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 (

Gene Chizik (

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. (

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

“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, 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 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.

UNC Officially Names Gene Chizik D-Coordinator

After weeks of speculation surrounding former Auburn national championship-winning head coach Gene Chizik, the vetting process is now over.

UNC head football coach Larry Fedora announced Monday the latest addition to his coaching staff. Coach Chizik will attempt to resurrect a defense that ranked near the bottom of the NCAA in most statistical categories last season.

***Full statement from UNC***

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – University of North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora announced Monday that Gene Chizik has been hired as the Tar Heels’ defensive coordinator. Chizik, who won national championships at Auburn and Texas, has long been considered one of the brightest defensive coaches in college football and is an experienced leader who will work with Fedora to achieve excellence on and off the field.

Chizik, 53, served as head coach at Auburn from 2009-12 and led the Tigers to three bowl victories, including the 2011 BCS title game, which followed an undefeated 2010 season. Previously, he was the defensive coordinator at Texas under Mack Brown when the Longhorns captured the 2005 national championship.

Chizik also was Auburn’s defensive coordinator from 2002-04 where he built one of the nation’s most dominating defenses. In 2004, he earned the Broyles Award as the top assistant coach in the country when Auburn went 13-0, won the Southeastern Conference and finished No. 2 in both national polls.

Since leaving Auburn in 2012, Chizik has served as an analyst for ESPN, working most recently with the SEC Network. He also worked as a college football analyst with Sirius/XM radio.

“Throughout the hiring process, I worked closely with athletic director Bubba Cunningham to invest in someone who believes in the mission of the University and shares our vision of providing an outstanding experience to the student-athletes,” said Fedora. “Gene Chizik believes in competing at the highest level both on and off the field and is another highly regarded leader for our program.”

“I’m thrilled to join Coach Fedora’s staff and I appreciate the trust he and athletic director Bubba Cunningham have in me,” said Chizik. “It is a tremendous opportunity to coach at one of the most prestigious Universities in the country and live in Chapel Hill. I’m committed to the student-athlete experience they expect at Carolina, and look forward to developing our players into the best they can be in all areas of their lives.”

As head coach at Auburn, Chizik had an Academic Progress Rate (APR) of 970 or above in three of his four seasons, including a 985 in his third year and a 978 in his final season. APR is a team-based metric that accounts for the eligibility and retention of each student-athlete, each term. The highest score attainable is 1000.

“Academic success is one of the highest priorities for our team and we are committed to bringing in coaches and staff who value and protect our academic integrity,” said Fedora.

Chizik has also been heavily involved in college football reforms. Just this past August, the NCAA invited him to serve on a 12-person committee tasked with examining the recruiting culture in college football and evaluating the current national letter of intent signing dates. The committee was organized in conjunction with the NCAA and reported to the Collegiate Commissioners Association.

Throughout his career, Chizik’s players have earned several national awards, including the Heisman Trophy, Maxwell Award, Walter Camp Player of the Year Award, Lombardi Award and Thorpe Award.

Chizik was head coach at Iowa State from 2007-08. He also coached previously at Clemson, Middle Tennessee State and Central Florida.

Chizik earned his B.A. degree in education from Florida in 1985 and his M.A. in guidance and counseling from Clemson in 1991.

A Clearwater, Fla., native, Chizik and his wife, Jonna, have identical twin daughters, Landry Grace and Kennedy Danielle, and a son, Cally.

Poll: Should UNC Football Hire Chizik?

Earlier this month, word broke that UNC was looking to hire Gene Chizik, who coached Auburn to a national title in 2011, as its defensive coordinator.

But we recently reported that the hiring was slowed by concerns with Chizik’s controversial past, especially in light of the recent controversies surrounding UNC football.

Now it’s your turn to make your voice heard with our Chapelboro poll:

Fedora, Tar Heels Welcome Early Enrollees

Following a disappointing 6-7 season and the news of the likely hire of former Auburn coach Gene Chizik as the defensive coordinator, UNC football head coach Larry Fedora announced the enrollment of 10 student-athletes to campus Wednesday, the first day of spring classes in Chapel Hill.

