After red-shirting his freshman season, Hemby hoped to work into the secondary rotation during his first spring practice in '06, but a cramp-like sensation in his left leg left him in severe pain during an early morning workout. The 5-foot-10, 185-pounder was diagnosed with acute compartment syndrome, a problem that can arise after extensive muscle use can lead to serious blood supply deficiencies.
UNC doctors were able to promptly treat the shin area of Hemby's left leg, and he returned to the playing field for his red-shirt freshman season. But once again, an injury curtailed the young man's plans, as he suffered a season-ending torn ACL to that same left leg during the debacle that was the 52-7 loss to Clemson in Death Valley.
Following a long and difficult rehabilitation process, he fell victim to hamstring issues last fall that limited his role to special teams duty in 2007.
"It's been a long process, especially in the weight room, trying to get my leg stronger and trying to get back on the field," Hemby said. "Just trying to stay healthy has been a battle, not just from my leg, but from other injuries, too."
But through it all, the Freedom High School standout never entertained thoughts of giving up his dream to play Division I football.
"I stayed focused, because I love football," Hemby said. "The reason I came here was to play football, so it would be pointless for me to come here and get hurt and then just quit like that. That would be too easy – I'd rather keep pushing."
Hemby indicated on Monday morning that he began to feel back up to speed heading into his third spring practice last March, and now, the injuries are just a thing of the past.
"It's been tough, because when I got hurt, I worried that I wouldn't be able to ever play," said Hemby, who has six career tackles. "When some people get hurt, their career is over. And my injuries just kept happening and kept happening. But I'm just happy to finally be healthy… I feel fine – I don't even think about my leg anymore."
Head coach Butch Davis praised the junior's speed and playmaking ability during spring practice, and those traits have allowed Hemby to move up the cornerback depth chart to play with the second-string defense. And when the Tar Heels move into a nickel set, starting cornerback Charles Brown slides over to the nickel back slot and Hemby is currently battling Richie Rich for the rights to replace their teammate at the open cornerback position.
There are no statistical goals for Hemby this season – no expected number of interceptions or no particular amount of defensive snaps. After years of watching from the sidelines, Hemby's desires for the season are basic and to the point.
"I just want to help the team out," Hemby said. "As long as the team wins, I'm happy."