UNC Football 2015 Opener Will Kick Off At 6 PM

The ACC on Friday announced kickoff times for UNC’s first three games of the season, beginning with a 6 pm kickoff in Charlotte for the season opener Thursday, September 3, against South Carolina. (Yes, folks, UNC football season is only three and a half months away.)

The full statement from UNC Athletics:

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Game times for North Carolina’s first three football games were announced Friday by the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The Tar Heels will face South Carolina in the first Belk College Kickoff in Charlotte on Thursday, Sept. 3, at 6 p.m. on an ESPN network still to be announced.
Carolina’s home opener on Saturday, Sept. 12, against North Carolina A&T will kick off at 6 p.m. and will be available on ESPN3.
UNC’s third game of the season on Saturday, Sept. 19 vs. Big Ten rival Illinois will begin at noon and will be televised by either ESPN or ESPN2.
Tickets for North Carolina’s 2015 season are available at GoHeels.com/footballtickets.


Larry Fedora Sees Progress, Potential For Tar Heels

With spring practice now in the books, a productive summer awaits the Tar Heel football team. But head coach Larry Fedora says he’s already been seeing plenty of progression from a variety of players.

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Many say championships are won and lost away from the bright lights of game day.

The offseason serves as a training ground for established athletes and provides a proving ground for young, inexperienced players hoping to make their mark.

Fedora running practice (UNC Athletics)

Fedora running practice (UNC Athletics)

That’s why Coach Fedora says it’s all about the reps this time of year.

The Carolina skipper says Damien Washington, Juval Mollette and even walk-on Thomas Jackson have all been making strides.

It’s no surprise the microscope will be focused on new defensive coordinator Gene Chizik and what he can do with a UNC defense that was hapless for the majority of the 2014 season.

A fresh philosophy could breed more life into a ragged unit.

So far, at least, Coach Fedora says he’s been pleasantly surprised by the performance of a few standout players, young and old, on the defensive side of the ball.

“[Dajaun] Drennon’s doing a really nice job; [Jeff] Schoettmer has picked up right where he left off. He understands this already, a very intelligent guy. Shakeel Rashad has taken a lot of pressure off himself. He’s slid back to linebacker and done a good job of adjusting there,” Coach Fedora says.

A lot of eyes will be on promising newcomer Jalen Dalton. The defensive end could provide a much-needed boost in the pass rush, creating havoc in the backfield. Coach Fedora’s been observing the freshman closely and has high hopes for Dalton.

“He’s got good power for a guy that ought to be in high school right now. He’s 270 pounds and 6’ 6”. He’s got some pop and a little bit of quickness about him, so he’s going to develop into a really nice player,” Coach Fedora says.

The Tar Heels have been grinding it out on Navy Field this spring (UNC Athletics)

The Tar Heels have been grinding it out on Navy Field this spring (UNC Athletics)

In the secondary, a pair of experienced campaigners has led the way.

“Brian Walker has done a really good job. Malik Simmons has stepped up made some plays for us this spring,” Coach Fedora says.

Another glaring weakness for the Tar Heels a season ago came in the special teams department – primarily at the place-kicking position.

But this year, there are questions to be answered at punter as well. Reliable Tommy Hibbard has moved on to pursue his dreams of landing a roster spot in the NFL.

“We still have a long way to go with our punters. We’ve made some strides with our kickers, but we still have a ways to go,” Coach Fedora says.

There may be a ways to go, but with no warm-up games to ease into the 2015 campaign, there’s more urgency inherent in this offseason for the Tar Heels.

Carolina will certainly need to be firing on all cylinders when it takes on South Carolina to kick off the college football season Thursday, Sept. 3 at Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium.


Confidence Growing For UNC Football In Queen City

There will be no Blue & White Spring Football Game this year due to the field renovations at Kenan Stadium, but the Tar Heels took their show on the road to the Queen City last weekend, showing off their offseason improvements.

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“I thought we got a lot of great reps and a lot of situations we were able to work on. There will be a lot of things we’ll be able to learn from in this scrimmage. I thought our kids played hard. We got a lot accomplished,” UNC head coach Larry Fedora says.

Jeff Schoettmer meets Elijah Hood (The Charlotte Observer)

Jeff Schoettmer meets Elijah Hood (The Charlotte Observer)

In addition to the field reps, another added bonus from the Charlotte trip for Coach Fedora’s troops is bringing UNC down to an important recruiting hot bed. In addition to a large Tar Heel fan base of all ages, young high school players also took in the action from the sun-drenched bleachers at Rocky River High School.