Nine of the 10 graduated early from high school, including defensive back J.K. Britt, defensive lineman Jalen Dalton, wide receiver Juval Mollette, quarterback Anthony Ratliff, linebacker Andre Smith, offensive lineman William Sweet, tight end Carl Tucker, offensive lineman Mason Veal and running back Ty’Son Williams.

Deep snapper Cody Crafford transferred to UNC from Penn State.

“We’re excited to welcome these students to campus and look forward to having them in classes and around our team and coaches,” Coach Fedora says. “Enrolling early in January will allow them to get ahead on their school work and begin early preparation for the 2015 season. We believe these players have the ability to help our team succeed in the years ahead while earning a degree from one of the nation’s top academic institutions.”

Chizik To Chapel Hill?

Former Auburn head coach Gene Chizik is expected to accept a job with North Carolina as defensive coordinator, sources have told ESPN’s Joe Schad.

Chizik was at the helm for the Tigers from 2009 to 2012 and won the national title in 2010. He amassed a 33-19 overall record.

But after going 3-9 in 2012, Auburn agreed to pay Chizik a buyout of $7.5 million when he had $10.8 million left on his contract.

The Tar Heels finished this season with a disappointing 6-7 record and lost to Rutgers 40-21 in the Quick Lane Bowl.

Chizik, meanwhile, had been working as an analyst for ESPN’s SEC Network since August.

Chizik is known for his defensive prowess, but would have his work cut out for him in trying to resurrect a Tar Heel defense that ranks near the bottom of the FBS in most statistical categories.

No official statement on the potential hire has been released by UNC at this time.

Murky Future For 2015 Football Tar Heels

In head coach Larry Fedora’s third year at the helm of the North Carolina football team, the Tar Heels finished with a 6-7 record – the first losing campaign for UNC since 2007. Following a lethargic bowl loss to Rutgers, where is the football program headed?

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It would take a beaming optimist to project much success for the Tar Heels in 2015. Things don’t look good.

Coach Fedora will have some soul searching to do in the offseason for a number of reasons other than the disappointing finish to the season that saw the Tar Heels get outscored 75-28 in their final two games.

Quinshad Davis was loaded on a stretcher in the bowl game - will miss spring practice (UNC Athletics)

Quinshad Davis was loaded on a stretcher in the bowl game – will miss spring practice (UNC Athletics)

“We’ll pick everything apart. We’ll pick every player apart. We’ll look at every player we’ve got. We’ll look at every play that they played and what their problems were and what their mistakes were. We’ll do it with offense, defense and special teams. We’ll do it with each and every unit and then we will determine what was good, what wasn’t good, why it wasn’t good, how we get corrected. It’s what you do each and every year,” Coach Fedora says.

The most concerning issue for Carolina may be the penalties. UNC was one of the most penalized teams in the nation, collecting 93 penalties in the regular season alone. It’s tough to point to one glaring issue either. The yellow flags have come from everywhere on the field for a multitude of infractions.

Not to mention, it was a historically awful year for a Carolina defense that routinely surrendered north of 40 points per contest and was gashed in every way possible, including a whopping five yards per opponent rushing attempt. Yikes!

Many players have voiced their frustration with the complexity of learning the 4-2-5 system scheme employed by recently fired defensive coordinator Vic Koenning. But yet the Tar Heels didn’t change anything for the bowl game in Koenning’s absence.

Photo courtesy of The Daily Tar Heel

Photo courtesy of The Daily Tar Heel

Will Coach Fedora and whoever the new defensive coordinator ends up being see fit to move over to a more comfortable 4-3 formation moving forward?

An even better question may be how will the coaching staff build excitement and energy heading into spring ball with no momentum and a team that seems more divided than ever? (Just take a look at some of the honest, but pointed comments from senior safety Tim Scott, junior QB Marquise Williams and sophomore receiver Ryan Switzer in the locker room in Detroit last week!)

Luckily for Carolina, there may be a glimmer of hope. A majority of the team will be returning next fall, including an infusion of a few highly-touted recruits like talented New Bern cornerback Mike Hughes.

But for now, it’s clear the Tar Heels have hit close to rock bottom. The question is…can they pick themselves back up?