WILMINGTON -- Despite the academic challenges that lie ahead, when asked if he still intends to play football at North Carolina in 2003, Marcus Hands says emphatically, "Oh, yes."
UNC assistant coach Rod Broadway calls Hands about once a week to offer his support and to help keep him focused on achieving his goal.
The third 2003 commitment for the Tar Heels and the second from the state of North Carolina, Hands continues to assert his allegiance to UNC, even after having been a Penn State fan most of his life and continuing to receive correspondence from some of the nation's elite Division I programs.
But Hands said he is most attracted to the quality of UNC's academic and athletic programs, and the balance of quality between the two.
"The way they treat the freshmen athletes when they first get there, I really liked that, and my mom liked that," Hands said.
"The second day after I got here, he told me that he wanted to commit to North Carolina," said Laney head coach Chuck Martin, who led the Bucs to a 7-5 record in his first season after coming over from Jacksonville. "We talked about that and what that meant. He was sure what he wanted to do, and that was to become a Carolina Tar Heel."
Hands is excited about the incoming freshman class at Carolina. Since he attended every home game, he has had a chance to meet most of his future teammates.
"I met Terry Hunter at one of the football games," Hands said. "He's big. If you put us on the same defensive line, we're going to be hard to stop."
Some of his friends have made the obvious comparison between Hands and another defensive end that played football in Chapel Hill.
"Everybody has started talking about me being like Julius Peppers," Hands said.
Hands was named Defensive Player of the Week on several occasions, and he is hopeful that he will be named to the All-State squad.
"With good coaching, he is going to continue to get better," Martin said. "He got better during the season. When he goes to the next level, he is only going to get better. He loves football and it's fun to him, and that's very, very important if he's going to be successful.
"He's got to continue to work on his leg strength and his upper body," Martin added. "Getting in the weight room will equate to success on the field. If he puts his mind to it – obviously he's going to have great coaching at Carolina – he has unlimited potential."
Hands, who will likely be a defensive end for the Tar Heels, also played tight end this fall at Laney.
"I like defense better," Hands said. "I've seen some of the defensive conditioning and it looks pretty hard, but I think I can handle it."
As for UNC head coach John Bunting, Hands calls him "a nice guy."
"He knows what he's doing -- trying to win football games -- and that's why I like him."