Collective Effort

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Take a moment and try to narrow down the MVP candidates for this North Carolina program. It's not easy, is it? One player alone is not responsible for this 4-1 record and No. 22 national ranking. Rather, it's a combined team effort that has these Tar Heels on the road back to relevancy.

The individual standout performances this season have been numerous and frequent. There's Brandon Tate's 397 all-purpose yards against McNeese State, Cam Sexton's 242 yards and two touchdowns in thrilling come-from-behind fashion at Miami and Bruce Carter's three blocked punts against Connecticut.

There's also T.J. Yates' 221 yards (14-of-22 passing) and three touchdowns at Rutgers, to go along with Shaun Draughn's 109 yards on the ground last Saturday night.

And we may as well mention that Trimane Goddard leads the nation with four interceptions, and Mark Paschal and Quan Sturdivant are battling it out for team-high honors in tackles (both have 41). Even Terrence Brown has gotten into the action, downing nine punts inside the 20-yard line against just two touchbacks.

Opponents can scheme to shut down one or two players, but when the options are seemingly infinite, it's easy to understand why some opposing coaches have been seen scratching their heads on the sidelines.

"We're going to play the guys at the time that give us the best chance to win," head coach Butch Davis told reporters during his weekly Monday press conference. "I'll play anybody if it helps us win the game. I think our players are receptive to that. If everybody has a specific role and everybody's ready to step up and step in and make plays... When you go in the game, contribute, play hard, give us a chance and make some plays and we're going to try to keep guys fresh and give them all an opportunity."

That mentality has spread like wildfire through this North Carolina program. The depth chart is a necessary evil, but for some teams, it's the Gospel. For the Tar Heels, it's just an outline.

"Coach Davis talked about it a lot this week – if somebody goes down, somebody has to step up," Sexton said. "Guys are doing that, and I think guys are taking the time to understand that 'my opportunities are few and far between and that I have to be ready if my time comes.'"

It sounds like coachspeak, but the facts back up Davis' claims. North Carolina leads the nation with 12 interceptions, and eight different players have at least one pick. And while Marvin Austin and Cam Thomas are listed as the starters at defensive tackle, the entire three-deep at that position saw action against Connecticut.

"When the team doesn't care who's getting the credit and all they want to do is win, and it's not about my stats, my touches, my catches, my yards [and] my sacks, it's whether or not your team wins, then those are pretty good cornerstones to build your program on," Davis said.

Draughn is a prime example. A backup safety twelve months ago, the red-shirt sophomore shot up the depth chart during training camp and took advantage of his opportunity against the Huskies to post UNC's first 100-yard game this fall by a tailback.

"Like I always tell the coaches, just give me a chance and I'll do what I can," Draughn said. "I'm not looking for the starting role or all of the fame, but just looking to give the team a good chance to win with my spark."

The ability to put aside one's personal goals for that of the team's is not an easy thing to do, especially for college kids. But individual success often emerges from within the framework of a team, and that's what has occurred in Chapel Hill over the past six weeks.

Each passing game provides more players opportunities to step out of the shadows, and with more victories comes an increasingly bigger stage to play on. And with Notre Dame (4-1) arriving in town next weekend, the national spotlight will once again be aimed at North Carolina, although it's been a while since the football team has garnered much media attention outside of this state's borders.

"Obviously, you love playing in big games," Davis said. "It's no secret that kids love to be challenged. They like to play in competitive games. You want to measure yourself against good teams, and certainly, we'll find out a little more about ourselves."

Interestingly enough, Joe Montana came off the bench for the Golden Domers to begin his illustrious career at Kenan Stadium back in 1975. It only takes one opportunity to shine, and now that these Tar Heels know that those chances are being provided to them, they are beginning to capitalize when they take the field.

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