Carey Exchanges Red Shirt for Carolina Blue Jersey

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- In a season that has seen the UNC football team struggle to win twice in seven games--while watching some of the more experienced players fall victim to injury--it would be easy for some people to give up and write the season off.

But head coach John Bunting is not one of those people.

"That's not me," said the Tar Heel coach just hours after learning that his starting quarterback was out for the year with a fractured thumb. "I'm ready to fight. I'm ready to fight even harder now."

Along with quarterback Darian Durant, the football team has had to deal with injuries to key players Eric Davis, Andre' Williams, Isaac Mooring, Will Chapman, and Jacque Lewis. This has created an opportunity for some of the younger players to play this year, and Bunting has offered up that opportunity.

"I'm not going to force a guy to burn his red-shirt, particularly in the second half of the season," Bunting explained. "I'm not going to. I'm going to talk with the parent, I'm going to talk with the player. I'm going to give them some options."

With running back Andre' Williams out of action with a back injury--possibly for the season--and a leg injury that sidelined fellow running back Jacque Lewis temporarily, one of the guys who had that option was Mahlon Carey, freshman running back from Mableton, Georgia.

"I felt good about it," Carey said. "I just felt comfortable when Coach Bunting came to me and asked me if I was willing to come out of my red-shirt. I felt pretty good about it.

"I saw the situation, and I wanted to come up [to the two-deep rotation]. Every time there is an opportunity at hand, you want to take it as it comes. Coach Bunting gave me the opportunity to play and work hard, so I took it."

Against Virginia last Saturday in Charlottesville, Carey gained 67 yards on 15 carries for an average of almost 4.5 yards/carry. Even discounting his longest jaunt for 12 yards, his average was still around four yards per carry.

"He hits up in the hole fast," Bunting said. "He goes strong. He sees it, and he hits it. And the offensive line likes blocking for him."

He arrived at Carolina at just under 200 pounds in August, but since his "playing time" was limited to repetitions with the scout team in practice he has been spending extra time in the weight room this year.

"I've put on a good eight to 10 pounds," Carey said. "I feel a lot stronger. It's about getting conditioned with Coach Connors, so I feel stronger than I did when I got here."

Even though Williams is out of action with a back injury, he made an impact when Carey took the field in Charlottesville. Williams is Carey's "big brother" on the team--the player matched up with him to help make the transition from high school to college a smooth one.

"Even though he's hurt, he's working especially hard to coach me up on the side," Carey said. "He's taken me under his wing and he's showing me the ropes. Willie Parker is doing that, as well, so I really appreciate those two looking out for me."

Williams has been there for Carey when he has questions. He has already been through what Carey is experiencing for the first time, but the elder runner stakes no claim to what the younger running back is doing on the field.

"Mahlon is a great runner," Williams said. "He runs with power, has moves, quickness, and speed. I can't take any credit and say I taught him anything. He came in here just like he is, and he's doing a great job.

"Not only is he a great runner, he's a fast learner. Can you imagine learning an offense like Carolina's within a week or two? That's what he's done. This young man has really put in hard work and he's coming into his own. What I like is he shows effort, not only on the field, but in the weight room and in the film room trying to get better."

Now that he's decided to trade in his red-shirt for a Carolina blue jersey, there will be a concerted effort to make sure that Carey becomes a part of the offense. This week in practice, he is splitting back-up duty with Willie Parker behind expected starter Jacque Lewis.

"We've made that commitment," Bunting said. "I want him to carry the ball between 10 and 20 times each game from here on out, if we can--if we have the ball that many times."

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