Paschal Vying For Starting Role

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. --- Any questions concerning Mark Paschal's toughness were answered when he knocked a Utah return man sideways last season. Immediately following the hit, Kenan Stadium fans in unison turned to one another and asked, "Who's No. 41?"

"I like to think of myself as a pretty tough guy," said No. 41, sophomore linebacker Mark Paschal.

He is currently in a dead heat with senior Victor Worsley for North Carolina's starting MIKE linebacker spot.

"From what we saw from him so far in this camp what we saw in the spring - he's competitive, he's smart, he's a good tackler and he's tough," John Bunting said of Paschal. "It's going to be a really good competition between those two middle linebackers."

As a freshman playing mostly on special teams, Paschal recorded seven tackles – five solo. Playing at linebacker this past spring, he eclipsed that mark with a whopping 10 stops in the Spring Game alone.

"The first couple of practices have been high intensity, which Coach Bunting stresses," Paschal said. "Coach [Tommy] Thigpen has been great about really teaching us in the classroom. I think the competition is making each of us better. I don't look at it like I'm trying to beat somebody out to play; I'm just focusing on getting better every day and making the most of my opportunity."

In a game where critics often get too caught up in the prototypical size for a position, some have questioned Paschal's size. At 6-feet tall, they wonder if he's big enough to play middle linebacker at the Division I college level.

"I don't consider myself small," Paschal said. "I guess that's a little undersized height-wise. People are in shock sometimes when they see me. That's kind of good, though, as it keeps me underneath the radar which I kind of like."

Bunting agrees: "One thing I have totally abandoned over the last three years is trying to put a linebacker into a size profile. I did that the first two years, and that was wrong. As long as they have speed, they have toughness, and they can tackle; they can probably play."

And the Charlotte native can indeed play, as could his father. Paschal is one of three Tar Heels whose fathers played football at UNC -- Doug Pashcal was a four-year letterman as a fullback from 1976-79, who went on to play two seasons with the NFL's Minnesota Vikings.

There's still a family picture in the Paschal home that depicts a young Mark donning a t-shirt that reads, "Future Property of Carolina Athletics."

Although he always wanted to play at UNC, Paschal said his parents left the decision up to him.

"Carolina is in my blood," Paschal said. "It's something I'm really proud to be a part of. It's really special to me to live your whole life dreaming about it and then to have it come true.

"Both of my parents are two of the most important and amazing people I've ever met in my life," Paschal said. "My parents did not put any pressure on me to come here."

After starring at Charlotte Latin on both sides of the ball, there was some question whether Paschal would line up at fullback or linebacker. That question seems to have been answered.

"When I got the chance to play here, I was excited no matter where I was going to play," he said. "I don't know if I'm a true blocking fullback like they need here in college. I'm enjoying linebacker and having fun with it."

Paschal said he wants this linebacking corps to be a memorable one in Chapel Hill.

"I think we can definitely do that," he said. "I think that we can be one of the best in the nation. We have enough talent and depth at linebacker that we should be successful whether it's the first game or the last game."

Paschal's special teams hit against Utah in 2005.

J.B. Cissell contributed to this article.

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