CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Going into Saturday’s game against Virginia, UNC knew it would be without sophomore linebacker Andre Smith for the first half – Smith had to serve a suspension he earned for a targeting call against Miami two weeks ago. In Smith’s absence, sophomore Ayden Bonilla was asked to step in for his first career start.
Bonilla was thrown into the fire against Virginia, but passed his test with flying colors. He finished the game with eight tackles in UNC’s 35-14 win. For reference, the 6-foot-2 linebacker had nine total tackles in his career before the game.
The play of the inexperienced Bonilla earned the praise of head coach Larry Fedora.
“Ayden was actually our player of the game defensively,” Fedora said on his radio show on Tuesday. “He played really, really well. I think he had eight tackles. He had no busts defensively, no missed assignments.”
Bonilla filled the role so well that Fedora let him stay in for some of the second half even with Smith able to enter the game.
“He played very solid all the way through, and in fact, he played a good bit of the second half,” Fedora said. “He was playing well and we didn’t just want to stick Andre back out there. He really stepped up.”
The most impressive part of Bonilla’s performance? He is typically an outside linebacker, and the Virginia game was only the second time he had ever played the Mike linebacker position.
“At the Miami game he had taken zero snaps at Mike (linebacker), so this week we were able to prepare him for it,” Fedora said. “He did super.”
ADDITIONAL QUOTES FROM LARRY FEDORA LIVE
The reverse pass off the wildcat formation play worked out and resulted in a touchdown. I assume that play worked out just like how you drew it up?
“It worked out exactly how we drew it up. We’ve had it in the package now for about three weeks. We had intended to use it against Miami and never got around to it. A lot of times on those plays we want it on a certain hash and certain area on the field. When it came up in the game the kids responded just like we knew they would.”
Virginia scored on that gadget play off the field goal formation, but you said that you had prepared for that play?
“No, we just had one guy who didn’t do what he was supposed to do. We had prepared for it. Our guys in practice knew exactly what was going to happen and one guy just didn’t get it done… I was gonna call a timeout and coaches said that 'we’ve got this, we practiced it and we’re good.'”
Tommy Hatton was named the ACC-Offensive Lineman of the Week. What have you seen out of him?
“He’s just a redshirt freshman, basically. He’s a young kid. It’s really good to see because he works really hard, he really does. We laugh about it because he’s one of the guys we put a GPS unit on. We GPS about 50 guys on our football team, and we put them on five offensive linemen. We have certain levels that we’re trying to get and seldom do the offensive linemen get to those levels. Tommy is always way above everybody. It’s just how hard he works.”
Bug Howard changed his jersey number, wearing the number 13 for Mack Hollins. How did that come about?
“Those guys are really close. Bug came to me and said ‘Hey, I’d like to honor Mack by wearing his jersey, I hope you don’t mind.’ I said ‘Nah, I don’t have a problem with it.’ I thought it was a great tribute. I thought he played well too, because if you’re going to wear the number 13 you ought to play well. He did, he played really well. Those guys are a close knit group.”
On Monday night next week what will you be dressing up as for Halloween?
“Monday night will be game planning, so I’ll be in my office wearing what I normally wear. We’ll be getting ready for Georgia Tech, so I don’t imagine we’ll be doing much trick-or-treating.”
How happy are you as the coach at Carolina and do you see yourself here as the coach for the long haul?
“My family, myself, we’re all extremely happy to be here. We love this place. Yes, we do, we plan on being here for a long time.”
Why did Manny Miles enter the game late against Virginia instead of Nathan Elliott?
“Here’s what happened – the offensive guys when they had their meeting wanted to make a bet with Coach Kap. They asked if they get up by 21 points in the fourth quarter if they can let Manny Miles get into the game. They did that themselves. Kap agreed with them and if we got up by 21 he’d be happy to put Manny is… He’s very well liked, the kids love him. He works extremely hard, so they wanted to see him rewarded a little bit.”
How did Mack (Hollins) handle himself on the sideline?
“He was very engaged. He’s watching the plays, talking coverages, receivers come over and he’s talking about things that they’re seeing and giving them advice. In Friday in our walkthrough he talked to the whole team on his own.”
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