“First and foremost, I really trusted the coaches. Coach Brewer, Coach Anderson, and Coach Fedora were always up front and honest with how I could fit into their system and I trusted what they said. My visit was great, I loved the atmosphere, and everything was first-class. But it was the trust I had in the coaches and what they told me that brought me here.”
If you didn’t choose the Tar Heels, who would you be playing for instead?
“Most likely Florida State. They came onto me late in the recruiting process and really made a push for me in the end. I considered it a lot and was flattered in their interest. But ultimately I felt like UNC was the best place for me for many different reasons, including the town, the school, the program, and the coaches.”
How would you describe Coach Larry Fedora as a recruiter?
“Very honest. He will tell you the truth, which is what you want from a coach. A lot of coaches just tell you what you want to hear, but Coach Fedora is the real deal. When he would visit or call, he was just a genuine guy. He and the staff did an outstanding job of getting to know me as a person and taking the time to get to know my family. I think part of that hard work and effort is to also figure out if the recruit will fit into the UNC family and what the culture is all about. They get to know you as a whole person, not just a player. And that made a big impression on me and made me feel very confident and comfortable in deciding to play for him.”
You’re a big family guy, so what did your family think of Fedora?
“My family loves Coach Fedora. They loved him from the word go. He made a couple of in-home visits and next thing I know he’s on the floor playing with my baby sister and he really won the hearts of my parents. He’s a family guy and he focused a lot on my family and getting them to feel comfortable with UNC as a place for me to play and go to school.”
I’ve heard your little sister and you are big fans of the Disney movie, “Frozen.” Did Fedora join in with your little sister for a duet of “Let It Go?”
“(laughing) No, but I bet if I gave him the lyric sheet he would make his best attempt at it (still laughing).”
Looking back during the offseason, how did you grade your freshman season?
“It went well, particularly on special teams. It was difficult from an offensive standpoint because I really was learning the wide receiver position at the college level and especially within our system. I think finding my niche on special teams helped my confidence on offense. I think I made great strides and had some bright spots, but it took a lot of hard work and it allowed me to know what I needed to focus on in order to be in better positions to help our offense this season. So it was a great foundation for my career here at UNC.”
"I want to be talked about and have all eyes on me."
There were a lot of high expectations coming into this season. How did you feel about that pressure?
“Actually, I really enjoyed it. I want to be talked about and have all eyes on me. It made me work harder in the preseason and helped me focus on being the best I could be on play (No.) 1 in the first game.”
What don’t fans understand about that amount of pressure being put on a 19-year-old?
“I don’t think they understand that it is a lot to deal with on a daily basis. It’s something that a lot of people don’t have experience with and can’t understand the amount of work involved. I think what’s interesting is that when we handle the pressure and the media well the fans take that for granted or don’t take notice, but the minute you make a bad play or say the wrong thing in the press, they jump all over you like you meant to screw up. Basically, we’re not allowed to mess up in the fans’ eyes. Not all fans, but the vocal ones. I think that it’s just something they don’t understand because they haven’t been on this side of the situation.”
On that note, early in the season and even recently, some fans have really come down hard on you. Has everybody all of the sudden become punt return experts?
“Well, it’s one of the reasons I’ve taken a break from social media and taken myself out of that spotlight. I don’t want to waste time with those distractions. I just want to focus on playing well and helping this team win down the stretch. But yes, apparently there are a lot of experts on how to play this game, how to return punts, or how to play the wide receiver position. The funny thing is that after the sixth game, I think, I had passed my offensive production from last year. I’m having a productive year. But nobody has higher expectations for myself than me. They didn’t put in the hard work. They didn’t put in work six days a week. So I just needed to relax and back away from that negativity. Just get back to my true self.”
This season, in terms of punt returns, is starting to feel similar to last year, where as the season wore on you got closer and closer to breaking the big runs. How do you view that?
“I would agree with that. I had some good returns in some games, at Virginia, and then I finally broke one against Miami but it was called back. So yes, I’m getting good vibes regarding punt returns and being so close to taking one to the house. But it’s a team improvement that’s happening and it’s been a point of emphasis from Coach Fedora. So we just need to keep our confidence and make plays and we have three, hopefully four, more games to make it happen.”
Is it exciting to you to have two of the final three games at home?
“Yes. We’re really excited to finish the season in front of our fans in Kenan. And since Duke is right down the road it’s just nice to have these final games in the area. Our fans make it happen for us when Kenan is packed.”
What does a packed house in Kenan mean to you guys?
“A packed Kenan means that everybody is there ready to go crazy because they know how hard we have to work just to get to Saturday. They appreciate what we’ve been through during the week. What we’ve been through during the winter and the summer. It means they’re passionate about us and want us to do well. I think fan support is the most important thing we have on our side at home games. If we don’t have fan support then you no longer have a home field advantage. If we come out of the tunnel against Pitt to a big crowd ready to let loose, it’s just the best feeling going into a game.”
