CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - In some ways, the matchup between No. 18 North Carolina and No. 22 Georgia in the Georgia Dome on Saturday will be a home game for starting senior defensive end Mikey Bart.
Bart attended Buford (Ga.) High School, which is located about 40 miles northwest of Atlanta. For a kid growing up in Georgia, the prospects of one day playing in the Georgia Dome might seem like a dream. For Bart, though, that dream was fulfilled long before he arrived in Chapel Hill.
“I’ve actually played there four times,” Bart said this week. “My high school team went to the state championship four times and that’s where it was every year. It’s going to mean a lot. I’m from there, my family’s going to be watching, all my friends will be watching.”
Even though it’s a homecoming of sorts, Bart may not be on the receiving end of too many cheers. Most of his childhood friends ended up at college in Athens, some 50 miles east of Buford, but that didn’t stop them from still asking the defensive end for tickets.
“I’ve got about four or five who wants to come but I don’t have that many tickets,” he said. “My dad’s friends are all wanting to come, too, and I don’t have tickets for them.”
The chance to play against the Bulldogs is also one for Bart to prove them wrong. Georgia barely recruited Bart in high school, and after initially committing to South Florida, he switched and signed with the Tar Heels.
With Bart playing on as big a stage as the Georgia Dome in front of a myriad of family and friends, it seems possible for the senior to get caught up in it all. That seems like a reasonable worry for UNC defensive coordinator Gene Chizik, although it’s just another day at work for Bart.
“I’m always there to perform,” Bart said. “(Chizik) always knows what to expect out of me. I’m not going to make any mental errors. Basically he knows what he’s getting out of me.”
For Chizik, that trust was built over the past 18 months of Bart proving his durability and dedication on the field. Bart has yet to miss a game during his career due to an injury. While Bart did suffer a small tweak to his knee during training camp, he said he was back to 100 percent.
“Mikey has always been a very steady guy,” Chizik said. “No matter what has happened in the year and a half that I’ve been here, he’s always available. We always use that word to our defensive line and apply it to our whole defense. Availability is key. You can be as good as you want when you’re unavailable, it doesn’t matter. He’s always available. He works really, really hard. He’s a tough guy. He tries to execute what we ask him to do. That’s how you develop trust.”
Bart’s durability and consistency have reaped their own benefits, as the defensive end led the Tar Heels last season with 6.5 sacks.
“I want to lead the team again in sacks,” he said. “I had 6.5 (sacks), and really it was kind of a quiet 6.5, so I think I could have gotten more. I’m always trying to achieve something better and hopefully it works out this season.”
Bart will have a chance to start his new tally when he steps onto the field he knows so well. On familiar turf, and in front of familiar faces, the Buford native has the chance to prove that it was a mistake for the locals to let his talent leave the state of Georgia.