Turner, Switzer Are Preseason All-ACC

Two Tar Heels have been named to the All-ACC preseason football team: guard Landon Turner and return specialist Ryan Switzer.

Members of the media voted on the All-ACC teams at the ACC Football Kickoff this week in Pinehurst; the teams were announced on Thursday. Switzer made the team as a kick returner. Both Switzer and Turner made the All-ACC third team last year.

Preseason favorite Clemson led all schools with five selections to the All-ACC team, followed by Florida State and Virginia Tech with four each.

The Tar Heels kick off their 2015 campaign on Thursday, September 3, in Charlotte against South Carolina.

Get UNC’s full 2015 schedule here.

The complete 2015 All-ACC Preseason Football Team:

WR – Tyler Boyd, Jr., Pitt
WR – Mike Williams, Jr., Clemson
WR – Artavis Scott, So. Clemson
TE – Bucky Hodges, r-So., Virginia Tech
OT – Roderick Johnson, So., Florida State
OT – Adam Bisnowaty, r-Jr., Pitt
OG – Landon Turner, r-Sr., North Carolina
OG – Eric Mac Lain, Gr., Clemson
C – Matt Skura, r-Sr., Duke
QB – Deshaun Watson, So., Clemson
RB – James Conner, Jr., Pitt
RB – Shadrach Thornton, Sr., NC State

DE – Dadi Lhomme Nicolas. r-Sr., Virginia Tech
DE – Shaq Lawson, Jr., Clemson
DE – Sheldon Rankins, Sr., Louisville
DT – Adam Gotsis, Sr., Georgia Tech
DT – Luther Maddy, r-Sr., Virginia Tech
LB – Terrance Smith, r-Sr., Florida State
LB – Brandon Chubb, r-Sr., Wake Forest
LB – James Burgess, Sr., Louisville
CB – Jalen Ramsey, Jr., Florida State
CB – Kendall Fuller, Jr., Virginia Tech
S – Jeremy Cash, r-Sr., Duke
S – Quin Blanding, So., Virginia

Special Teams
PK – Roberto Aguayo, r-Jr., Florida State
P – Alex Kinal, r-Sr., Wake Forest
KR – Ryan Switzer, So., North Carolina


Earth to Art Chansky: It Wasn’t About the Women

Editor’s note: Art Chansky’s Sports Notebook on July 14th was about UNC Coach Sylvia Hatchell. Chansky followed with a longer Art’s Angle on the subject of Coach Hatchell on July 15th. The commentary below is from Mary Willingham and Jay Smith of paperclassinc.com, and was published to their blog on July 16th, but only in response to the July 14th Sports Notebook. On July 20th, Art Chansky shared his answer to their blog post in a Sports Notebook. Mary Willingham’s commentary can be heard on WCHL in an abbreviated version on July 21st. Below is the full version.

In a recent commentary on WCHL, ardent UNC sports fan Art Chansky revealed his strategy for combating the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations [NOA] against the university’s athletic program: Blame it on the women! Complaining of women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell’s (alleged) behind-the-scenes efforts to lobby for a contract extension comparable to the one recently offered men’s coach Roy Williams, Chansky griped that “an exit strategy should be [Hatchell’s’] play.” After all, Chansky claimed, “Hatchell’s program is in the most serious trouble from the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations,” given the high profile of women’s academic counselor Jan Boxill in the email documentation provided in the NCAA report. The whole NCAA investigation is a “witch hunt” with many victims, Chansky suggested, but the uncomfortable reality for women’s basketball is that “[Roy] Williams’ program was not cited in the NOA and Hatchell’s was.” Hatchell should therefore prepare herself to leave UNC “with grace.”

The propaganda purposes of this particular commentary are obvious even by Chansky’s standards. No team is “cited” in the NOA if by cited one means singled out for likely punishment. As a team and as a program, women’s basketball is cited in the NCAA document no more and no less than any other team or program. (The NCAA’s NOA did note, however, that the “special arrangements” used for eligibility purposes at UNC had particularly benefited “the sports of football, men’s basketball, and women’s basketball.”) Chansky, in other words, is only continuing and amplifying the PR drumbeat that Roy Williams, Larry Fedora and others began some weeks ago, presumably at the urging of university lawyers. They have repeatedly announced that the big-time men’s revenue sports would seem to be in the clear and should expect no further punishment from the NCAA. They would have us believe that the NCAA is prepared to give football and men’s basketball a free pass even after the exposure of decades’ worth of fraud that clearly benefited the football and men’s basketball teams. And they are evidently all too happy to point the finger of blame in the direction of a women’s team in order to lower expectations about the sanctions likely to be imposed on the men’s teams.