With UNC, N.C. State, East Carolina and Duke all mining for Charlotte’s best, days like Saturday are vital for the Tar Heels to maintain an edge in N.C. recruiting.

But turning to the here and now, the biggest question mark for this year’s Carolina club will no doubt be the play of the much-maligned defense.

Senior linebacker Jeff Shoettmer says he likes what he’s seeing out of the unit so far.

“It’s the culmination of the whole spring. We’ve put it together. We’ve been practicing four or five weeks. It takes a while to learn a new scheme, but the more reps we get, everyone gets more comfortable with it. We still have a lot of work to do. There were some mistakes here and there, but overall, we played well,” Schoettmer says.

The hiring of Gene Chizik as defensive coordinator stole most of the headlines this offseason and rightfully so – adding a former national champion to the program infuses hype and optimism into a team that needed plenty of it following the disappointing finish to a 6-7 2014 season.

UNC fans look on as the Tar Heels practice (The Charlotte Observer)

UNC fans look on as the Tar Heels practice (The Charlotte Observer)

Coach Fedora, though, says there are still areas to work on before the Tar Heels will be ready for their season opening showdown with South Carolina Sept. 3.

“I think we’re making progress. I think if you ask Gene [Chizik] and those guys defensively, they’re pleased with how the guys have responded. I still think we have a ways to go,” Coach Fedora says.

Yes, there is certainly plenty of work to be done for Coach Fedora and staff, but there seems to be a reinvigorated sense of life and energy around the program. Around the huddle, the team has made its 2015 intentions clear – ACC champions.


Who’s the Next Mack Hollins? UNC Spring Practice Provides Springboard

Spring football practice can serve as a springboard to fall success. Carolina football saw that last season when unheralded walk-on receiver Mack Hollins took advantage of his offseason opportunities to transform into a difference-maker on game days. Who will be this year’s Mack Hollins?

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“You’re seeing them get better and better each day as a unit. They’ve played together. They know each other. I don’t have the same concerns that I had last year,” UNC head coach Larry Fedora says.

A year older and a year wiser, the UNC offensive line is shaping up to provide better protection to quarterbacks Marquise Williams and Mitch Trubisky this fall.

Marquise WIlliams breaks free with the ball (Keepingitheel.com)

Marquise WIlliams breaks free with the ball (Keepingitheel.com)

That’s welcome news to Williams, who’s still nursing a hip injury and hopes to be afforded more time to find one of his talented receivers downfield.

The most glaring weakness for the Tar Heels in 2014 was the bruised and battered defense. Armed with new defensive coordinator Gene Chizik, all eyes will be on the much-maligned UNC unit.

But Coach Fedora says he likes the improvements he’s been seeing out on Navy Field.

“[Dajuan] Drennon’s doing a really nice job. [Jeff] Shoettmer has picked up right where he left off. He’s a very intelligent guy. Shakeel Rashad has taken a lot of pressure off himself. He’s slid back to linebacker and has done a really nice job adjusting there. Donnie Miles has done a nice job adjusting from the Ram back to a safety,” Coach Fedora says.

With fresh defensive schemes being applied by Coach Chizik, veterans and rookies alike are embracing the learning process, soaking up a new philosophy from a national championship-winning coach. But that’s not always an easy process.

“Right now, they’re learning new techniques, new philosophy and new schemes. There’s a little bit of thought process involved with them,” Coach Fedora says.

Part of the intrigue to this time of the year is the unknown. Who will be the next star performer to step up and emerge out of the shadows and into the spotlight in Kenan Stadium on Saturdays?

Coach Fedora takes a crack at a few guys who have the potential to step out of obscurity and into the vocabulary of Carolina fans everywhere.

Kenan Stadium game day (Daily Tar Heel)

Kenan Stadium game day (Daily Tar Heel)

“Damien Washington is getting a ton of reps right now which is helping him. Thomas Jackson, who’s a walk-on kid, is doing a great job and making a lot of plays out there. The young kids that we’re redshirting are getting a bunch of reps. Juval Mollette, who’s one of the early enrollees, is getting a bunch of reps. They are all getting valuable reps that are going to pay off for them next fall,” Coach Fedora says.

But it’s not just coaches and players who’ve been hitting the practice fields in Chapel Hill. Upon invitation from Coach Fedora, UNC professors are turning up in droves to check out their students’ ‘other classroom.’

