CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – College coaches grow accustomed to classes coming and going every four to five years, but North Carolina’s senior class is particularly special to Larry Fedora.
Sixteen seniors will be honored at Kenan Stadium on Friday prior to UNC’s regular season finale against N.C. State.
“This senior class has done some special things,” Fedora said at his press conference on Monday. “When you guys look back to when we were recruiting them, there was a lot of negativity surrounding this program in every aspect. These were the guys, we went into their homes and their schools and they believed, they bought in, and they wanted to change things here. And they did and they have.”
The 2016 graduating class has been a part of a winning trajectory at UNC, but Fedora says the impact that this group is leaving on the program goes far beyond its successes on the field.
“Every one of them made an impact in changing the culture,” Fedora said. “They believed from the beginning. They were able to see different styles of leadership as they grew in the system and develop their own style. It’s made them what they are today.”
Senior placekicker Nick Weiler says that his class made the decision to try and change the way that UNC football was perceived.
“When I first got here, I thought there was leadership issues,” Weiler said. “The culture wasn’t what I was used to from playing in high school. My class and the class above me kind of grew up with that. Our first few years we were tired of the 6-6 seasons, you know? So we wanted to become a powerhouse, we wanted to be a force in the Coastal. One meeting we had with Fedora after the Quick Lane Bowl we decided to change it…. “We had some success last season and we’ve continued to change the culture. We truly believe we’re a top team in the country.”
For a culture to truly change, Fedora says that it’s ultimately up to the players to force it. As much as he would like to, there’s only so much he can do.
“I’m not the one that has to do it all,” the fifth-year UNC head coach said. “I’m not the one that has to preach it everyday. We’ve got seniors, juniors, sophomores who know this is the way we do things. So when freshmen come in here it’s, ‘Hey, this is what we do, this is how we do it.’ So that’s the culture that you create where guys are teaching other guys how to do things…
“When I don’t have to do it and other coaches don’t have to do it, that means you’ve established what you want.”
Redshirt junior quarterback Mitch Trubisky says that when the class decided to come together, they knew the opportunity they had to change things in their time at UNC.
“We’ve had a lot of great classes here at UNC, but I like to think this is the class that turned things around at Carolina,” Trubisky said. “When we all decided to write our names down on that letter of intent, we all decided to come together. We wanted to change the way that football was played at Carolina and I think we’ve done that over the past four years….
“We’ve won a lot of games, broke a lot of records, and that’s the legacy we want to leave behind.”
ADDITIONAL FEDORA QUOTES
How bitter is this rivalry with N.C. State?
“It’s a great rivalry. It’s unique because your fans interact year round. They’re always around each other. They work together, I’m sure that some of them are friends. It’s something that’s kind of unique because they’re around each other year round. I think it’s pretty cool.”
Do you think these seniors will continue to support the program after they are gone?
“I think they’re going to be great ambassadors for our program, they already are. Just the way they handle themselves on a daily manner. Off the field they are great kids, or great men I should say now… I am very proud of those guys, I’m proud of those 16. Three of those 16, their careers ended a whole lot earlier than they wanted them to, but they’ve still been very involved. Ferranto will hold a sign with the best of them now… Mack and Caleb are still doing everything they can to lead…. They’re doing everything they can.”
How special has your relationship been with Ryan Switzer?
“Well part of it is because I’m a little bit taller than him. I don’t get the opportunity to be taller than my players usually. I mean, what is there not to love about Ryan? He’s a great kid, he came in here as a freshman with a lot of hype behind him and a wide-eyed freshman that wanted to do whatever he could do. He had no idea what is really meant to be a wide receiver and what it would take. He knew he had the work ethic, but he had no idea where he was going on that path. He bought in, and he’s become one of the best in the country.”
Aaron Crawford had 10 tackles on Saturday. What has been the arc of his season?
“He’s just getting better and better. He’s still young, he’s a true sophomore. He’s really fit into being that force on the inside. He’s a big body guy that’s tough to move. He plays hard. Y’all saw his unique dance when he got his sack. He and Naz (Jones) had a bet that whoever got the first sack had to shave his head so Naz is shaving his head today after practice.”
How important has Des Lawrence been over his career at UNC?
“There was a guy who was solid all the time, doing what was expected, and leading all the time. Even when things were really bad. You’ve seen him grow and become a better corner every single year.”
What have you seen out of N.C. State?
“They’re a very talented team. Just start with their defense and what they’re doing over there. Their defensive front is exceptional. They’ve got linebackers that can run, they can cover you on the back end. They’re really good defensively. On offense they’ve brought in a new offensive coordinator, they brought in a new quarterback. I don’t think that anybody expects it to happen in one year, it normally doesn’t happen that way. You look at where they are now to where they were and they’ve gotten much better. Their special teams are always solid, and Dave (Doeren’s) going to have them ready to play. You guys know how it is in a rivalry, you throw the records out, none of that matters. It’s going to be who is mentally prepared to go out there and play a hard-fought, physical game.”