CHAPEL HILL, N.C – Primetime football games on national television come with additional pressure. Every play is scrutinized by a larger audience. More eyes are exposed to teams that may have previously flown under the radar.
Add in large divisional implications, and you have the most intense, pressure-filled game of the season for North Carolina.
UNC travels to Pitt Thursday night looking to separate itself from a crowded upper echelon in the ACC Coastal. The Tar Heels will enter the game with a defense that has already far exceed expectations in 2015, thanks in large part to a group of impact freshmen who have stepped up.
Redshirt freshman defensive lineman Robert Dinkins has become a poster child for that group of Tar Heels.
“This is my second or third start, but I’m comfortable being in that front row, and having to step up, so I feel more comfortable with that,” Dinkins said after practice on Tuesday.
Dinkins has emerged as a starter in the absence of the injured Nazair Jones and has played well thus far. The Charlotte, N.C. native has five tackles and a fumble recovery in his two starts.
Dinkins is not your prototypical defensive tackle, checking in at 6-foot-1 and 270 pounds. He has excelled by making up for that lack of size with physicality, according to UNC defensive coordinator Gene Chizik.
“I think Robert’s continued to improve,” Chizik said. “He’s not the biggest man down there in the trenches, but he fights, he battles, and that’s one thing he does, he plays hard and he battles.”
Dinkins’ play can also be attributed to the support he gets from his teammates on the defensive line.
“The whole defensive line, I’ve been close with those guys since I got here,” Dinkins said. “They make sure I’ve had the support I’ve needed from them to perform the best I can.”
The extent of Dinkins’ role in Thursday’s game is unknown due to the questionable injury status of Jones and sophomore tackle Tyler Powell. Regardless of the number of snaps he plays, the stage continues to grow larger.
“This is my first year of playing, so this whole year has been a big experience,” Dinkins said. “And now being able to play on Thursday, and my family at home watching, it’s pretty big.”