CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – It could be argued that North Carolina’s 10-1 record heading into the final week of the regular season wouldn’t exist without the leadership displayed by its seniors throughout the year.
That’s a part of the team that has been implemented by the design of UNC head coach Larry Fedora and how he molds his future leaders at a young age.
“We do a lot, we start early,” Fedora said during his weekly radio show at Top of the Hill restaurant. “We have a council that starts working with those guys.”
That council is composed of freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors, with the idea that the underclassmen learn from those who came before them how to lead those who come after.
“We have representation in every class, and we hope we’re developing these guys as they go,” Fedora said. “They learn from the older leaders how to be a good leader.”
That’s not the only trick Fedora has up his sleeve for developing his leadership.
“We also brought in a group of special ops guys from the Marine Corps who put our guys through some things,” Fedora said. “(The Marines) really worked hard on chemistry and what leadership is.”
This isn’t just an off-season process, either.
“We do that year-round,” Fedora said. “We try to develop it year-round.”
This process will pay dividends for the team as each class moves out. This year, the Tar Heels have 26 seniors on the team, meaning a new crop of leaders will have to step up to continue this year’s success into the future.
How does it feel to have achieved one of your team’s primary goals in winning the Coastal against Virginia Tech last Saturday?
“I’m really proud of our staff, I’m proud of the players, there’s been a lot of hard work that’s gone into this season so far, and I’ve told them all week that we’ve come too far to only come this far, so we’ve still got some work to do.”
Your team overcame a lot of adversity at the end of the game, especially considering it was Frank Beamer’s last game in Lane Stadium. What are your thoughts on that win?
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for Coach Beamer, he’s not only a great football coach, but a great person, and I was honored to be on the field with him that day, but there was a lot going against us, I can tell you that. Everybody in that stadium that was wearing black, maroon or orange was giving everything they had, from the fans to the players to the cheerleaders, you name it, they all were pulling hard, and then we created some opportunities for them in the game, but we finished it off at the end, so it was fun.”
How often do you practice overtime situations?
“We work two-minute every week, and then we only work overtime during camp. We’ll work it quite a few times in camp. With what we do, and the way we do it, our kids, it’s not a big deal to them. They understand what’s at stake, and they know every play is critical. I talked earlier in the week with the defense about the last couple of games we didn’t really finish defensively, and I said you better prepare for the last drive to be meaningful. They came out on that last drive and just stoned them. That was the key to us winning.”
What led to you going for the speed option with Marquise Williams and Elijah Hood on fourth down in the fourth quarter?
“I felt like we had a good play in that situation. With what they were going do against us, we had a pretty good feel for it, we checked to it, and I knew our guys would execute it, that wasn’t going be the question. They did a great job of it, and it was important, because we needed every one of those points.”
What’s led to such a strong road record for you this year?
“We knew as a team we wanted to obviously win all of the games at home, but we knew if we were going to really reach our goals, we were going have to have success on the road. We knew there would be hostile environments, we knew it would be difficult in a short week with Pittsburgh, but these kids kept focused, they prepared really well each and every week, just as they did today, and they come out and they play the same way. I’m really proud of what they’ve accomplished.”
Why were players slipping so much in the Virginia Tech game?
“It’s really more about the fields. At this time of year, you’re basically all rye grass. Rye grass is pretty slick. You don’t have a firm root system, because they throw out some rye seeds and it grows in a matter of weeks, and there’s really not any roots. So it always makes it tougher this time of the year. We have problems on our own field right now. It’s just the time of year and what’s growing on the fields.”
Elijah Hood has eclipsed the 1,000 yard rushing mark. What’s been your take on his season thus far?
“He was sitting there in the locker room with his head in his hands, and I said ‘Are you okay?’ And he said ‘Coach, that’s the first championship I’ve ever won.’ He was very emotional. There was a lot of emotion in that locker room. It took me quite a while to figure out what I even said to the team, because I’m not at a loss for words very many times in my life, but I was that day.”
How has Shakeel Rashad grown into the linebacker position?
“This is the first time he’s played the position since he’s been here this year, and he’s really, first of all, he’s such a bright young man. He’s very intelligent, so picking up the position was very easy for him mentally. That made his athleticism come out. He’s always been a tremendous athlete, and when we moved him to linebacker, he was at about 260 pounds, or 255, somewhere in that area, and I said ‘Hey, you need to be down to 235,’ and he said ‘Okay.’ And in about a month, that was where he was. He did it the right way, he didn’t starve himself, he was smart about what he ate, and he worked out hard. He prepared himself, and he’s having the kind of year you’d want him to have.”
What’s behind playing a lot of your key offensive and defensive guys on special teams?
“We do, and one of the rules we have on this team is that if you don’t start on one of the big four special teams, then you don’t start on offense or defense. We have a few exceptions with our quarterback and some offensive linemen, those kind of things, but for our skill guys, they know they have to start. It’s important to them, though. They understand that phase of the game is going to help us win football games, and so they want to be out there. Bug (Howard) did a tremendous job (on the blocked punt at Virginia Tech). It wasn’t a called block at that time, but the guy made a low snap, and Bug recognized it and got one of those big, long arms of his onto the ball. I think the ball actually hit him in the facemask is what happened. I told him it was a good thing his head was that big.”
How do you manage the schedule this week with the Thanksgiving holiday?
“We’ll do everything the same that we normally do, except on Thursday we’ll practice early in the morning, so that means Wednesday night after practice, the coaches will be up there all night getting everything ready for watching film and then getting everything ready for Thursday morning’s practice. We’ll practice at about eight in the morning, and we’ll get them done sometime before noon, and them let them go home for Thanksgiving.”
What concerns you most about this Wolfpack team?
“You start first with the offense. They’ve got a tremendous quarterback. He’s really having a great year, he really is. They’ve got good guys up front, big guys that can move people. They do so much with shifting, movement, speed sweeps, they really try to stretch your defense horizontally so that they can create some vertical seams.
“On defense, they’re really good up front. That’s the strength of their team, I believe, is the defensive front. They do a really good job, they play hard. Their linebackers are runners and headers, and they’ve got really good guys in the secondary, so we’re going have to really play air-free football, and that’s always tough to do, but our guys will be prepared. Special teams-wise, that’s going to be the other phase that will be critical for us. They’ve got great return guys, their kicker does a good job, their punter does a good job, so we’re going have to really play well on Saturday.”