Spring Football Game Offers No Resolution To UNC QB Battle

“I would like to get on the field any way possible whether at quarterback or I have to block, whatever it is. I just want to help the Tar Heels this season. If it comes down to splitting time, we’ll see how it goes – whatever helps the team win,” Mitch Trubisky says.

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Redshirt freshman quarterback Trubisky has a deep desire to help the Tar Heels live up to high expectations in 2014.

The Blue team on Saturday consisted primarily of the projected starters this fall, but quarterback Marquise Williams split the signal caller duties with Trubisky. Both men staked their claim for the starting job.

Williams says he was pleased with the way he was feeling out on the field.

“It felt good throwing the ball. It felt real good outside. I felt a little velocity on the ball and getting my hips through. I felt very good out there with the guys,” Williams says.

Williams was 22-32 for 135 yards while Trubisky went 20-32 for 183 yards. Neither quarterback threw a touchdown pass, but wide receiver Quinshad Davis flung a touchdown to fellow wideout T.J. Thorpe to thrill the crowd.

Running back T.J. Logan scampered across the end zone for a pair of touchdowns while young Elijah Hood impressed with some grinding plays of his own.

Better known for his abilities as a return man, Ryan Switzer says he’s been working on improving his game as a receiver for the upcoming season.

“I really wanted to come in and perfect my route running. I was able to fine-tune those things. I think I’m a better player for it. I’m looking forward to showing it off during the season,” Switzer says.

But the story of the day might have been the impressive play of the defense, keeping the Tar Heel offense under pressure with aggressive penetration into the backfield. Junior Justin Thomason recorded five tackles and two sacks at the defensive end position.

All in all, Head Coach Larry Fedora says the game served its purpose with Tar Heels on both sides of the ball making plays.

Switzer says he’s confident in the skills of both Williams and Trubisky at the quarterback position and is looking forward to hauling in passes from whoever grabs the starting spot.

“They both bring different things to the table. A lot of people say ‘Quise [Williams] has the experience over Mitch, which he does, but Mitch has been so cool in the pocket in all of our scrimmages. He’s been a cool cat. I’m looking forward to catching balls from both of them. The coaches are going to pick the right guy, and that guy is going to do a great job for us,” Switzer says.

With the quarterback situation still up in the air, there’s still plenty of questions heading into the summer lead-up to the fall season that promises to be an exciting one for Carolina football.


Blue Downs White 38-17 In Annual Spring Football Game

Blue beat White 38-17 Saturday afternoon in Kenan Stadium as the Carolina football team put a wrap on its spring preparations for the 2014 college football season.

The Blue team consisted primarily of the projected starters this fall, but quarterback Marquise Williams split the signal caller duties with Mitch Trubisky. Both men staked their claim for the starting job.

Williams was 22-32 for 135 yards while Trubisky went 20-32 for 183 yards. Neither quarterback threw a touchdown pass, but wide receiver Quinshad Davis flung a touchdown to fellow wideout T.J. Thorpe to thrill the crowd.

The story of the day might have been the impressive play of the defense, keeping the Tar Heel offense under pressure with aggressive penetration into the backfield. Junior Justin Thomason recorded five tackles and two sacks at the defensive end position.

All in all, Head Coach Larry Fedora says the game served its purpose.

“We had a good day. Got a lot done, finished up spring, our 15th practice right there. I thought we had guys on both sides of the ball, on both teams, that made some plays today,” Coach Fedora says.



Plenty Of Questions Remain For Coach Fedora Heading Into Spring Game

The Carolina football team is ready to put on a show for the outside world Saturday in Chapel Hill. The annual Blue & White Spring Game will allow fans to get a glimpse of what is to come when the competition really heats up later in the fall.

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The Tar Heel offense, by all appearances, seems ‘locked and loaded’. But will the defense be able to answer the bell? Head Coach Larry Fedora says he’s pleased with the development in the offseason.

