Gaining Experience in Droves

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – A grand total of 67 players, including 14 freshmen, took snaps in No. 23 North Carolina’s 56-29 season-opening win over Liberty.

The rotations and substitutions rolled off the UNC sideline often and in a hurry at Kenan Stadium on Saturday evening. It took less than four minutes for UNC’s second-string defensive line and secondary to enter the game, and by the end of the first quarter, seven true freshmen had gotten their first taste of college ball.

UNC head coach Larry Fedora said on Monday that he didn’t know if he had ever played that many players in a game before.

“It was a lot of players and I’m glad it worked out that way because we know we’re a young football team and those young kids need to get as many reps as possible because we know they’re going to have to help us throughout the season,” Fedora told reporters during his weekly press conference.

He came close to reaching that total in his first game as UNC’s head coach in 2012 – a 62-0 rout of Elon. There were 63 different Tar Heels – including 11 redshirt freshmen and seven true freshmen – that played snaps in the win over the Phoenix.

Eight true freshmen and six redshirt freshmen saw action against Liberty. The true freshmen were DB Allen Artis, WR Austin Proehl, LB Tyrell Tomlin, LB Cayson Collins, TB Elijah Hood, OG Jared Cohen, LT Bentley Spain and DT Tyler Powell. The redshirt freshmen were DE Dajaun Drennon, WR Jackson Boyer, QB Mitch Trubisky, OG Brad Henson, WR Jordan Fieulleteau and DT Nazair Jones.

Nine Tar Heels made their first career starts – LT John Ferranto, OG Will Dancy, WR Bug Howard, WR Ryan Switzer, DT Justin Thomason, B Shakeel Rashad, R Ryan Mangum, CB T.J. Jiles and Drennon.

Fedora pointed to that youth and inexperience when asked about the various miscues in the season-opening win.

“I think it was a lot of inexperience mistakes,” Fedora said. “Just like we’ve talked about before, every opportunity we can give those guys, they’re going to learn from those mistakes and hopefully won’t make them again.”

The coaching staff had planned to play a large portion of the roster from the get-go, but once the game got out of hand late in the third quarter, more players were able to see action, according to Fedora.

As for the 14 freshmen that saw live action for the first time, Fedora seemed to be more interested in their initial exposure than in their critical evaluation.

“Those young guys, I don’t know if there was anybody that exceeded my expectations, but I wasn’t disappointed in any of their play, really,” Fedora said. “For us, it’s fun to watch a freshman who goes out there the first few plays, he’s floundering around and he doesn’t look like he’s a player. Then you get into the second half, the third and fourth quarters, and now all of a sudden you see him become the guy that he really is and he starts doing things the right way.”

UNC will have at least one more first-time starter on the books following Saturday’s game against San Diego State. Sophomore Des Lawrence, who sat out the Liberty game due to a suspension, is listed as a starter at UNC’s boundary cornerback position.

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