CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- In Saturday’s 37-35 win over Florida State on Saturday, it was North Carolina’s former walk-ons who took the game into their hands.
Place kicker Nick Weiler, linebacker Cole Holcomb and wide receivers Mack Hollins and Thomas Jackson all were once Tar Heels without a scholarship. All four of those players made a huge impact in UNC’s win – Hollins and Jackson both had touchdowns receptions, Holcomb led the team with 13 tackles, and Weiler hit a 54-yard game winning field goal as time expired. Senior safety Dominquie Green also played a key role on the back end of the defense.
For head coach Larry Fedora, he knew he’d need to depend on those types of players when he came to UNC in December 2011 under scholarship reductions stemming from a NCAA investigation.
“These are kids that, because of the circumstances the first three years that we were here, had limited scholarships,” Fedora said on his radio show on Tuesday. “We combed the state everywhere we could to find as many players as we could that we thought could come in and help us, and those guys are doing it.”
While Weiler and Hollins have become household names for Tar Heel fans, it was the performance of Jackson that surprised many at Doak Campbell Stadium. The junior had a key 34-yard touchdown catch to put UNC up by six points with under three minutes to play.
Fedora says Jackson is coming into his own.
“He’s made two big plays the last two games,” he said. “He picked up a crucial third down against Pitt and then he scores a touchdown (against Florida State). The kid is really coming on. We knew he was going to help us this year, but we didn’t realize it would be that much.”
For Fedora, success is earned and no player know that better than one that comes to play on his team without a scholarship in hand.
Did you and Nick have any conversations on the sidelines during the game?
“Yeah after the PAT was blocked we did. First off, after the 51-yarder I asked him what happened and he told me he just pushed it right a little bit and the extra point was low. That’s why it got blocked. I said, ‘you’ve got to get it out of your head, have a great kickoff, and prepare yourself because if you come back out on the field it’s going to be for a game-winning field goal or it’s going to be a four-minute situation where we run the clock out and you don’t have to worry about it.’ Fortunately, he was ready.”
Was there a specific yard range that you wanted to get him to where he would feel confident kicking the ball?
“He said we needed to get the ball to the 35 and I told [offensive coordinator Chris] Kapilovic that we need to get the ball across the 40. If we get it across the 40 we’ve got a shot.”
It seemed like your tempo was as effective as it’s been at any time this year offensively.
“It was. (Florida State) had trouble getting lined up in some situations and we caught them in some different things. I think our guys take a lot of pride in trying to be fanatical in their effort and tempo.”
What were your thoughts on the overturned safety?
“What they said was his forward progress was stopped and if you go back and look at it on film the kid was going backwards and when he stuck his foot in the ground and started to throw the ball, that’s when we made contact with him, which is around the one-and-a-half or two-yard line, so that’s where they put the ball down. They really don’t want to give you a safety, they really don’t. That’s why it’s incredible that we have three of them. They don’t really want to give them to you.”
What do you think about Mitch Trubisky being in the Heisman conversation?
“I think it’s a great thing. I think he deserves the recognition. He deserves every bit of recognition he’s getting because he’s doing everything for this football team. He’s staying within the system and making the system work. Mitch would probably tell you that he’s just doing what he does in practice, and that’s what we need him to do. In practice he’s pretty dang good.”
With the potential for heavy rain on Saturday, do you do anything in practice differently? Do you work with wet footballs, is there anything you can do to help prepare for that?
“We’ve had wet days that we’ve had to practice in. We don’t go inside because of rain so our guys are used to it. We really try not to make it a big deal. For me, wind is more of an issue than anything. So the rain isn’t something we concern ourselves with. I think our quarterbacks and receivers know what they’re expected to do. When it’s dry, it’s the same. Just get it done.”
Is there something a little different and special about winning on the road like that?
“It’s really fun to go on the road in a hostile environment and people are yelling at you and trying to spit on you. They’re talking about your mom and all those types of things. That makes it fun. That’s kind of what college football is all about. You go on the road and the crowd hates you and they talk about you and it’s fun to get a win in that type of situation.”