Up Close: Ronnie McGill, Part I

CHAPEL HILL – If the Spring Game was any indication, the high hopes for early production from Ronnie McGill will soon become reality.

The 2003 signee has taken Carolina fans by storm following Saturday's 104-yard performance on 24 carries.

Even more impressed with McGill was the Tar Heels' third-year head coach John Bunting.

"He's got a great attitude and loves to play football," Bunting said. "He always has a smile on his face. He likes to play and he likes to practice. He's just fun to be around."

After 16 first-half carries for 76 yards at a 4.75 yards-per-carry average, McGill picked right up where he left off with a 29-yard scamper to open the second half.

In his first real competition at the collegiate level, McGill was the best running back on the field -- every bit as effective at his position as sophomore Jacque Lewis, while outshining veterans Willie Parker and Andre Williams.

During his incredible 11-yard touchdown run, it became apparent that McGill doesn't much like to be tackled. A wall of would-be tacklers stood between him and paydirt. But not be denied, McGill carried the pile into the end zone with him to the delight of the Kenan Stadium contingent.

McGill's second quarter scoring gallop was desire personified.

"When I got to the three-yard line and hit the other guys, I was just determined to get in there," McGill said. "I wasn't going to let anybody stop me. It was unbelievable. I didn't want to let them down and come off the field without a touchdown."

With his recent performance, almost instantaneously, McGill may now be expected to be an early contributor. So don't expect the obligatory redshirt season out of the Clover, S.C. freshman, right? However, in his first contact with the media since arriving on campus in January, McGill spoke mostly of the positives behind prepping an extra year as a redshirt.

"If I take this year off, I give everybody else a year," McGill said. "So by the time I'm a junior, it would be just me and a couple of other guys. I'll have to talk to the coaches and see what they think about it.

"I'm going to think about it over the summer," he said. "We just got through with spring ball; it's too early to decide anything."

But ultimately it will be up to the UNC coaching staff whether or not McGill plays as a true freshman. The Tar Heels need him in 2003 and McGill looked more than ready to contribute on fall Saturdays

For Carolina to be effective on offense, it has to be able to move the ball on the ground. A respectable running game will make the Tar Heels vaunted passing attack even better. If McGill leads the team in rushing in his first game or two, it will be terribly difficult for Bunting not to burn his redshirt.

McGill certainly didn't appear to be suffering any ill effects from an ankle sprain that kept him out of two weeks of practice this spring.

"It still hurt, but the coaches told me to just play through it," McGill said. "I didn't want to let the players down and not be able to compete in my first game."

What remains to be seen is if McGill was simply feasting on a struggling UNC defense Saturday that continues to have trouble stopping the run.

Although he grinned from ear-to-ear throughout most of the post-game interviews, he is keeping his tremendous UNC debut in perspective.

"Well, even though I did play well, I still want to step it up," McGill said. "I'm just going to look at this as a building point. From now on, I just want to go higher."

For more on McGill's high school career and the path that led to his early entrance to UNC, stay tuned for Part II tomorrow…

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