ashes to become the most improved unit in the country. That was largely made possible because the Tar Heels allowed more points than all but eight of the 128 Division I schools in 2014—leaving plenty of room for improvement.
The secondary played a large role in the collapse, as they were continually beat for big plays downfield. Fast forward a year, and all of a sudden that same group lead the ACC in interceptions and passes defended–while finishing among the top 10 nationally in those categories.
Senior cornerback Des Lawrence said after Monday’s practice that 2015 was just the beginning of a Rude Boy resurgence.
“It started way back before Dre Bly and them [in the mid-1990’s],” Lawrence said of the ‘Rude Boyz’ nickname. “It’s just something that’s been trickled down.
“I think we had a drop-off [for a little while],” he continued. “Not that we didn’t have the mentality, we just didn’t have the play. Last year it really showed and resonated with us–and we were able to come out on the field and just be relentless.”
Lawrence will lead a veteran group into 2016 that also returns junior MJ Stewart—a shutdown corner in his own right—and senior Donnie Miles, who led the team in tackles last season as a safety.
Each of these players has meshed perfectly with the message of physicality that Chizik began implementing from the first day he arrived on campus. And as they’ve grown into their roles as elder statesmen on the team, the Rude Boy mentality continues being passed down to the younger members of the unit.
“You can’t only be aggressive in coverage and then let ‘em run the ball on the sideline,” Lawrence said. “That’s one of the things I was telling some of the young guys [in practice]—you have to refuse to be blocked. Because you have to–at some point—set the edge for our defense and come up to make a play.
“Coach Chizik always talks about us as DB’s being linebackers as hitters,” he added.
So far during training camp, the coaching staff has singled out veteran safety Dominique Green and a pair of freshmen cornerbacks—Patrice René and K.J. Sails—as looking very impressive early on.
Head coach Larry Fedora has noticed in those players a direct reflection of the influence that Lawrence, Stewart and Miles bring to the table.
“They’re trying to leave a legacy with those [young] guys, so they want to make sure they teach them the culture that’s been created.” Fedora said of his veteran trio. “They’re doing a great job of that. I would say their confidence in being able to lead has been the biggest change for them.”
As much as Chizik stresses physicality to his defense from the top down, he also has another key focal point for his secondary.
Go after the ball.
He said Monday he doesn’t want his guys to be like robots locked in on people all the time. That certainly got across in 2015, as the Tar Heels caused all kinds of havoc for opposing quarterbacks.
This season, though, it appears Lawrence has taken those words to a whole new level—as he’s learned that you can’t be a robot when it comes to leadership either.
“They’re looking to me,” Lawrence said of his young teammates. “Even when I don’t think they are, they still are. And I have to still be able to give them some juice.
“Even when I’m not feeling it—there’s days I come out here and I don’t have all the juice—I gotta get them going because if I do something wrong, then they’re gonna feel like it’s OK for them to do something [wrong].”
The extra effort they’ve put in when fans aren’t watching, and TV cameras are nowhere to be found, is what truly has the “Rude Boyz” ready to make their biggest splash this season.
Listening to Chizik—the former school teacher—explain it, success isn’t accidental at all when it comes to these guys.
“They all the love the game, and they all really want to be good,” Chizik said of his secondary. “The guys that make plays on game day are the same ones who make them in practice—and it’s important to them to make [plays] in practice.”http://chapelboro.com/featured/the-rude-boys-lead-a-much-improved-unc-defense-into-2016
Practicing inside Kenan Stadium on Monday for the first time during this year’s training camp, the UNC football team welcomed a group of close to 70 Chapel Hill police officers and their families to watch the proceedings.
Afterwards, the team sat down with their guests for lunch in the Blue Zone–in an effort to create discussion around one of today’s most pressing social issues.
— Gunter Brewer (@CoachBrewerUNC) August 15, 2016
Although there were a small handful of Tar Heels who ran into minor legal issues last fall—and many other falls before that—this gathering was centered on the much more serious issues that have plagued the entire country over the past couple years.
The rise of the “Black Lives Matter” movement–and the increase in the amount of videos showing officers shooting and killing unarmed citizens–has nearly driven the tension between civilians and police to a breaking point.
Because of that, UNC head coach Larry Fedora wishes this wasn’t the first time he came up with the idea to help open a dialogue with his players.
