Bouncing Back

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Tommy Heffernan enters his junior season at weakside linebacker looking to bounce back from offseason ankle surgery that derailed his 2012 campaign.

Heffernan appeared in eleven games during the 2012 season and started nine of those in a year filled with promising play. The season ended earlier than he hoped, however, as an ankle injury held him out of the season finale against Maryland. Ankle surgery in the spring kept him away from the football field yet he returned just in time for the rigors of strength and conditioning coach Lou Hernandez's summer workout regiment.

"Rigorous is an understatement," Heffernan said of the conditioning program. "That's for sure. He pushed us real hard and I think it shows why we're practicing so well. We come out here for 23 or 24 periods and we're able to get through it because of his summer workouts. His conditioning, lifting and everything definitely has our bodies in the best condition."

The ankle that sidelined the 6-foot-1, 215-pounder hasn't been an issue thus far through training camp. Heffernan is currently battling with Travis Hughes for the weakside linebacker spot.

The key to staying healthy for Heffernan, who described the surgery as minor, is hydration and dedication to taking care of his body outside of the grueling periods on the gridiron.

"Coach Fedora says it all the time - you've got to attack what you're doing on the field, but also, just as important off the field being hydrated so you're not cramping, eating the right things and stuff like that," Heffernan said. "I'm basically just maintaining my body as best as I can."

The return to full health will ideally boost Heffernan's play in 2013 after standing out in 2012. Against arguably the toughest team on UNC's schedule - Louisville - the Miami, Fla. native racked up 13 total tackles including nine solo, along with 1.5 tackles for loss and a sack in his first career start.

"I was a little nervous but I was playing against so many guys from South Florida and Miami," Heffernan said of that early-season loss. "One of my best friends plays over there. I played against a lot of those guys in high school and hung out with those guys so it definitely builds confidence. I just want to build on last season and try to be the best I can whether that's mentally, physically just all-around."

UNC's linebacker unit will need Heffernan to display that type of effort on a more consistent basis due to the inexperience surrounding that group. Through the first five days of training camp, Heffernan was quite optimistic while discussing a couple of teammates in the linebacker corps.

It should come as no surprise that Hughes was the first name to come to mind.

"That's one of my best friends," Heffernan said of Hughes. "That's the guy I probably push the most. Physical specimen obviously with the speed and strength and all that but mentally I try to push him as much as I can on the playbook. We're rooming together for training camp. We've been great friends since day one since he's been here and I'm hoping he has a great season. He just has to keep his head on straight and keep working."

As far as the season goes, Heffernan remains consistent with both his individual and team goals.

"I just want to bust my tail as much as I can and hopefully get to where we need to be this year and that's back to a Coastal Division championship."

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