“The professors see them in a different classroom. This is our classroom out here. They get to see how we teach them. It’s a little bit different than the way they teach in the classroom. We can just keep repping it until we get it right. They don’t get that opportunity,” Coach Fedora says.

If the football field is the classroom, then it’s lecture and study time right now. And who knows, if the teachers and students dole out and absorb the material, those fall exams might just become a breeze.


Tar Heel Football Coming Alive This Spring

Spring has finally sprung in Chapel Hill and with it; the Tar Heel football team has kicked its practices into overdrive at Navy Field. Armed with a bevy of talent returning to campus this fall, UNC head coach Larry Fedora has his sights set on an ACC title.

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It’s a mix of youth and veteran leadership that will suit up in Kenan Stadium. Following a subpar season that left the locker room disjointed and frustrated, 2015 could prove to be a pivotal year in the tenure of Coach Fedora.

Marquise Williams and Ryan Switzer share a call with the coaching staff. (Elliott Rubin)

Marquise Williams and Ryan Switzer share a call with the coaching staff. (Elliott Rubin)

But for now, tucked away from the eyes of Tar Heel Nation and nestled in between Carmichael Arena and Boshamer Stadium, the Carolina coaches and players are busy working on the fundamentals.

“Right now in all four units it’s about mastering the fundamentals that you need to be able to play in all four phases,” Coach Fedora says.

There are more smiling faces coming from the defense these days. Former defensive coordinator Vic Koenning’s schemes were famous for their complexity, but with Gene Chizik now at the helm, things are much simpler.

“There’s a lot less right now, that’s for sure. Gene and those guys have decided how they’re going to install things. They’re working really hard on the base and the fundamentals on what it takes to play in that base defense. They’ve been spoon feeding them as they’ve gone. It’s been good for our guys because they’ve been learning something new each day,” Coach Fedora says.

unc football

The Tar Heels are working hard this spring for game day moments (UNC Athletics)

Last year, an inexperienced offensive line spelled trouble for protecting quarterback Marquise Williams in the backfield. More often that not, Williams found himself scrambling for his life against the higher-caliber opponents.

But Coach Fedora says he’s much more comfortable with the big guys up front heading into 2016.

“We’ve got some depth there now. We’ve got guys like John Heck, Landon [Turner] and [Lucas] Crowley. Those guys got a lot of reps all last year. They’re very comfortable out there. You’re seeing them get better and better each day,” Coach Fedora says.

One of the biggest question marks for the Tar Heels comes in the special teams department. Last season, Coach Fedora lost all confidence in his field goal unit and was all too often forced to go for it on fourth down in situations every team would like to have a reliable kicker to nail it through the uprights.

So how are the kickers looking right now?

“It’s a lot of drill work right now. We aren’t doing much scheme work at all in our special teams units. We still have a long way to do with our punters. I think we’ve made some strides with our kickers, but we still have a way to go,” Coach Fedora says.

Mitch Trubisky continues to work on his game (UNC Athletics)

Mitch Trubisky continues to work on his game (UNC Athletics)

With Williams still recovering from his hip injury, redshirt sophomore Mitch Trubisky has been getting plenty of reps behind center. The former Mr. Football of Ohio played some meaningful minutes in 2014, but Coach Fedora says he’s seeing a ton of growth this spring.

“Mitch is getting all of the reps with the ones [starters]. Every rep he gets, he’s growing and becoming a better quarterback,” Coach Fedora says.

There’s enough skill on the UNC roster to contend in an ACC Coastal division that remains up for grabs.

But glaring weaknesses on the defense and the kicking game will need to show marked improvement for the Tar Heels to take the next step and get to their first ACC Championship game in Charlotte this December.


Competition, Toughness Frame UNC Football Spring

Lost in the Madness of March, especially in this area, is a formative part of the college football season – spring practice. The Tar Heels, following a subpar 6-7 2014 season, have been grinding it out at Navy Field for weeks now rain, snow or shine.

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Fresh, eager players, young and old, join focused coaches on a mission this time of the year on the gridiron.

And for the Tar Heels, that means Blue Dawn, a grueling wake-up call that sets an exacting tone for each season.

The Tar Heel defense takes the practice field (Jeffrey Camarati)

The Tar Heel defense takes the practice field (Jeffrey Camarati)

“We changed Blue Dawn. It’s a lot of the same drills, but more competition. Eight teams are actually competing in every drill they’re doing. They’re awarded points. They’re winning, losing on every single rep,” Coach Fedora says.

