I’m going to take this week’s column from a different angle mostly because I don’t really feel like addressing the onslaught of giving up 68 points to Paul Johnson and Georgia Tech this past weekend.  On top of that, I can’t believe we have lost 13 of the last 15 matchups with the Yellow Jackets — it’s just mind boggling that this dominance is occurring and the tide must stop now (well at least next year)!

With that out of the way, the purpose of this week’s article is to address the great work that our student-athletes do out in the community, much of which goes unnoticed and underappreciated.  Unless you’ve been a player in a big time college program, it’s hard to really understand what the rigors of being a college athlete are — long weeks of practice with hours of film study, coaches on your back critiquing and always judging you, keeping up with your academic progress and just having a normal social life in general (keeping up with friends and trying to date.) 

And on top of all that, our Tar Heel football players find extra time to take part in community service efforts of all kinds.  Anything from hospital visits at UNC Children’s Hospital or the UNC Hospital Burn Center to speaking to our local youth football programs about the importance of an education, our past, current and future football players make us proud by doing the right thing.  One of many examples where a difference is being made was this year’s UNC Blood Drive where we spearheaded the collection of 784 productive units of blood.  The impact is significant when you realize that each unit of blood can help three different patients so if my math is correct, 2,352 sick or injured human beings just got a helping hand that they might not have otherwise received.  That’s the kind of outcome that transcends first downs and three-and-outs.

In a recent visit to the Burn Center that was covered by Megan Morketter from goheels.com, she really captures the influence our guys had in their recent visit and how they can lift the spirits of the center’s patients, and give them untapped strength to continue on in their recovery:

The recurring theme of the visit was one of lasting impressions. Throughout the Tar Heels’ stay, medical staff reiterated the increased motivation they see in their patients after meeting the athletes.

“The patients may take a few more steps during physical therapy; they might eat a little more. Their (the athletes’) presence here lasts so much longer… just look in the room, look at that,” Dr. Cairns said pointing to a mother beginning to decorate her 15-year-old son’s hospital room with a football helmet and poster gifted to the boy by Cooper, Williams, Johnson and company.

“I know that there are people who are thinking about Carolina athletics and what it really stands for,” Dr. Caims said. “Well I wish they could see this, and then they would know.”

One of those players Dr. Cairns is referring to is offensive lineman Jonathan Cooper who was a midseason All-American selection by SI.com, ESPN.com, Phil Steele and the Sporting News.  Additionally, Cooper is one of 117 college football players nationally to be recognized for community service contributions by the American Football Coaches Association “Good Works Team.” 

Among Cooper’s community service highlights are offering golf lessons to underprivileged youth, actively participating in the “Share Your Holiday” campaign which fundraises to provide assistance for local families in need, and building a home for Habitat for Humanity.  Many of you Tar Heel fans know about Jonathan’s accolades on the field, but this fellow O lineman is just as impressed with how he handles his business off the field.  But, hey, that’s how we lineman roll.  An offensive lineman is smart, nasty and violent on the field but off it, caring, compassionate, community oriented and are labeled by many (just ask my Mom and wife) that know us best as “Gentle Giants.” 

As much as the O line loves to pancake an opponent or make a block on the final play against NC State to score the winning touchdown, nothing compares to the feeling you get when you can put a smile on the face of a sick young child or helping a complete stranger in need.  I know these young men understand the honor and privilege of giving back because I felt the same way when I was in their shoes at Carolina six years ago.  These are the moments that help shape you as a man and make your fans truly proud of what the University of North Carolina stands for.


Smart. Fast. Physical