The Battle at Left Guard

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – In what has been a relatively quiet preseason for position battles, left guard is the lone starting role up for grabs on offense for North Carolina. Bryon Bishop and Alan Pelc have locked horns to determine who takes the field as the starter against McNeese State in 12 days.

Nine months ago, there was little to no debate about who would be starting at left guard this season. After all, red-shirt junior Aaron Stahl assumed that role in all 12 games in his first significant season of action in '07.

But starting center Scott Lenahan's graduation set in motion a musical chair effect along the offensive line, moving Stahl to center for depth purposes and creating a hole at left guard. Enter Bishop, a fifth-year senior, and Pelc, a red-shirt sophomore, two individuals from different backgrounds at different points in their career.

Bishop is one of the few Tar Heels surviving from the decimated 2004 recruiting class, and he almost joined that casualty list after suffering a back injury in the weight room during his freshman season. The Union, S.C. native battled through rehab for two long years after having surgery, but his faith guided him in his recovery.

After seeing action in seven games over the past two seasons, the 6-foot-3, 300-pounder is finally within reach of that longtime goal of starting for North Carolina.

"This is a year that I've been looking forward to, as far as getting my chance to be in that first group," Bishop said. "I've really taken the challenge of being the player that I want to be and helping these guys to a bowl game… I've finally gotten a chance to be where I want to be at as a starter at left guard"

Pelc hails from Houston, Texas, and arrived in Chapel Hill as a tackle prospect in 2006. But offensive line coach Sam Pittman moved the 6-foot-6, 325-pounder inside last season, and he has split time at both left and right guard this training camp.

While Bishop knows that this season is his final opportunity to start, Pelc realizes that continued growth and effort on his part will only open more doors for him later in his career.

With less than two weeks remaining before the season opener, both players are entrenched in a competition for that lone remaining starting spot along the offensive line.

"It's a tough battle," said Pelc, who saw action against James Madison, East Carolina and Wake Forest last season. "Bryon's a really good player and he's really stepped up this year. I've been playing between left and right guard too, but either way, we'll both hopefully going to be playing... It's still back and forth."

Head coach Butch Davis talked about the position following Saturday's second scrimmage of training camp, and indicated that there is a long way to go before that battle plays itself out.

"We've split the reps with the first and the second unit with both of those guys to see how they play," Davis said. "I love the competition and I love the fact that they both want to be the guy. They both understand that when they're not in the game and the other guy is in, he's going to play well. They trust each other. Hopefully, between now and the next two weeks, we'll sort it out as to exactly who is the starter and if it is still this close, I suspect that you'll see both of them play in the game."

Neither player seems too concerned with the pressure of the situation.

"This whole team is very competitive," Bishop said. "So whether I'm starting every day or not, I'm still going to compete like I'm fighting for that job. I'll just keep working hard and keep believing in myself like I have, and we'll just see how things turn out for the season opener."

And while Bishop points to Pittman as the motivational force behind his emergence, calling the second year coach "the best one I've had in all of my years here," Pelc directs his appreciation to the older members of the offensive line, such as Bishop, Calvin Darity and Garrett Reynolds.

"They're always around, and they're always there to help, so it's a good situation with them being in front of me," Pelc said.

Regardless of their differences off the field, they do share one common goal – to help this North Carolina team to the ACC Championship and a BCS bowl game.

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