Competition is the name of the game for the Tar Heels. As has always been the case under Coach Fedora, every position is up for grabs in the offseason.

“That was one of our objectives this spring – to have competition at every single position. That’s what we’re trying to develop so we’re developing depth at the same time as competing for that spot,” Coach Fedora says.

So how have the incoming freshmen been faring in their first taste of big-time ACC football? Coach Fedora says he’s seeing progress.

“Kids are learning. A lot of the concepts are different for them. They’re having to really work hard at concentrating and focusing on what their job is, but I thought the guys have done a good job,” Coach Fedora says.

Larry Fedora looks on (Jeffrey Camarati)

Larry Fedora looks on (Jeffrey Camarati)

One of the more intriguing storylines to the preseason will be the installment of a new defense. Defensive coordinator Gene Chizik, the former Auburn national championship-winning head coach, will be looking to make an immediate impact on a beleaguered UNC unit.

“It’s been selflessness, toughness and discipline. That’s what we start with in everything we do. These guys got to be selfless. They can’t care who gets the credit. They got to be very tough in terms of this is a tough game for tough guys. The discipline part of it is we got to be a much better football team when it comes to the little things we’re asking the guys to do,” Coach Chizik says.

As for Coach Fedora, he’s sensed a greater hunger and sense of excitement from the defensive side of the ball.

Gene Chizik is hoping to make a difference this spring (Jeffrey Camarati)

Gene Chizik is hoping to make a difference on the defense this spring (Jeffrey Camarati)

“You got some new guys over there. They’ve got a new philosophy and defense. They’re excited about it. I think they’re anxious to show who they are,” Coach Fedora says.

Returning Tar Heels like Marquise Williams, Ryan Switzer and Jeff Schoettmer have been filling the leadership roles for the underclassmen this spring. But Coach Fedora is challenging the veterans to up their ante even further, insistent that last season’s performance was unacceptable.

“The challenge for them is to take it to another level. What we were last year wasn’t good enough. That was average. We don’t expect to be average. We’ve got to get a lot better, so they’ve got to push each other to be better,” Coach Fedora says.

With no official spring Blue & White game this year due to the field renovations in Kenan Stadium, one of the first chances for many Tar Heel fans to see the new-look Carolina in action will come in Charlotte.

The Sept. 3 Thursday night showdown in Bank of America Stadium will pit North Carolina against South Carolina. The highly anticipated contest will kick off the 2015 college football season.


Carolina, Georgia To Renew Old Rivalry In 2016 Opener

The North Carolina football team will open its season against a tough SEC foe for two straight seasons at a neutral site.

After facing off with rival South Carolina to open the 2015 season in Charlotte, the Tar Heels will make a return trip to Atlanta to take on the Georgia Bulldogs for the 2016 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game.

UNC took on LSU in the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game back in 2010.

The 2016 Georgia Dome showdown will kick off on Saturday, Sept. 3.

Georgia and North Carolina will renew an old rivalry, having met 30 times since 1895 with the Bulldogs winning the last contest 7-3 in 1971. Overall, Georgia sports a 16-12-2 edge in the head-to-head series.


Fedora, Chizik Welcome Fresh Faces To Chapel Hill

The Tar Heel football team inked 19 signees, eight four-star players and landed the state’s No. 1 player on National Signing Day, but it’s the 25th-ranked recruiting class’ fresh defensive leadership and vision that stole the show at Kenan Football Center Wednesday afternoon.

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It’s easy to see why UNC head coach Larry Fedora and newly named defensive coordinator Gene Chizik hit it off.

They both share a championship vision.

“Being a small part of a championship idea is big to me. That can be done here or this probably wouldn’t be the right fit for me. I love the challenge of where we have to go. Larry and I have talked about that in-depth. I’m all-in,” Coach Chizik says.

Gene Chizik (247sports.com)

Gene Chizik (247sports.com)

Coach Chizik cited ‘quality of life’ as a major factor when weighing whether to come out of coaching retirement and leave his cushy job as an analyst on ESPN. Chapel Hill fit that bill for his family.

But he says having the chance to work with Coach Fedora didn’t hurt his decision any either.

“You throw in the fact my respect for Larry…he’s a very productive offensive guy and mind. I’ve got a lot of respect for Larry. If I ever said I would go back and be an assistant for somebody and work for somebody, it would be a guy like Larry,” Coach Chizik says.

