FAYETTEVILLE -- Prior to this year, his senior season at Douglas Byrd, North Carolina football commitment Bryan Bethea had never seen the Tar Heels play football.
He instead invested a great deal of faith in the advice his veteran high school head coach Bob Paroli offered. And as much as any other of UNC's talented crop of 2003 verbals, Coach John Bunting quickly got involved on a personal level with Bethea.
"I talked to everybody, including John Bunting, and they told me good things," Bethea said. "I asked questions, and they told me the answers that I wanted to hear.
"My coach told me [Bunting] is a very respectable man and that he respects him. My coach's word means a lot to me"
Bunting offered a full scholarship on May 12 to Bethea, who then put aside his interest in Tennessee, Wake Forest, Duke and Virginia.
"I went up to Chapel Hill to check things out and little did I know that I would bring home a scholarship offer," Bethea said.
When he was a kid, Bethea said he never dreamed that he would ever go to college. Now it appears he will be an integral cog in the Tar Heels' rebuilding future.
"I was the fourth person that they offered a scholarship to this year," he said. "That really made me think they really wanted me and were sincere about it. I had the opportunity to meet the entire [UNC] staff and they were really sincere and straightforward with me."
Kick in the academics, and it's easy to see why Bunting wanted to get Bethea on board right away.
Bethea has long since qualified academically to attend UNC; that was never in question. He could attend almost any school he wants, but was impressed with the balance between Carolina's scholastic and athletic programs.
"I am a firm believer in the student-athlete," Bethea said. "They have a great academic facility, and they have great football facilities as well. It's like the best of both worlds."
The total-package, Bethea is a multi-dimensional athlete that practically never leaves the field Not only has he averaged over 1,500 yards per season and scored 35 touchdowns rushing the ball for the Eagles on offense, he also has the duty of shutting down opponents' top receiving threats and helping stop the run on defense.
What stands between Bethea playing offense or defense in Chapel Hill may hinge on about 15 to 25 pounds. His current playing weigh of 175 pounds would appear too small for the position of Division I tailback. Where he lines up may depend on if he can get into UNC's strength and conditioning program early and to the training table often enough.
But Bunting will make the final decision. He's the one who will ultimately have to decide if Bethea will better serve the Tar Heels right away as a defensive back or after a redshirt year to beef up to running back stature.
Either way, it's win-win.
"I consider myself as a team player and as long as we're winning then I am happy," Bethea said.