Finishing Down the Stretch

CHAPEL HILL, N.C.--One month ago the UNC football team stood at 3-4 on the season, nursing a laundry list of injuries after giving up an all-time record of 669 yards of offense in a 46-16 loss at Utah. With Miami on the horizon, they still believed a successful season was within their grasp, inspired by their head coach, John Bunting.

"One of the most important things that gave us confidence was the speech that Coach Bunting gave us in the locker room after the game against Utah," said senior defensive tackle Jonas Seawright. "A lot of guys had to dig deep and realize, 'We can do this. We are capable of being a good team. We can do something that nobody gave us credit for at the beginning of the season--[something] that only we and the coaches and everybody on the staff believed.'

"We just dug deep. One of Coach Bunting's mottos is 'Keep sawing wood,' and I think a lot of players came together and did that and finally realized what we are here for and what we are capable of doing. We're pretty happy right now."

"They had a decision to make," Bunting said. "That was a beating out there on the scoreboard. That was a beating on the field. A lot of players got hurt. We had a four-game schedule left in which I thought we could win every one of those games. It would be hard, but we've come a long ways."

After a laid-back bye week to recover from injuries the message Bunting delivered was that the turn-around would have to begin in practice. Then it would have to carry over to games.

"One of the main things that a lot of people don't realize is that to play well and to give yourself a chance to win, you have to practice well," said Seawright. "As a team, and especially as a defense, we finally realized, 'Hey, we have to step it up in practice. We have to practice hard to at least give ourselves a chance to win.' We did that the last four games. The outcomes haven't been great, but it's been pretty satisfying."

Most of the team has already departed from Chapel Hill for the Thanksgiving Weekend, but they will convene on Sunday at 9 p.m. for a team meeting, at which time they will be officially informed of the invitation and shown a video of the schedule of the events leading up to the game.

The coaches will be on the road recruiting on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, with the team doing strength and conditioning work through Thursday before the team comes back together for the first practice on Friday December 3.

Aside from the extra practice time, Bunting sees another benefit that could reap rewards on national signing day in February.

"We've got a lot of recruiting, particularly in-state, to do," he said. "There are a lot of really talented players out there, and, of course, some of the negativity promoted either by the media or by recruiters in now dismissed and by the wayside. We are a program that is being built, a program that has stability, and it is going to be great to have all those recruits right here in the state watching what we do every day in terms of our practice, our players getting on TV.

"Our kids are good kids. Every once in a while everybody wants to emphasize a couple bad things that may happen. But our kids do the right things, and I'm really, really proud of them. They practice well, they play hard. A lot of recruits will be able to be exposed to our players and our coaching staff."

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