You’ve said before that you’re a guy with high expectations for yourself and the team. So, as it stands today, how would you judge this season so far?
“Me, personally, it hasn’t gone as well as I wanted. I’ve been better on the offensive side of things. The ups and downs have taught me a lot. It’s taught me to be more patient. It’s taught me that our coaches believe in us and never stop pushing us to reach our potential. There have been big plays, but I want more. As far as the team results, we’ve obviously hit some bumps in the road, taken some hits, but we’ve also delivered some hits and we keep fighting. We have a lot of young guys and our future is bright, but we’ve all had to grow up on the field.”
Speaking of the young guys, you’re only a sophomore, but you’ve become one of the team leaders this year. How have you felt about that role?
“I love it. I enjoy knowing that when things are going wrong, that guys can look to me for leadership the same way I look to the older guys when I’m looking for support. We have guys that have been through worse things in their lives and in their football careers and I like being there for them and helping them grow and reach their goals and triumph over those hurdles. It means that I’ve grown personally, too, and that I’m becoming a better person on and off the field. It’s important to me.”
Looking back at the season there are always moments when that leadership is needed. Was the QB rotation a situation where the team needed you guys to lead and keep them united?
“Actually, no. It’s funny you ask that. The media made a huge deal about that, but inside the locker room it was a non-issue. None of us even talked about it because we were all behind each other. Quise and Mitch are close teammates, great QBs, and they loved pushing each other. And watching them push to get better only helped motivate the rest of us to up our games, too. So I think it was great for us because it showed that Coach Fedora is true to his word in that all of us have to earn our positions. Nothing is given and nothing ever should be.”
"I know they haven’t reached out to me. And they’d be wasting their time if they did.”
Another distraction or hurdle was the release of the Wainstein Report. Have other teams reached out to you or guys on the team about possible transfers?
“No. I don’t think so. I know they haven’t reached out to me. And they’d be wasting their time if they did. Guys in this locker room know we’re working towards something great as a program. We also know we do things the right way and that this team and this staff had nothing to do with that report. So our locker room is focused on Pitt and focused on getting better.”
That’s a big point regarding locker room dynamics. How is the locker room right now at this point in the season?
“Man, we’re a close-knit crew. Guys are frustrated with results and this bye week came at a good time. It gives a chance to go visit our families and recharge our batteries. But guys are ready to fight down the stretch. Fight to get better in practice and we’re having great practices which just makes everybody want to do well. Coach Fedora stresses that team unity is the most important thing to success. He has worked to change the culture here from Day 1 and that’s why I think we have team guys in this locker room. This team isn’t about individuals. This is a team game, and our team plays for each other and our coaches.”
How is the Coach Fedora we see in the media different than the Coach Fedora you see in the locker room?
“He’s a player’s coach. I don’t know a better way to say that. He’s willing to fall on the sword for us in front of the media, but behind closed doors he’s picking us up. We can talk to him about anything. I’ve had some personal issues since I arrived at UNC, like any college student does, and he’s been there to listen and work through those issues with me. His door is always open to us and it just lets us know that he cares about us, he’s there for us, and that’s on and off the field. He doesn’t “big-time” anybody. He’s there for everybody on this team. Like I said about him as a recruiter, he’s honest and means what he says when he preaches the family atmosphere. And to tell you the truth, when you know he’s got your back off the field, it makes you trust him even more on the field and you want to play hard for him.”
So that sounds like you’re confident he believes in you guys. Do you feel like everybody on the team believes in him?
“I do. When things are going wrong, it’s easy to blame the head coach. It’s easy to say the players are losing faith. But that’s not what is going on here in our locker room. He does everything to get us prepared for success. He gets us to believe in our abilities and what we can accomplish. And when we lose, he takes the blame. When we win, he gives us the credit. The man has our back. And because of all he does for us, we most definitely have his back.”
"I’m expecting to have three big weeks, starting with Pitt."
Looking at the final three games of this season, what do you want to happen?
“I want three wins. I’m expecting to have three big weeks, starting with Pitt. I want to make big plays. I love the game plan we’re putting together and I love the energy and focus we have on making these three games count. We want 3-0 and we want to go to a great bowl game.”
A major part of these final three games is playing two rivals in Duke on national TV, and the final game against NC State. You’re an out-of-state guy, but how intense is the rivalry aspect of those games inside the locker room?
“Well, first things first, we have to play Pitt, we have to play smart, and we have to execute the game plan to beat them. But yes, those rivalry games are huge. Those games get us fired up and it’s a great way to finish the season out. We want to derail Duke’s plans and we want to beat State at home in front of our crowd. That would be a great way to finish this season strong.”