ACC Kickoff: Playmakers

PINEHURST, N.C. -- New UNC head coach Butch Davis wants game-changing athletes at the skill positions. Enter wide receivers Hakeem Nicks and Brandon Tate.

"They are very savvy individuals," senior wide receiver Joe Dailey said Sunday at the ACC Kickoff. "They understand the wide receiver position much better than most people do, because they both played as young guys.

"They've played against the best talent in the ACC and they have been successful. Those two guys are just dynamic players for us."

Nicks lit up the UNC record books in 2006 with freshman records for both receptions (39) and yards (660).

"Hakeem just has natural talent," Dailey said. "The guy has great hands, you can throw the ball anywhere, and if he gets his hand on it, it's going to be a catch."

Tate added his own marks to the UNC books during his sophomore season, totaling 902 kickoff return yards and two touchdowns. The Burlington, N.C. native ranked second in the conference in punt return average (9.7) and sixth in kickoff return average (23.7).

"Brandon Tate just makes people miss," Dailey said. "He's one of those guys that when you give him the ball, he's going to make someone miss."

Nicks shined under the national television lights against Notre Dame, catching six passes for 171 yards and two scores.

The Charlotte, N.C. native also reeled in an 83-yard touchdown pass against Duke in the season finale, but Tate was not to be outdone – he returned a 97-yard kickoff for a touchdown against the Blue Devils, and followed that up with a 54-yard punt return that helped lead the Tar Heels to a 45-44 victory.

"[Tate] has great speed, so we knew that going into the game," Duke senior free safety Chris Davis said. "We really try to contain players like that, but it comes down to making plays.

"I remember when he had one big play up the middle, somebody had a chance to make a play and didn't, so we can't blame anybody but ourselves."

Senior defensive end Hilee Taylor said the duo's success on the field is not surprising to those around the program.

"They work extremely hard," Taylor said. "Those guys are really a reflection of their work ethic. Brandon is real quick. Hakeem is strong and quick, and in great shape.

"In the weight room, you would think those guys are not strong, but they are really strong. And they're fun guys to be around. But they work really hard, and I think that reflects their play-making abilities."

If the Tar Heels expect to make some noise in Davis' first season in Chapel Hill, then big plays on offense and special teams are going to be a necessity.

Fortunately, Nicks and Tate appear to be up to the task.

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