“We’re definitely ahead of the offensive line right now. Guys are making some plays for us. We’re finally building up some depth in the defensive line. We’re making a lot of progress there I think,” Coach Fedora says.

Coach Fedora says the transition from Blake Anderson to Seth Littrell as offensive skipper has been rather seamless, but he says the team is still putting together the pieces to the offensive puzzle ahead of the 2014 season.

“We’re still trying to identify who we are personnel-wise as an offense. That’s the most difficult thing. What kind of offense are we going to be? What kind of plays are we going to be able to take advantage of this year?” Coach Fedora says.

Coach Fedora is looking for some pretty basic things from the Tar Heels out in Kenan Stadium this Saturday. And for starters, it all starts with playing hard.

“It’s there opportunity to show out. I want to see effort – that’s the main thing. I want to see these guys play hard and have fun,” Coach Fedora says.

The stable of running backs at Carolina’s disposal is quite impressive. Coach Fedora says the most highly touted, Elijah Hood, is becoming more and more comfortable in the offense with each practice.

“I think he’s come a long way this spring. I think he has a pretty good grasp of what we’re doing offensively,” Coach Fedora says.

Carolina will play four 15-minute quarters Saturday afternoon, but the final two quarters of play will feature a running clock. Viewing this Tar Heel team in a game scenario is sure to answer more questions for both Carolina’s coaching staff and fan base moving forward into the summer months.


Playing For Keeps: Competition Heating Up With UNC Spring Game Looming

With the annual Spring Football Game just days away, the battle continues on for myriad starting positions. The pride of running out onto Kenan Stadium as a Carolina football starter this fall is well within reach for many unheralded players.

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Head Coach Larry Fedora and staff have fostered a competition-based working environment with a “best man will play” motto adding a sense of urgency to the spring practices.

But Offensive Coordinator Seth Littrell says this heightened sense of competition doesn’t have to damage the camaraderie between teammates.

“Every single day that you come out here, you are going to compete for your job. That’s my philosophy and Coach Fedora’s philosophy. Our players know that. It’s one thing competing on the field, and it’s another thing making sure you’re a tight-knit family and helping each other grow off the field. Just because you’re competing doesn’t mean you can’t be great friends,” Coach Littrell says.

Quarterback Marquise Williams says the bevy of talent in the backfield, from Kris Francis to Elijah Hood, has him pumped up for the potential offensive explosions ahead in 2014.

“All of those guys are going to be helpful. I’ve never been in a backfield where you have all four of those different type backs, but also all of them are great. They’re all still learning, but they’re going to do great things for this football team this year. We’re going to have a real good backfield,” Williams says.

One of the most fascinating duels for a starting position will center around the signal callers, and Coach Fedora says that redshirt freshman Mitch Trubisky is progressing along well.

“I think he’s doing a nice job. He picked up where he left off. He’s done a good job studying the game and understands what we’re trying to do. Now it’s just getting as many reps as possible under his belt so that he feels more comfortable back there,” Coach Fedora says.

Trubisky’s rival for the quarterback job, Williams, has been focusing his efforts on improving his leadership qualities in the offseason. He hopes he is lifting the levels of the guys around him.

“You have to come out here with a lot of energy. I got to pick those guys up. If those guys see me pick them up, they’re going to rally around me. That’s the main key, just rallying behind me and doing what I need to do to help these guys come out with some victories this year,” Williams says.

Who’s been getting the most reps with the first team this spring? Coach Fedora says he’s an equal opportunity employer.

“We roll them. One guy gets reps with the ones, and then the next day the other guy starts with the ones. They’re both still getting reps with ones and twos every day,” Coach Fedora says.

Besides the gridiron grind, all sorts of festivities will surround the Spring Game this year including autograph sessions from the players and a live band performance at Bell Tower Park.

But one thing Tar Heel fans can expect when they take their seats inside what will likely be a beautiful sun-bathed Kenan Stadium Saturday is a bunch of hungry Tar Heels fighting for coveted starting spots this fall. It’s a big chance to shine in a game day atmosphere for veterans and rookies alike.



