Maturity key for Durant

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Although junior Darian Durant led the Atlantic Coast Conference in total offense last year - and enters 2003 ranked as the Tar Heels' career leader in pass completion percentage - he has started just 10 games. And for the first time since high school, he will begin a football season as the team's indisputable No. 1 quarterback.

But things haven't gone smoothly for the Florence, S.C. native by any means. The death of his stepmother in 2001 and his later decision to quit the team stand out in what has been an incredible growth process.

After having shared the field with Ronald Curry as a freshman, Durant distanced himself from challenger C.J. Stephens for the job outright early in his sophomore season, only to go down with a thumb injury in the Tar Heels' seventh game at Virginia.

"What I saw during the time that Darian wasn't able to play was a quarterback that really missed being in charge," UNC coach John Bunting said. "He missed being in the huddle out there with his teammates."

Bunting has stood by Durant during some of his life's most difficult times, and on Tuesday they had a one-on-one sit-down to assess where their relationship has been and where it is going.

"We talked about expectations, we talked about me being more mature," Durant said. "It's my third year in this offense, and he expects a lot out of me."

Durant admitted that in the past, many times he didn't listen to his coach's advice concerning off the field matters. One of the things he's learned over his three years in Chapel Hill is the importance of the standard he sets for his teammates.

He is the leader; Durant inherited the post when he became the quarterback. But now he appears to have come to grips with exactly what that means.

"Coach Bunting tells me that everybody looks up to you - not only on the outside, but your teammates. They want to look at you and see if you're doing the right thing as well," said Durant.

"I'm realizing that now if I'm going to be a leader on this team, nobody can see me out doing this or that. I have to be an exceptional person for the younger class."

And most of all, Durant simply wants to be on the field for every offensive play. He's earned that right and he will get the opportunity – barring injury – to enjoy his first full season of action.

"I'm very comfortable now," Durant said. "I can feel that chemistry with the No. 1 offense. It's great when you know what your offensive line and receivers are doing. I'm a lot more relaxed now. Last year I really couldn't see that. Now I know what coach Bunting expects out of me"

No one's ever doubted that he's a gamer, and he proved that to his coach again during the Sunday practice prior to the season finale at Duke. But not even Bunting expected Durant to be back and motivated for the Blue Devils. After all, the Tar Heels were beaten down with a 2-9 record entering a game for eighth place.

"All of a sudden, I saw this guy out there with a splint on his thumb, throwing balls with his pads on," Bunting said. "It made me laugh and it made me kind of emotional because he was out there throwing pre-game warm-up.

"It was all about trying to get those guys jazzed up a little bit and show them how much he cares, how much he loves the game and how much he loves his teammates. I don't think he needed to do anything like that. I think that's just what he wanted to do."

Things couldn't be better now for Durant. The outcome of his struggles has given him new perspective on football and his future.

"But football is not everything," Durant said. "I'm learning to appreciate school more. I've learned that there are a lot of things out there after football.

"In that meeting with Coach Bunting – you know, he's a guy that's been there – what better guy to have to tell you to do certain things than him? I've really learned a lot from him."

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