Leaving aside the gender politics of this shameless PR strategy–will advocates for women’s sports stand by while male coaches, boosters, and UNC insiders labor to persuade the NCAA that the Crowder-Nyang’oro scheme was merely a big plot to help women?–Chansky and company face one very high hurdle in pursuit of their propaganda campaign. A mountain of direct and circumstantial evidence makes clear that UNC’s distinctive pattern of academic fraud was developed specifically to meet the needs of the men’s basketball team, and that the corruption reached its highest levels on Roy Williams’s watch. The first suspect independent study courses offered by Julius Nyang’oro in the late 1980s were offered to men’s basketball players, some of whom had abysmal SAT scores and perilously low GPA’s before they met professor Nyang’oro. Faculty friends in geography, French, and the school of education had been very helpful to the team throughout the 1980s. But when leadership of the AFRI/AFAM department fell into the laps of two allies of men’s basketball around 1990–Nyang’oro and his assistant Debby Crowder, whose close friend Burgess McSwain served as academic counselor for the men in her remote Smith center office–that department quickly became the go-to academic center for struggling (or academically uninterested) men’s basketball players. The fraud would morph into a multi-team and three thousand-student debacle before all was said and done, but men’s basketball was always first in line for favors and fake classes. The needs of men’s basketball always came first in the eyes of Debby Crowder. And the 2005 men’s team, whose roster was stocked with players for whom both McSwain and Crowder felt great sympathy, benefited from unprecedented levels of favoritism. The team as a whole took well over one hundred paper classes; as one would expect, the starters on that team benefited disproportionately from the scam. Star forward Rashad McCants has had the guts to admit this publicly and to show the evidence of the fraud in his own student transcript. His teammates, though quick to denounce him, have kept their transcripts hidden. It is unlikely that anyone else from that team–Sean May, Raymond Felton, Jawad Williams, Marvin Williams, Reyshawn Terry, Jesse Holley, etc.–will ever step forward with transcripts in hand to have a frank conversation about their classroom experiences. But the truth is in those transcripts.

Chansky, Williams, and the friends of men’s basketball would have the world believe that twenty years of bogus class scheduling was done without the knowledge of anyone actually connected to the men’s basketball program. Coaches (who are paid millions to know everything) supposedly knew nothing. The only academic counselor who was knowingly, inexcusably corrupt, they say, was philosophy instructor Jan Boxill, counselor for the women’s basketball team. This “powerful” figure, they say, corrupted women’s basketball of her own volition. Thankfully, all other counselors were innocent–even if it is unfortunate that they failed to detect the shenanigans of Crowder and Boxill.

The layers of absurdity in this line of argument become hard to distinguish. One might start, however, with the simple fact that Jan Boxill, whatever her flaws, was far more vulnerable than powerful. She was an untenured instructor whose employment at UNC was always partially contingent on her services to the athletic program. She was a highly valuable cog in the machine because of her go-between status and her ability to negotiate academic protocols for counselors who were physically segregated from the main arteries of the campus. But her great value also increased her vulnerability. She was pressured constantly by other personnel in the Academic Support Program to call in favors, to make phone calls, to ask for benefits that were “needed” by athletes with low GPA’s, travel commitments, or other handicaps.

