CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina junior R.J. Prince has been working with the first team at right guard this week and is expected to start against Illinois on Saturday.
Starting right guard Tommy Hatton is currently not practicing with the team due to personal reasons.
When asked on Wednesday about Hatton’s absence at practice this week, offensive coordinator/OL coach Chris Kapilovic said that the redshirt freshman was “working through some things.”
Hatton, who arrived last season as the heir apparent to Lucas Crowley at center, competed and won the right guard spot in training camp following a season-ending chest injury to senior John Ferranto. The Glen Rock, N.J. native beat out Prince and junior Brad Henson for the starting job and played in the season-opening loss to Georgia on Saturday.
Prince, who had played tackle throughout his career until the start of training camp last month, finished second in the position battle and played against the Bulldogs.
“I think he’s ready,” Kapilovic said of Prince. “He’s had a good week and has prepared well, so we’re ready to put him out there and see what he can do.”
The 6-foot-6, 325-pounder out of Albemarle, N.C. has always had the physical tools to start at the Power 5 conference level, but has at times struggled with the mental components of the game.
“I think he’s in a good place,” Kapilovic said. “He’s had a good week. He’s had a couple of good weeks, so he’s starting to show a maturity in being able to handle making the calls and recognizing situations. He’s got a couple of guys around him that can help him, too, so that will be helpful.”
Prince turned in arguably the best performance of his career against the Illini last season in Chapel Hill, grading out at 86 percent and tallying five knockdown blocks.