“I really kicked myself in the butt for not being more proactive and doing something like this years ago,” Fedora said. “I mean, it just makes sense.”
When talking with his team about the issue, Fedora has mainly focused on the fact that police officers are human beings capable of making mistakes just like anyone else.
It’s a message that should especially resonate with these high-level athletes. After all, they often run into a similar issue where media and fans forget that they’re just regular people because of what their job is.
“I think it’s just something very, very small that we can do to build that relationship—and to continue to make sure our guys understand what they’re all about,” Fedora said. “And I want them to understand who we are.”
— Larry Fedora (@CoachFedora) August 12, 2016
Senior cornerback Des Lawrence–a team leader who was once suspended for a game in 2014 for participating in a hazing incident–said he sees the opportunity to meet and speak with the officers as a chance to make sure both viewpoints can be heard.
“They get to show people that they’re not the bad guys,” Lawrence said. “Not all officers are bad. And that’s one thing I’ve understood.
“While there’s a crisis going on, you can’t blame every officer,” he continued. “Just like you can’t blame every person who doesn’t listen to the officer’s orders or who doesn’t want to because they feel wrongfully accused.
“So [this lunch] is a good medium where both sides can come together.”
Lawrence also spoke at length about how Fedora tells his team to treat police officers with respect should an incident occur off the field—whether something happens this year or 20 years down the road.
While the coach is obviously doing a great deed by giving cops the recognition they deserve, it was yet another example of how he’s attempting to build constructive relationships with his players that last far beyond the time that they’re in college.
“We’re about building these young men into full-grown men so they can be successful in whatever they do in life—after football,” Fedora said. “It’s after football that I’m most concerned with.
“These guys that are playing for us in the NFL right now—all I’m worried about is what happens to them after football’s over with.”
— Carolina Football (@TarHeelFootball) August 15, 2016
Just over a week into UNC football’s preseason training camp for 2016, new starting quarterback Mitch Trubisky and star wide receiver Ryan Switzer have been training hard to perfect their craft for the 2016 season.
The same applies off the field as well, however, as the longtime roommates have developed a relationship that extends far beyond football.
With Switzer coming from West Virginia and Trubisky hailing from Ohio, neither player had any North Carolina ties before committing to join UNC’s 2013 recruiting class.
They spent time together on visits to Penn State and West Virginia before Switzer ultimately chose to become a Tar Heel. Trubisky pledged his allegiance to head coach Larry Fedora soon after—which then earned him a call from his new buddy.
The pair continued to grow closer, and have now lived together—along with tailback Khris Francis—for the last three seasons.
Despite how tight they are, though, Switzer acknowledges they deal with normal household issues just like anyone else.
“He’s gonna be the best man at my wedding,” Switzer said of Trubisky. “He’s meant a lot to me these past four years.
“Certainly, living with him has been an experience–he doesn’t like when I don’t do the dishes and I don’t like when he doesn’t take the trash out,” he continued, with a chuckle. “But it’s been fun though.”
Trubisky has received high praise since becoming the starter for his arm talent and ability to read and recognize different defenses. He also proved on multiple occasions last year that he can hit the deep route with ease when he notices single coverage downfield.
But as Switzer noted, if there’s one route Trubisky struggles with most, it’s the one from the trash can inside to the trash can outside—especially when he fails to read that the bag is completely covered.
“I would say nobody in our house is good at taking the trash out,” a happily defiant Trubisky said when confronted about his friend’s remarks. “It seems like after two days it fills up. I don’t even know where we get all that stuff.
“Eventually someone will get sick of it and take it out,” he continued. “Sometimes it just disappears and I don’t know what happened to it–but it definitely is a problem.”
Asking Fedora about the similarities between two of his top offensive stars is a sure way to put a small grin on the grizzled coach’s face.
Sure, he doesn’t really care one way or the other about who cleans up around the house. But he does appreciate the irony of a friendship between a wide receiver who dances at practice and never shies from the spotlight and a quarterback who typically leads by example on the field.
“They’re two different people,” Fedora said after Friday’s practice. “They’re like—what was that old show?—the odd couple.
“That’s a perfect example of those two when they’re together. They’re the odd couple.”