UNC’s Battle of The Quarterbacks: Marquise vs. Mitch

The battle for the quarterback position is heating up for the Tar Heel football team. The competition between returning starter Marquise Williams and talented slinger Mitch Trubisky has been an intriguing storyline this spring in Chapel Hill.

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“He [Coach Fedora] said the best man will play. If I’m the best man, he’s going to put me in the game no matter what year I am. I’m looking forward to that. I’m going to try to be the best man this season so I can go out and be the starting quarterback for Carolina. That’s what I’m trying to do,” Trubisky says.

Redshirt freshman Trubisky sat out last season while his teammate Williams grabbed the signal caller reins from injured Bryn Renner.

But experience from last season doesn’t seem to be hurting Trubisky’s confidence on his ability to be the starter when Carolina races out onto Kenan Stadium Aug. 30 to face Liberty.

Williams says he relishes every bit of the dynamics of the open competition.

“That’s one guy that I respect. He comes to compete every day. I love competition. Competition’s been in my blood. He’s a great guy. I love the way he pushes me and I push him,” Williams says.

Despite rumors circulating around the huddle that it’s Williams’ job to lose, Trubisky maintains his belief the spot is up for grabs as the two continue to wage battle this spring.

“I’m not looking up to him. I see this as a competition. I’ve heard that some people think he’s the favorite or that he still has the job, but it is an open competition. As far as I’m concerned, I have just as equal right to be the starter this year as he does. That’s how I’m going about it. I want to be the starter,” Trubisky says.

Williams doesn’t disagree. The junior oozes with confidence when he says “nothing is going to stop me.”

“You got to feel like nothing’s guaranteed. I’m just going to keep on getting it. Nothing’s going to stop me. I’m confident off last year’s season. I’m just keeping on building off that and letting the coaches know I’m the one for the first team,” Williams says.

As the two build their audition tapes for Head Coach Larry Fedora and the coaching staff, the pressure is mounting as the spring game draws near. But Trubisky is quick to point out that he’s not letting the intense duel get to him. He’s relying on the advice of his old high school coach.

“You can’t look at it as a competition. You just got to play your game and be yourself. That will be good enough in the end. Play like Mitch Trubisky knows how to play. Everything will work out,” Trubisky says.


Coach Fedora, Tar Heels Open Up “Classroom” To UNC Professors

Navy Field resembled something of a classroom Wednesday afternoon – the only notable disparities were the students dressed in pads and the room temperature was a balmy 82 degrees.

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Coach Fedora addressed throngs of UNC professors after practice, sharing his own educational tools and expertise with some of the world-class faculty at Chapel Hill. Coach Fedora says he’s all for more opportunities to bridge the divide between academics and athletics.

“It’s an opportunity for them to step into our classroom and see how we teach every day. And see what these guys in their classes do on a daily basis – the amount of time and effort they put in to on-the-field things. We’re always open to continue to bridge that gap,” Coach Fedora says.

Coach Fedora chats with UNC faculty (UNC Athletics)

Coach Fedora chats with UNC faculty (UNC Athletics)

The Tar Heels road-tripped it down to Charlotte last week for an open scrimmage. In the Queen City, the coaching staff threw all sorts of curve balls at the players, but above all, Coach Fedora says the trip provided valuable live reps for the team.

“We got about 120 reps of good, live work with officials, a crowd and adverse conditions. There were a lot of really good things. We put them in as many uncomfortable situations as possible. Hopefully, they’ll get comfortable in those situations,” Coach Fedora says.

New offensive coordinator Seth Littrell says he’s really enjoying his transition into the Chapel Hill community.

“Chapel Hill has been great. People are great. Players and coaches are great. My family really enjoys it. I’m just glad the weather is back to where it’s Carolina blue. Transition is always initially hard. But the people around here have been fabulous. I’ve really enjoyed it,” Coach Littrell says.

