North Carolina took first steps toward repairing its reputation, damaged by a combined 5-19 record over the past two seasons, as the Tar Heels worked out for an hour and 45 minutes without pads.
For beleaguered coach John Bunting, who survived an offseason onslaught of rumors concerning his coaching future at his alma mater, it was a day of relief to finally get back on the field with his troops.
Under NCAA rules, teams can only practice in shorts, jerseys and helmets for the first two days of spring practice. The staff will focus on fundamentals during the first two days and will begin working on certain game situations on Friday.
"It's been a long time waiting for this," Bunting said. "Everybody is buzzing and ready to get started."
The team can only go up from here it would seem, and with its wealth of young talent getting more mature with each day, Bunting hopes that his patience has paid off. While improvement cannot be measured in wins and losses until this fall, Bunting said he is excited with what he considers to be a major leap forward in his squad's overall athleticism.
Still, there is so much work left to do.
"We have a long list of objectives," he said. "We need to improve all of our techniques and fundamentals. We need to get better on defense with our secondary play, linebacker play and outside pass rush."
Bunting was especially impressed with the play of newcomers' Scott Brummett and Gerald Sensabaugh. Brummett, a converted linebacker, caught several passes at tight end, while Sensabaugh's closing speed was immediately evident to the Tar Heels' fourth year skipper.
"It's going to take me a few days to get used to it, but I feel very confident about it," Brummett said of his position change.
There were numerous position changes among the veterans as well.
Senior Jocques Dumas worked out for the first time at tight end. A three-year player on the defensive line, Dumas has not played offense since his senior year in high school. Last season's starting defensive end, Madison Hedgecock, has officially moved back to fullback. Hedgecock came to Carolina as a fullback and played his first two seasons in the offensive backfield. However, depth issues forced the Tar Heel coaching staff to switch Hedgecock to defensive end halfway through the 2002 season. Last season, Hedgecock was fifth on the team with 55 tackles and made nine starts.
"Madison is back at fullback and I'm excited about that," Bunting said. "I told him I was going to do that. I think that's where he has a chance to play at the next level. It will help us this year in some two-back and one-back situations."
Other position changes included Kendall High from defensive tackle to offensive tackle; Chase Page returns to defensive tackle after playing the last three games of 2003 at defensive end; Rashaad Tindall from safety to wide receiver; Mickey Rice from defensive tackle to offensive guard; and Kareen Taylor from safety to cornerback.
"We're going to see how they do," Bunting said. "If they can contribute more from a different position, then we¹re going to do that. Melik Brown played middle linebacker today. Joe Kedra went over and played behind Larry Edwards."
True freshman defensive tackle Khalif Mitchell also caught his coach's eye.
"He had a good first day," Bunting said of Mitchell. "He's a natural."
Mitchell's former Hargrave teammate Terry Hunter did not practice due to other obligations pertaining to the classroom.
Rumors surfaced last week that sophomore wide receiver Mike Mason's has gotten even faster. When asked if that were true, he just looked down and smiled sheepishly, "Yeah."
"When I came in I ran a 4.39, and when they timed us the other day, I ran a 4.24," Mason said of his improved time in the 40-yard dash.
Carolina will work out 14 more times over the course of the next four weeks. The Spring Game is on Saturday, April 3 at 1 p.m. at Kenan Stadium.