Heels Back to Work

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina returned for a light run-through practice Friday afternoon at Navy Field. UNC coach John Bunting was excited with the emotion and togetherness he witnessed from his team.

"Bowl practice No. 1 – it was awesome," Bunting said as he greeted reporters following the short workout. "I had forgotten what it did feel like."

Then, he went on to express his pleasure with how far the defense has progressed.

"Those guys picked right back up. They were out there talking and fitting plays. It makes me feel real good that we have a chance to be a real good defense again."

Although the Tar Heels (6-5) have been running and working to stay in shape for the last week, today was the first return to football structure for the Tar Heels since defeating Duke to become bowl eligible back on Nov. 20.

"It's great being back practicing here," Darian Durant said. "Considering the way it's been the last two years, I'm very appreciative to be going back to a bowl. It was just getting back out there after being off for about two weeks."

But it was a short workout, in just helmets and shoulder pads. There was no contact, just some drills and a little scrimmaging.

Next week its exams for UNC students and the players will begin hitting more when finals are over. They won't be working on any new fundamentals or techniques yet, however some of the younger players will spend extra time working out after the older ones have finished.

"These kids have earned a reward," Bunting said. "We just want to make sure they don't lose all their thoughts about football."

With almost everyone expecting Connecticut to be Carolina's Continental Tire Bowl opponent entering last weekend's schedule of games, Bunting did watch the Huskies' win over Rutgers. But Syracuse's upset of Boston College instead slotted the Eagles (8-3) as the Tar Heels' Dec. 30 foe. And since the announcement was made just two days ago, he has not yet looked at the them too closely. However, UNC offensive coordinator Gary Tranquill and co-defensive coordinator John Gutekunst have begun scouting BC.

So has Durant.

"I see a very physical team," Durant said. "We like to run the ball and those guys are very physical. This is a big time opportunity, and it's going to be a great game and a great atmosphere."

Bunting took some time to relax and reflect on the season, spending time with his wife on Thanksgiving and also vacationing at the beach for a couple of days. But since then, he's been hitting the recruiting trail extra hard.

He said all of the prospects the coaches have been courting have been pleased with the Tar Heels success down the stretch.

A dozen or so of those recruits are in town for visits this weekend, including some that were at practice.

"They're all excited," Bunting said. "Every one of them is tickled pink that we've gotten that extension. It makes our future more clear. It's made some recruiters out there feel a little silly with what they've been saying – which is fine."

Bunting would not say who among other schools' coaching staffs had been negatively recruiting against him, nor would he reveal how he gained that information.

"I hear it all the time," he said. "I know who they are. I'm not going to disclose my sources."

The coaches just finalized their bowl calendar and it looks a lot like the one they produced in preparation for the 2001 Peach Bowl.

"We did a lot of the right things for the Peach Bowl," Bunting said. "I think our guys had a lot of fun and we were excited about getting down there. We tweaked it a little bit, but I think we'll be doing things a lot like we did for the Peach Bowl. We were a real fresh team when we entered and we got a lot of young kids some work."

Finally, from a personnel standpoint, Bunting said there is no chance that the three players suspended after the N.C. State game will return for the bowl. He also announced that sophomore defensive end Alden Blizzard is no longer with the team and will transfer to another school after entering the fall listed as a starter.

"He wanted more playing time," Bunting said.

As a redshirt freshman, Blizzard led the team in sacks last season with four, three coming in the win over East Carolina.


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