One of the areas of concern for Coach Littrell and the Tar Heels in 2014 will be the offensive line. The absence of James Hurst is devastating to the unit. And Coach Fedora isn’t hiding anything, saying the success of the big men up front will dictate the team’s success.

“You ask the opposing coach if they’ll go seven-on-seven, and if they won’t do seven-on-seven, good luck to you. I’ve never been on a good team that didn’t have a good offensive line. You won’t be good. There’s no way around it. You can only do so many ‘smoke and mirror’ tricks. Eventually, you got to block somebody,” Coach Fedora says.

As a whole, Coach Fedora says the Tar Heels will never live up to his expectations in spring football. But he says striving for improvement each and every day will help the team achieve its goal of playing in the ACC Championship game.

“We still have a long way to go, but we’re making progress. That’s all that I care about right now. They’re not going to reach my expectations right now in the spring. But we are making progress. The challenge is to be a little bit better than we were the day before. Hopefully, you keep raising that bar and by the end of the spring, you’re a pretty good football team,” Coach Fedora says.

The public will be afforded the opportunity to grab a hard look at the progression of the Tar Heels for themselves next Saturday at Kenan Stadium in the form of the Blue & White Spring Game.


Gridiron Pressure on Young Tar Heel Defense in 2014

We all know about the prolific, warp-speed offense the Tar Heel football team will have in store for 2014, but the defense remains somewhat of a mystery. So what can we expect from the Carolina defense in Kenan Stadium this fall?

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The pressure has been firmly placed on the shoulders of the young defense to provide enough stops in 2014 to allow the Tar Heels to achieve their stated goal of playing in the ACC Championship game.

Sophomore defensive backs Brian Walker and Desmond Lawrence are two of the most pivotal points to the defensive success. Having to fill the voids of Jabari Price and Tre Boston will be no small feat.

But Walker says he senses the guys are putting things together and embracing the opportunity to shine in the spotlight.

“I think the defense is getting better. Every day, everybody’s getting better. We’re on the same page on and off the field. We know what we need to do to succeed this year,” Walker says.

Tim Scott will be the lone senior in the secondary for the Tar Heels this fall. But Walker’s not worried. He says he’s confident in the abilities of the unit.

“We’re about to be sophomores, so we’re still young. But we all have confidence. We all have confidence in each other. We all know what to do and what’s needed to win games,” Walker says.

Desmond Lawrence stepped in nicely at the corner position when called to duty in his freshman campaign. He says he’s looking forward to making an impact alongside his buddy, Brian Walker.

“All last year, we just talked about being ready. Obviously, he [Walker] got called a lot earlier than me. He’s a great athlete and really took on that role. I’m just trying to be another strong corner and just work together to be a great tandem,” Lawrence says.

The defensive intensity definitely picked up towards the end of last season. The rise of the defense spurred Carolina on to victories in six of the last seven games.

Lawrence says his defensive teammates are looking to parlay that aggressive mentality into even better performances this fall.

“Towards the end of the season when we started picking up those wins, everything just got more aggressive – harder hits, more picks and everything – just being around the ball. We really wanted to take that into consideration this year and be able to put that in our game,” Lawrence says.

Walker, Lawrence, and the rest of the Tar Heels will take their show on the road Friday for a practice at Ardrey Kell High School in Charlotte. Coach Fedora says it’s a great opportunity to help recruiting and embolden fan support in a big North Carolina city.

Carolina will be hoping for a return trip to the Queen City come December, this time with an ACC crystal ball on the line.


Marcus Paige, Fellow Students Athletes Share Challenges & Triumphs During UNC Academic Experience

UNC basketball’s Marcus Paige was joined by five other student athletes Thursday to share testimony about the challenges and triumphs they have experienced during their academic careers at the University, which was in sharp contrast to the claims made earlier this week by two former Carolina football players.