Among the people who leaned heavily on Jan Boxill were the counselors for men’s basketball–first McSwain and then Wayne Walden, Roy Williams’s handpicked deputy who followed him to Chapel Hill from Kansas in 2003. When Roy Williams touts Walden’s ethics, he is not just blowing smoke. Walden was a decent guy who worked within a system that had been built long before he arrived. (Where is he now? Why won’t he and the other counselors step forward to tell their stories?) Walden had a conscience, and he was not happy to have to resort to “paper classes” and wink-wink independent studies courses to help keep certain players afloat. But he also knew what had to be done when push came to shove. Mary Willingham and Wayne Walden spent countless hours together in the old east end zone building talking about how difficult it was to keep challenged players eligible, and how much harder it was to navigate the UNC curriculum in comparison to the Kansas curriculum. (Thank the heavens for Debby Crowder and the few friendly faculty out there…) The course selection process they managed was never about offering players a world-class education; Willingham and Walden worked together–quite often with Boxill’s help, even more often with Crowder’s help–to keep basketball players eligible and in school. They were quite good at it, though Walden was constantly worried about getting Jan or Debby in trouble by asking for favors that would raise red flags. (One reason Boxill had so many emails to be plundered by Kenneth Wainstein and the NCAA: she worked in an office in Caldwell Hall, distant from the ASPSA. Deals, trouble-shooting, and schedule-engineering that were done face-to-face in the ASPSA had to be done through email whenever Boxill was involved. Conveniently for certain other key players in the drama, Boxill’s email was on the main UNC server rather than on the athletic server; her emails could not be expunged.)

Roy Williams has tried to take credit for steering players away from AFAM in 2006-7 (even as he disavows any knowledge of funny business in that department.) But the fact is, the transcripts of the 2009 national championship men’s team look different–with some but far fewer paper classes–only because a new fear of getting caught had set in around 2006. Remember the Auburn scandal and the panic it seems to have caused among ASPSA officials, the Faculty Athletics Committee, and Dean Bobbi Owen (who decreed that the numbers of AFAM independent studies had to be sharply reduced)? The upshot of the Auburn scandal, in the UNC men’s basketball program, was a new caution about cheating. The large-scale, team-wide stuff had to end. Paper classes, Walden decided, should be used only for the athletes who desperately needed them – such as the one guy who “couldn’t read very well.” That particular player, whose needs forged a particularly close relationship between Walden and Willingham (a reading specialist), took between ten and twelve paper classes. That figure–compiled in the years after Roy Williams claims that he cleaned up the basketball program–is significantly higher than the number of paper classes ever taken by ANY women’s basketball player. The number of AFAM majors on the men’s basketball team may have dropped off after 2005, but the need for paper classes remained (for both current and former players), and men’s basketball stayed at the front of the line at least through 2008.

Art Chansky and company are desperately trying to persuade the NCAA and the public at large that UNC’s course fraud scam was all about helping the women’s basketball team. Chansky urges Sylvia Hatchell to play sacrificial lamb for a UNC athletic department that benefited broadly and egregiously from academic fraud that unfolded over twenty years. The NCAA has all the emails, with all the unredacted names, and so one can assume that the Committee on Infractions will be able to hold up against the propaganda winds. But regardless of what the NCAA does or does not do, people of good conscience in and around UNC must not allow the dreams of Chansky, Williams, and Fedora to come true. Collective amnesia is not an option in Chapel Hill. Owning the reality of the scandal is important because only after accepting the true dynamic of the academic-athletic scandal–only after Tar Heels have come to terms with the fact that our love of men’s basketball and our passionate commitment to winning fostered an uncontrollably corrupt academic environment here–will the institution be able to move on with open eyes, a clean conscience, and a healthy plan for the future.

Chansky asks Hatchell to leave with “grace.” But grace has never been about willful blindness, nor should it be about taking one for the team. “Was blind but now I see,” goes the beloved lyric. Those touched by grace are not asked to go into exile; they are reconciled to a higher power and beckoned to a welcoming place (“grace will lead me home.”). Asking Sylvia Hatchell to go away is not the answer to UNC’s disgrace. The institution should instead be asking for its own gift of grace—the gift of clear-sighted reconciliation with the sins of its past.


“Meet The Heels” On August 8

It’s almost time to “Meet the Heels”!

UNC football’s annual “Meet the Heels” day is set for Saturday, August 8, from 4-6 pm at the Eddie Smith Field House. It’s a free event for Tar Heel fans – come out that day and meet the Tar Heel football team and Coach Fedora from 5-6, plus women’s soccer players, volleyball players and more from 4-5.

There will also be food trucks, inflatable games for kids, practice drills, free posters, music, magic, and more, plus Carolina gear for sale.

For more info, including parking information and news about the Carolina Kids Club, visit GoHeels.com.


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.

***Listen to the story***

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.

***Listen to the story***

“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?

***Listen to the story***

“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.

***Listen to the story***

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.

***Listen to the story***

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.