The realities of life, however, have started to shift those roles ever so slightly.
Trubisky’s role as the head of the offense has required him to become more vocal in a way that’s more similar to how he is around his friends off the field. Switzer, meanwhile, got engaged this past offseason to UNC cheerleader Gabie Dinsbeer—which of course means less time to horse around with the guys.
“Anytime you get a special someone of the opposite sex, you kind of tend to gravitate to them a little bit more than your boys,” Switzer said. “But I think I’ve handled the balance well between my fiancée and my friends. Mitch and them have been happy for me.”
What hasn’t changed is that Switzer still goes over his own personal gameplan with Trubisky and will continue to do so even as the Tar Heels’ schedule heats up this season.
It’s the same one they’ve been going over since arriving on campus together as wide-eyed freshmen—regardless of whether Trubisky has actually been on the field or not.
“He hasn’t even been on the field the past three years, but I’ve always been asking him for throws,” Switzer said. “So that was all leading up to this year.
“Mitch knows I’ll be open, and ultimately he’ll put the ball where it needs to be.”http://chapelboro.com/featured/mitch-trubisky-and-ryan-switzer-unc-footballs-odd-couple
During his time as an offensive tackle at UNC under head coach Butch Davis, Brennan Williams was given the opportunity to lay the smackdown on a defender each time the ball was snapped.
His sheer size and dominance led to him being taken in the third round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Houston Texans. However, a microfracture in his knee stripped Williams of his pro football career before he ever took a single snap–despite two years spent working on a comeback.
In search of another shot to continue laying the smackdown for a living, he turned to the world of professional wrestling in late 2015.
Last week, the 6-foot-7, 300-pounder, realized his new dream–when he was officially signed by Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE).
The WWE is known nationwide as the top organization in the industry.
He’ll be placed into the WWE Performance Center in Orlando as he starts his training. After some quality time honing his craft there, it’s likely Williams will begin making appearances on the company’s developmental television series “NXT.”
Although “NXT” is only available to subscribers of the WWE Network, reaching that level would still mark a quick rise up the ranks for someone whose career looked bleak after a devastating knee injury.
None of it would be possible, though, if he hadn’t returned to live in Houston in the fall of 2015–after being released from the practice squads of both the Jacksonville Jaguars and the New England Patriots.
While there, Williams eventually found himself under the guidance of WWE Hall of Famer–and six-time World Heavyweight Champion–Booker T.
This led the former Tar Heel to join Booker T’s Houston-based wrestling promotion called “Reality of Wrestling.”
Having built a strong social media presence thanks to his love of japanese anime and live-streaming video games, Williams used his personality to create his wrestling character “Marcellus Black.”
Black wrestles with his face painted to look like an anime character, and uses the nicknames “The Great Black Otaku” and “The Shogun of the R.O.W.”
He also became known for his charismatic finishing move, the “Nico Nico Knee.”
Now that he’s made it to the big leagues, though, fans should expect him to undergo a complete character renovation–complete with a name change–once he makes it onto television. That’s typically how WWE handles signing talent from the independent circuits, in order to promote the new characters as its own creations.
At UNC, Williams was named an honorable mention All-ACC performer in 2012. In addition to his size and football pedigree, he also holds a black belt in taekwondo.http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/wwe-signs-former-unc-football-player-brennan-williams
The fall season is all set to begin for many of the different UNC sports teams.
For the No. 8 Tar Heel men’s soccer squad, the hype train was originally supposed to get started with a top 25 preseason showcase in Chapel Hill against the No. 24 South Carolina Gamecocks on Monday, Aug. 15.
Now, though, that game has been moved across the Triangle from Fetzer Field in Chapel Hill to Wakemed Soccer Park (Field No. 2) in Cary.
Admission will be free to everyone in attendance that night–with kickoff set for 7 p.m.
It will be the second of UNC’s three exhibition games before the regular season officially gets underway.
The Tar Heels will first travel to Rock Hill, South Carolina to play Winthrop on Friday, before closing out this portion of their schedule with a matchup at Davidson on Saturday Aug. 20.
UNC’s first regular season battle–and first game in Chapel Hill–takes place Friday, Aug. 26 against Cal Poly as part of the Carolina Nike Classic.http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/unc-mens-soccer-exhibition-moved-to-cary