It was a rather predictable day around the Tar Heel football offices. But that was just fine for Coach Fedora. The Carolina skipper says no Signing Day surprises meant a happy day for the entire UNC coaching staff.

“It’s an exciting day for our staff, the players, their families and the fans. It was a lot of fun. It was a day that we kind of knew what was going to happen going into it – not a lot of surprises for us. It was a great day,” Coach Fedora says.

The successful UNC recruiting class that included seven players from the Tar Heel state and four athletes from the Sunshine State didn’t come easy.

Coach Fedora says all the negative attacks from competing schools on the recruiting trail definitely got old, but he was proud of how the coaching staff overcame the road block and won the trust of their new signees.

“I think our staff did an exceptional job. The negative recruiting this year was at an all-time high. We spend a lot of our time, unfortunately, not selling what the University has to offer and defending against the accusations and the stories that are made up,” Coach Fedora says.

Without a doubt, the star attraction of the nineteen latest additions to the football program is six-foot, six-inch, 260-pound defensive end Jalen Dalton. The top-ranked N.C. product from West Forsyth High School enrolled at UNC in January and will be looking to make an immediate impact on Saturdays this fall.

Coach Fedora says Dalton immersed himself completely in campus life throughout the recruiting process.

UNC joined Clemson and FSU in the top 3 in the ACC recruiting rankings. (keepingitheel.com)

UNC joined Clemson and FSU in the top 3 in the ACC recruiting rankings. (keepingitheel.com)

“Keith Gilmore was the lead recruiter on him and did a great job building a tremendous relationship with him. Jalen was a guy that was on this campus probably 18-20 times. Sometimes, he didn’t even tell us he was coming. He just showed up. He got to see everything that we were. There was no show put on for him,” Coach Fedora says.

Other notable names to look out for include 310-pound defensive tackle Aaron Crawford from Ashburn, Virginia and promising wide receiver Juval Mollette, who’s listed as the No. 1 receiver in North Carolina.

But for freshly-minted defensive assistant John Papuchis, the work for 2016 and 2017 has already started.

“I was out last week on the road. Most of that was junior recruiting. I spent most of my time with the 2016 and 2017 kids,” Coach Papuchis says.


National Signing Day To Usher In Newest Tar Heels

One of the most anticipated days of the college football offseason is here.

The 2015 Signing Day promises to be a pivotal one for a Tar Heel football program that’s been shaking things up in the coaching ranks this offseason.

With the hire of former Auburn national championship-winning coach Gene Chizik as defensive coordinator and the addition of former Nebraska defensive coordinator John Papuchis to the staff, Carolina appears more committed than ever to reaching UNC head coach Larry Fedora’s goal of playing for an ACC title.

And Wednesday will go a long way to deciding if that goal can truly become a reality with many of the nation’s top high school prospects making their final college choices.

So far, Scout.com has UNC ranked No. 24 in the recruiting rankings just behind South Carolina. The Tar Heels have locked up 20 commits, including eight four-star players.

UNC joins fellow ACC members Notre Dame, at No. 8, Florida State, at No. 10, and Clemson, at No. 13, in the top 25. But nothing is set in stone. Schools have been known to make late surges up the recruiting rankings with last-minute commitments.

A Tar Heel Signing Day celebration will be held at the Blue Zone Concourse Club beginning at 6 p.m. The program will be hosted by Jones Angell adn will include remarks from players and coaches. Tickets are $15. Check GoHeels.com for more information.

Tune into the WCHL Morning News on 97.9 FM Thursday morning for a complete report from the Carolina football 2015 signing class, including comments from Coach Fedora.


2015 FB Slate Full of Intrigue for Tar Heels

A season-opening showdown in Charlotte against South Carolina, seven home games at Kenan Stadium and a Thursday night road contest at Pittsburgh highlight the 2015 Tar Heel football schedule.

Announced Thursday by the ACC, Carolina will also close the regular season against N.C. State for the second straight season. It will mark only the second time in history the Tar Heels have played their regular season finale in Raleigh.

Renewing their ACC-SEC interstate rivalry, the Tar Heels and Gamecocks will collide at a neutral site to be played in Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium, home of the Carolina Panthers. The Tar Heels will be out for some revenge. A couple years ago, UNC lost in Columbia in a Thursday night contest to open the college football season.

In total, Carolina squares off with eight teams that went to a bowl game a year ago, including the last five opponents of the season.

View the complete 2015 UNC football schedule here.