Like most, North Carolina's early enrolling defensive linemen Jake Lawler and Jordon Riley didn't learn that UNC would be losing defensive line coach Tray Scott until after the Tar Heels competed in the Sun Bowl.
"It was tough, because Coach Scott and I have known each other since my sophomore year," Riley said. "We built a tight bond. My position was: I was going to come to Carolina and play for him. He was a big part in why I committed to North Carolina. But, it's a business at the end of the day. There's nothing but love."
Lawler, a 6-foot-4, 225-pound defensive end from Charlotte (N.C.) South Mecklenburg, first learned that Scott would be departing UNC for Ole Miss on Twitter. Not knowing if it was true, Lawler went directly to Scott.
"Of course I was a little upset," Lawler said. "But I understand; it's a grassroots place for him, he's from there, and he wants to raise his family there. Him and I have a great relationship so I wish him nothing but the best."
Riley, on the other hand, missed the reports on Twitter. Thus, it was Scott who broke the news to the 6-foot-5, 295-pound defensive tackle from Durham (N.C.) Riverside.
"I was crushed," Riley said. "But at the end of the day, it's a business and everything can't go your way. We're still going to keep in contact; that's my dog."
Larry Fedora soon followed up with phone calls to both Lawler and Riley.
"It was more of a reassurance call than an exact findings or exact hiring date [for a replacement]," Lawler said. "I'm probably last on the totem pole to find it out, anyway. But I appreciate the reassurance."
"[Fedora] was just telling me that he knew that Coach Scott and I were close, but he told me he's going to do everything in his power to find the best D-line coach," Riley said. "He told me, 'Don't worry' [and] he's going to take care of me. And I trust his word on that."
Both Lawler and Riley will report to UNC this coming Sunday.
"I'm just really excited for it," Lawler said. "I think that the change in landscape will do me well and I believe that I'm ready for the challenge. I know that it's going to be tough, but I'm excited to get up there."
"It's an amazing feeling," Riley said. "I never thought I would get this far with this football stuff. I'm just blessed.
"Thinking about being a college student, I'm kind of nervous -- I have butterflies in my stomach."
Their early arrivals will allow Lawler and Riley -- as well as the other midterm enrollees -- to participate in spring activities such as Blue Dawn and spring practice. In Lawler's case, though, his actual participation level will be determined by his shoulder surgery recovery.
"The physical therapist in Charlotte thinks that I might be three or four weeks ahead of where I'm supposed to be," Lawler said. "We'll confer with the physicians at Chapel Hill for sure. When I go for my physical checkup on the ninth [of January], I'll see my status for spring practice."
In October, Lawler tore his labrum. He had season-ending surgery in November.
Oftentimes, the mental angle of recovery is more challenging than the physical. However, Lawler says mentally it hasn't been difficult.
"My mindset is people deal with adversity in all aspects of life," Lawler said. "And I know there's people out there that are going through a lot worse. If I can go through a little bump and bruise to get my college paid for and play football for free, I'm fine with that."
The shoulder recovery coupled with uncertainty at the defensive line coaching position have muddied the plans for Lawler.
"I honestly have no idea," Lawler said. "As long as Gene Chizik is the defensive coordinator, I know my place [in the defense]. But other than a brief overlay of what I'm expected to do, I don't really know if I'll play this year. I'm kind of in the dark, but I should be."
Riley, however, is much more clear and optimistic.
"They want to play me right away -- that's the vibe I've felt," Riley said. "I talked to [Gene] Chizik and he said that I'm so athletic that he feels he could put me at different spots on the line. And he said I could fit in with what they're trying to do with the defense."