Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
August 25, 2003
- UNC coach John Bunting knew he needed to make it through the summer and preseason practice with his expected contributors healthy and eligible, and he came very close to batting 100 percent. The exception: Senior defensive tackle Donti Coats, a potential starter, decided at the start of August drills to give up football because of recurring ankle injuries. Previously, numerous other upperclassmen ended their UNC careers prematurely, but because the attrition occurred before spring practice in most cases the coaches had plenty of time to make adjustments. Junior offensive lineman Justin Barton (knee), senior defensive lineman Will Chapman (shoulders), junior defensive end Larry Jessup (shoulders) and senior running back Andre' Williams (back) received medical hardship waivers, which enabled them (along with Coats) to remain on scholarship without counting toward the Heels' NCAA-mandated 85 limit. Williams is serving as a student coach this fall. Despite the significant frustration and turmoil surrounding last season's 3-9 campaign, Bunting has done an impressive job of retaining his own players through his first two and a half years in Chapel Hill. Most of the departures were Carl Torbush signees, some of whom grew weary of the high expectations of the new staff. All but five of Bunting's high school enrollees from 2001 and 2002 remain in the program. The departures: lineman Antavis Barrino (gave up football), lineman Whit Efird (transfer/homesick), wideout Ian Firestone (transfer/playing time), quarterback Terrance Highsmith (dismissed) and wideout Harry Lewis (academics).
- For the second year in a row, there was some coaching turnover in Chapel Hill. After the 2001 season, offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell left to join old friends on a brand-new staff at Vanderbilt, and defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta landed a high-paying ($225,000) job with the same title at Georgia Tech. Last December, Bunting dismissed defensive tackles coach Rod Broadway, who ended up landing the head coaching job at nearby N.C. Central. The Heels' tackle play was horrendous last fall, physically and mentally, as players regularly were overpowered, repeatedly missed assignments and lacked fundamental skills. Previously, promising tackle Isaac Montgomery said he left the program because of a conflict with Broadway. When Montgomery arrived at Virginia Tech last fall, coaches there said they were surprised at the lack of fundamental skills evident in a player who spent two seasons in Chapel Hill. Brad Lawing, formerly of Michigan State, handled the entire defensive line during spring practice and also took over as Carolina's recruiting coordinator. A North Carolina native, Lawing fit the profile Bunting was seeking: a high-energy hard worker who enjoys recruiting, has a proven track record at a major program, and displays a willingness to put down roots. (That was a problem with Tenuta.) Lawing worked 10 consecutive years at South Carolina (1989-98) before spending four seasons with the Spartans.
- While only two players (linebacker Melik Brown, end Kyndraus Guy) from Carolina's surprising top-15 recruiting class popped up on the official preseason depth chart, that doesn't mean others won't work their way into the two-deep by midseason. Juco All-American cornerback Lionell Green and rugged tailback Ronnie McGill are considered potential starters. Linebackers Larry Edwards, Joe Kedra and Fred Sparkman and safety Kareen Taylor probably will play on special teams from the start and could work their way into the lineup. Receivers Adarius Bowman, Jesse Holley and Mike Mason represent a huge upgrade for the Heels at wideout. Massive newcomers Shelton Bynum and Isaiah Thomas could help at defensive tackle.
- UNC lost a school-record four signees to academics, all defensive linemen: Marcus Hands, Terry Hunter, Khalif Mitchell and Kenny Price. While that certainly was an area of need for the Heels, only Hunter (maybe) was likely to help the team this fall. All four players chose to enroll at Hargrave Military Academy, and all four plan to remain committed to the Heels and arrive in Chapel Hill next year. In August, the players already were recruiting fellow defensive lineman Brandon Setzer, a Class of 2003 product from North Carolina who Hargrave coaches said has as much long-term potential as anyone at the school.