Paige, a star point guard and second-team Academic All-American, spoke during the presentation called “A day in the life of a student athlete,” before the UNC Board of Trustees. He was joined by three UNC football players, Ryan Switzer, Tim Scott and Kemmi Pettway, gymnast Michelle Ikoma, and softball great, pitcher Lori Spingola.

“We know how hard we work in the classroom. It is not fair to us to get all of that negative attention when we spend so much time working so hard to get a degree just like everyone else,” Paige said.

Director of Athletics Bubba Cunningham said it was a chance to give the Trustees “a representation” of the more than 800 student athletes who attend UNC.

“We frequently just view [student athletes] when they are competing, but this is another opportunity to get them off the fields, out of gyms, and talk to them as real students,” Cunningham said.

The athletes gave positive reviews of the academic support they have received so far, championing various leadership programs and tutoring initiatives, such as MAP, or “My Academic Plan,” which provides additional academic support for athletes who need it.

That was not the same sentiment shared this week regarding UNC’s academic influence on its athletes. On Tuesday, two new, former Carolina football players, Deunta Williams and Byron Bishop, said, each on separate HBO and ESPN programs, that they were encouraged to take no-show classes in order to retain their athletic eligibility during their collegiate careers.

Along with Williams, whistle-blower Mary Willingham, a former athletic tutor, also appeared in the ESPN documentary.

Cunningham did not directly comment on the two specials that aired this week, saying that he wanted to focus on the students currently enrolled at UNC. He said that he wanted to concentrate on providing the maximum number of opportunities for athletes to play collegiate sports and creating a solid educational experience for student athletes once enrolled.

Paige shared that he and his teammates tried to not pay attention to the negative press swirling around UNC, adding that “we all can read and write.”

“There was definitely no one telling us what we had to do or what classes [to take], or even pushing us or suggesting a major,” Paige said.

Trustee Dwight Stone said the school has taken some “undeserved shots in the media” regarding athletic/academic relations. He said that no one could realize the time and effort it takes to be a student athlete at Carolina unless they “walked in their shoes.”

In January, Willingham raised questions about the literacy levels of past Tar Heel basketball and football players as documented in the now infamous CNN article. Her research also prompted concerns about past admission guidelines under which many athletes were enrolled.

In response, UNC officials said then that there isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” policy in judging applicants and that some students are admitted for their “special talents.”

Switzer shared that football provided him the chance to go to Carolina that he wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.

“I am not ashamed to admit that I wouldn’t be at a university like this is if it weren’t for my athletic ability,” Switzer. “I was a decent student in high school, but this University is so high that I couldn’t get here on academics alone. Football has created a lot of opportunities for me that I wouldn’t have if I didn’t play it.”

Switzer said that is was often “a struggle” to manage both roles as a student and an athlete, but he thought that his fellow student athletes were some of the “most disciplined” people he had ever met.

He also said that he originally wanted to major in nursing but decided not to because of the time commitment.

Cunningham said that “time,” or lack of it for student athletes, was another concern.

“I think we should really take a hard look at time and see if there is a better way to organize the day so that student [athletes] can get a full educational experience,” Cunningham said.

UNC Chancellor Carol Folt said that all student athletes struggle with time constraints. She said that the University’s mission is to help them find balance.

“My goal is to help them find a way to get the classes and the majors that they want, while also being able to achieve the excellence that they want,” Folt said.

Folt and Willingham To Meet

Folt confirmed that Willingham had contacted her about setting up a time to meet, to which Folt agreed.

“She gave me an agenda and said that she would like to share her personal story with me and that she would like to share her opinion with me about athletics and academics,” Folt said.


Coach Fedora, Staff Defending Home Turf on Recruiting Trail

The Tar Heel football team is gearing up for the 2014 season, but the recruiting process for 2015 is already in full swing. Head Coach Larry Fedora and his staff have their eyes on some big-time targets as they continue to build up the program.

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Inside Carolina’s recruiting guru Don Callahan highlights the effective recruiting pitches Coach Fedora and company are dealing out these days.

