By Paxton Delany
For the past two years, the UNC football program has been under a thick raincloud of an NCAA investigation. Just before the season, the Heels dismissed coach Butch Davis. The 2011 season ended with a 7-6 overall record and a 3-5 record within the ACC. Interim coach Everett Withers led the Tar Heel to a promising start with a 5-1 run in the first 6 games, but the season slowed from there. Carolina went to the Independence Bowl and lost to the Missouri Tigers (24-41). The school also elected not to appeal NCAA sanctions that were announced in March.
Yet, as always, when one door closes another opens, and out of that door stepped a new head coach: Larry Fedora from the University of Southern Mississippi. “When people ask how many you think you’re going to win, I don’t know any other way to look at it than when we step out on the field and put that Carolina blue on, we’re going to expect to win,” Fedora said. Fedora brought nine new coaching assistants with him. Most of the new staff includes coaches who assisted him at Southern Miss. UNC’s newbie coaches include: Dan Disch as Defensive Coordinator, Dave Duggan as defensive assistant and Special Teams Coordinator, Deke Adams as defensive line coach, Blake Anderson as QB coach and Offensive Coordinator, Walt Bell as tight ends coach, and Chris Kapilovic as offensive line coach. The remaining two coaches are wide receiver coach Gunter Brewer, who previously worked as offensive coordinator at UNC from 2000-04, and Vic Koenning as assistant head coach of defense. Randy Jordan was later announced as running back coach.
Early January enrollment brought linebacker Shakeel Rashad and tight end Terrance Knox to the Tar Heels. In total there are 23 freshmen and the most anticipated arrivals are speed demons Kendrick Davis (wide receiver) and Romar Morris (running back).
January also brought news of extended eligibility for two players; Devon Ramsay will have a sixth season as fullback, and kicker Casey Barth will get one more year too.
Other returning players include tailback Giovani Bernard, quarterback Bryn Renner, and linebacker Kevin Reddick, who all have been added to numerous watch lists for the 2012 season. Reddick is the lone man returning with experience to lead this defense. UNC lost nine players to the NFL: Quinton Coples (New York Jets) and Zac Brown (Tennessee Titans) were drafted while free agent signees included Matt Merletti (Indianapolis), Charles Brown (Baltimore), Cam Holland (Kansas City), Tydreke Powell (Minnesota), Dwight Jones (Houston), and both Jordan Nix and Jonathan Smith (Tampa Bay).
Even though the Tar Heels will be unable to go to a bowl this year, that doesn’t mean the team isn’t focused. Reddrick said: “It’s like I told some of the other seniors, we just have to bond, get closer, come together as a team.” The Tar Heels started that process in their spring game at Kenan Stadium. The Blue team (made up of mostly starters) topped the White team (made up of mostly non-starters) 44-21. Coach Fedora said one goal for the spring “was that coming out of spring ball, that we had to have a good understanding of our base, our offense, defense and special teams – the base. The fundamentals. And we did that.” Renner led the blue team to victory with 23 complete passes on 28 throws for 295 yards. Two of Renner’s passes found Morris for touchdowns; he added a third on an 8-yard run into the end zone. Second-string quarterback Marquise Williams completed 17 of 32 passes for 123 yards and 1 touchdown. Bernard, who registered 1,253 yards in his 2011 season, left the spring game early due to a head gash. Erik Highsmith and Sean Tapley are anticipated to aid Bernard in the running back role as well. Fellow running back AJ Blue took 15 carries for 98 yards and 2 touchdowns during the game.
AthlonSports.com predicts UNC will fall below Virginia Tech as No. 2 in the ACC’s Coastal Division while ranking 29th nationally. The Tar Heels open their season on Sept. 1 against Elon. Other games include Wake Forest (Sept. 8), Louisville (Sept. 15), East Carolina (Sept. 22), Virginia Tech (Oct. 6), Miami (Oct. 13), Duke (Oct. 20), NC State (Oct. 27), and UVa (Nov. 15).