AJ's Monday Musings

In this week's edition of the Musings, I talk about the need for a more intense rivalry between UNC and N.C. State, Will Johnson & Jonathan Holmes' roles this winter, and about my pick for the most underrated football player in Carolina history.

This Fire Needs Gasoline

There is little doubt that Atlantic Coast Conference football is improving. NFL rosters are loaded with former ACC players. More and more games are airing on national and network regional television. Each year at least one player from the league is a major Heisman candidate. The experience and quality of the conference's head coaches has never been more impressive. Yet, perhaps the most telling recent trends can be found on school-related web sites and in the words emanating from both coaches and players about their rivals, words that will help take the league to the next level.

Conference web sites are paying an increasing amount of attention to football recruiting. Basketball recruiting is dominant in the summer, but football recruiting has become a major player, even on a web site like this one, which caters to a "basketball school."

Antics like what N.C. State coach Chuck Amato pulled with one-time UNC commitment A.J. Davis has generated interest in football recruiting. Amato called Davis right before national letter of intent day last February and "sang a song to him over the phone, luring the talented athlete to Raleigh."

His actions also threw a firecracker onto the building rivalry between the Tar Heels and Wolfpack.

UNC and N.C. State have always had an intense rivalry, but it often lacked charisma, and too often in recent years didn't appear flammable. Not any longer.

Second-year UNC coach John Bunting did more than toss a firecracker onto the growing flame, he poured some gasoline onto it by ripping State for an embarrassing non-conference schedule, prompting Amato to take the high road, for which he was largely criticized – by fans!

Whether Bunting and Amato have a friendly relationship or not isn't clear, but they appear to understand that their programs need to dislike each other. Great rivalries get attention, and with both UNC and N.C. State on the right path at the same time, a true rarity, the local fire marshals better beware. It appears that this flame is only in a stage of infancy, which is good news for the ACC.

Keep it up guys. The higher the blaze the more fun the rivalry!

Johnson & Holmes Need Roles

What will become of Carolina's only upperclassmen this winter?

Will Johnson and Jonathan Holmes, who take up just one hoops scholarship (Johnson is a Morehead scholar), must play active roles on this year's basketball team. Matt Doherty will rely on a sophomore and three freshmen to be the statistical leaders of the Tar Heels and a pair of sophomores and two freshmen to add depth.

With no juniors on the roster, Holmes, a seldom-used point guard, and Johnson, a 6-foot-8 forward who rarely scratched the statistical surface despite logging quality minutes last year, will likely be called on to provide stability, even if not always on the court.

The need for guidance by the elder pair isn't an absolute necessity for UNC to have a successful season, but contributions in leadership and even on-court performance could be the difference between a solid season and an NCAA tournament berth.

Best Heel Ever?

Most UNC fans will list Charlie "Choo Choo" Justice as the best Carolina football player of all time. Justice, who led the Heels to four top-16 final rankings and three major bowl games in the late 1940s, was a two-time runner up for the Heisman Trophy. No UNC gridder has since received the attention given to Justice, including Julius Peppers and Lawrence Taylor.

Peppers and Taylor will also make most all top-five lists. Don McCauley, Mike Voight, Amos Lawrence, Kelvin Bryant, Mike Wilcher, Marcus Jones, Vonnie Holliday, Leon Johnson, Greg Ellis, Dre' Bly and Brandon Spoon will also likely make many lists.

But what about the most underrated Tar Heel ever? There are many I could write about, but for now, I'll stick with one player: Jason Stanicek.

Stanicek broke Justice's all-time school record for total yards in 1994 and was perhaps the toughest QB the Heels have had since Justice ran the single wing. Stanicek, like Justice, could run the ball as well as throw it. He made excellent decisions running the option and was an excellent leader in the huddle. He didn't make any all-ACC first teams or receive any national honors, but he was a winner and a leader. He was a classic college quarterback, one who could do many things well, but few things great, except his leadership.

In your opinion, who is the most underrated player in UNC football history? Each week I publish one response from the previous week's question.

Last Week's Response

Last week I asked readers who their favorite UNC quarterback of all time is. Dale Rivendale of Greensboro wrote, "Chris Keldorf is my favorite UNC QB ever. He came at the right time when UNC really needed a great passer and unexpectedly led the Heels to a couple of top-10 finishes. He didn't start all the games in 1997 as you pointed out, but his performance in 1996 was crucial to help prove the Tar Heels could again reach the top 10. For that, my vote goes to Chris Keldorf."

Andrew Jones is entering his seventh year covering football and basketball for Inside Carolina. He is also entering his fifth year as a copy editor and staff writer for the Wilmington Star-News and hosts a drive-time radio show on ESPN Radio, WMFD AM630 in Wilmington. He has also written for ACCNews and once published The College Game and the former Total Sports. He can be reached via e-mail at: AndrewJones@AM630.net.

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