Flagg Flying High

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – When North Carolina's training camp started during Wesley Flagg's freshman season last August, he was at home in Fayetteville, N.C. preparing to go the prep route at New Berlin (N.Y.) Milford Academy. He arrived in Chapel Hill 10 days later, and now, in his first full preseason action, the sophomore has vaulted to the top of the depth chart at middle linebacker.

Flagg said his enrollment delay last fall was just an unfortunate mistake.

"I had all of my grades right to get in and everything, but one of my teachers made a mistake and put one of my classmates' grades on my transcript, which made me not qualify for the [NCAA] Clearinghouse," Flagg said. "They had to go back and check all of my work, to make sure that I wasn't cheating or anything. Once that was situated, I was able to get up here."

The 6-foot, 240-pounder made a strong first impression on former head coach John Bunting and his staff, earning playing time in all 12 games in 2006, posting nine tackles primarily on special teams. He didn't think the few experiences he had last fall would help much in his development, but he was mildly surprised with how much he was able to pick up.

"I thought at first that wasn't going to do anything for me," Flagg said. "But I got the speed of the game sitting on the sidelines – I didn't get many reps in at linebacker – but I got to watch and see how offensive linemen block and how they get around, so I just learned by sitting back and watching."

That experience led to a solid spring on the football field, earning him the starting position at middle linebacker heading into fall camp. Flagg's status with the first-string was challenged immediately by junior Mark Paschal, who transformed his body in the offseason to fit the mold that head coach Butch Davis desires at linebacker.

"Right now, they've got me running with the No. 1's, but I still see it as a battle," Flagg said. "[Mark] doesn't hold [anything] back from me, because he knows more about the game than I do, so he's kind of teaching me. Even though I'm with the No. 1's, I still go to him for advice and stuff, because he still looks out for me."

Physical attributes have never been a concern for Flagg, but he admits having to work hard in the film room and in the playbook to be successful on the practice field. Senior weakside linebacker Durell Mapp has seen that dedication first-hand.

"He's grown up," Mapp said. "He's getting in his playbook, starting to learn his plays, starting to learn the aspects of football in general and starting to learn more offenses."

Flagg was tagged as the "speed" linebacker under the previous regime, but that has changed since Davis and his coaching staff arrived in Chapel Hill last winter. The sophomore still has "around 4.5" speed in the 40-yard dash, but that doesn't win any awards with the current roster.

"I'm playing around a lot of speed – I thought I was going to be the fastest linebacker," Flagg said. "But we came in this year with Bruce [Carter] and Quan [Sturdivant] – they came in a lot faster than me. It's a lot of fun playing with guys faster than me."

While he did not participate much with the '06 defense, Flagg is ready for the James Madison game in 10 days, and he believes the defense is poised for a strong season in 2007.

"Everybody's on the same page this year," Flagg said. "If somebody sees somebody down, then they pick them up. If somebody messes up on a play, then we just look forward to the next play and just keep practicing."

His mother is currently stationed in Seoul, Korea, but his father, as well as several of his aunts and cousins, will cheer with her in mind during Flagg's first collegiate start against the Dukes on Sept. 1.

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