“Coach Fedora has been able to show that this program has a lot of potential and is a couple guys away from doing great things,” Callahan says.

Callahan says many recruits, especially within the borders of North Carolina, are really buying in to the promise of Coach Fedora’s rising program in Chapel Hill.

It’s leading guys like Shy Tuttle, a 300 pound defensive tackle who moves effortlessly across the field, to contemplate staying home to play top-notch college football rather than trekking to places like Alabama, Georgia and LSU.

“He’s a great player. He doesn’t look his size. When you see him move around, he just moves so fluidly for a kid his size. It’s just hard to fathom that he’s a 300-pounder. He’s the top guy,” Callahan says.

Callahan says Coach Fedora had the chance to bring a few key N.C. targets in to his office last weekend including Juval Mollete, Jalen Dalton and Emanuel McGirt. He pointed out the possible accomplishments the UNC football program can achieve if they all choose to stay and defend their home turf.

“One of the main recruiting tools that North Carolina used while they were on campus was to get a group of those guys together in Coach Fedora’s office and pitch to them the idea of what Carolina could be if it was able to keep the top in-state talent in state,” Callahan says.

Although Callahan stops short of labeling the group as a package deal, he says Coach Fedora’s message could collectively resonate with them.

“If one of those guys were to commit, it would definitely help with the others. There were some conversations, among the recruits, about basically what Coach Fedora was saying – going to North Carolina together,” Callahan says.

It certainly appears, slowly but surely, the Tar Heel coaching staff is changing the culture for Carolina football. Callahan says Coach Fedora now has an appetizing pitch to deliver to top recruits.

“You don’t have to go far away. You can come to North Carolina, play in the NFL, and you can do great things at North Carolina,” Callahan says.


Coach Fedora Instilling Competitive Nature in UNC Spring Practice

The Tar Heel football team is busy making preparations for a strong campaign in 2014, but it all starts with competitive spring practice.

Not everything is as stable as the Tar Heels would hope. Head Coach Larry Fedora says the offensive line remains a work in progress at this point.

“Right now we don’t have enough depth on our offensive line. We have a few guys out after postseason surgeries. We’re working really thin right now. The great thing is that all those young kids are getting a lot of reps right now. They’re making a lot of mistakes. It’s hard to get some continuity up front when you’re doing that, but it’s going to pay off down the road,” Coach Fedora says.

The progression of quarterback Marquise Williams into the leader of the team will be a fascinating development this season. Coach Fedora says the experience Williams gained in live game action in 2013 is really making an impact out in spring practice.

“He got more comfortable and more comfortable. That’s where he is right now. He’s very comfortable with what we’re doing. If the defense does something that he hasn’t seen, it gets him, but he can figure it out pretty quick, and the next time it happens he’s right back to where he needs to be,” Coach Fedora says.

On the flip side, Mitch Trubisky, the young signal caller from Ohio, still has a lot of the offense to absorb. Coach Fedora says he’s not completely at ease in the backfield just yet.

“It’s not at that level yet. Mitch understands what the offense is, but every rep is a new experience for him. I wouldn’t say that he’s at that comfort level yet,” Coach Fedora says.

Coach Fedora says nearly all the starting positions are up for grabs. He wants his players to earn their starting spots. And that applies to the battle between Williams and Trubisky for the leading quarterback position.

“They’re both competing. They’re both getting a lot of reps. They’re both getting after it. They’re helping each other and trying to make us better. They’re both handling it well and both competing hard,” Coach Fedora says.

Williams drops back for a pass (Elliott Rubin)

Williams drops back for a pass (Elliott Rubin)

With long, rangy targets like Quinshad Davis and Bug Howard at their disposal, Coach Fedora says the pressure to be perfect is taken off Williams and Trubisky.

“They don’t have to be perfect throwing the ball now because they have guys that have seven feet wingspans,” Coach Fedora says.

The annual Blue & White Spring Game will be held Saturday, April 12 at 3 p.m. in Kenan Stadium.