Price Locked In

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Jabari Price arrived at North Carolina last season to a perfect setup – spend a year learning from a pair of All-ACC caliber cornerbacks before taking the reins as a sophomore. But that plan changed in a matter of hours before the season opener against LSU.

"I have to admit – the LSU game – I wasn't even expecting to play with Kendric Burney and Charles Brown returning," Price told reporters on Monday. "Then the week before the game they tell me that Charles Brown and Kendric Burney can't play, so that was just the shock of my life. But once I got in there, the coaches had faith in me to make plays and they continued to play me throughout the season."

Price registered one tackle against the Tigers, and despite looking up the depth chart at players such as LeCount Fantroy, Mywan Jackson, Terry Shankle and Tre Boston, the Pompano Beach, Fla. native kept plodding along to learn the playbook and get comfortable at the Division I level.

By the time Burney returned to the playing field in October, Price had worked himself up into the two-deep. One month later, the rookie had joined Burney in the starting lineup.

Price finished the season with four starts, appearances in all 13 games and 20 tackles to go along with five pass breakups and an interception return for 29 yards.

"Those last four starts at the end of the season really let me know that I'm playing college football," Price said. "That was really an eye-opener to get my feet wet."

The 6-foot, 195-pounder is now entrenched as one of UNC's starting cornerbacks alongside of another standout corner that has returned from suspension in Brown. Price highlighted the benefits of playing with experienced defensive backs like Burney and Brown.

"You bring back an experienced corner [in Brown] and then with that experienced corner, you have someone to rely on, like, "Hey, how do you do this?' and ‘How do you do that?'" Price said. "He can show you the ropes, so it's helpful."

That advice has proven critical because even though Price has only been campus for a little more than 12 months, he's now considered an elder statesman at corner since Jackson left the program and Boston moved to safety. His role now includes providing a guiding hand for freshman cornerbacks Alex Dixon, Kameron Jackson, Tim Scott and Sam Smiley.

Dixon and Smiley hail from Florida, Scott comes from Virginia and Jackson arrived from Alabama, but they're working together to form a solid talent base at corner in Chapel Hill.

"No matter where they're from, all four of them can play," Price said. "They came in and they're getting the new playbook pretty fast. They were thrown into the mix and they're doing pretty good from what I've seen."

But the learning curve still exists for most everyone in the secondary. In Saturday's scrimmage, Price indicated that the offense deserved credit for capitalizing on his unit's mistakes. While the defensive backs made several good plays, those actions were offset by giving up even bigger plays.

Price pointed to experience in picking up on offensive and player tendencies as being a needed addition for all of his secondary teammates.

"The bigger breakdowns would have to be reads," Price said. "Just reading the wide receivers' tempo and things like that. I'm learning as the process is going, but I am getting better day-in and day-out."

Those are some of the reasons many pundits point to UNC's secondary as being the question mark for this defense, but Price and his defensive back counterparts have elected to use those opinions as motivation for the fall.

"We really have taken it as a chip on our shoulder," Price said. "A lot of people have questioned the secondary since we lost Da'Norris Searcy, Deunta Williams and Kendric Burney. But we've really taken it as a chip on our shoulder this training camp and put an emphasis on it.

"We're trying to make a statement this year to set the tone for the team."

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