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You've got 85 scholarships, how does that break down into great players and role players in this stage of developing the program?
"Down the line you'd like to think that almost all 85 of them at some point [would be great] ... there's a process for kids that come into your program. Some of them make an immediate impact, whether it's in special teams, nickel packages, maybe sometimes they're a starter if they are gifted skill athlete, but there are guys that have to go through some things - particularly offensive linemen. There's a maturation process, offseasons, learning techniques, getting bigger and stronger and their impact may look very insignificant in years one and two, but all of a sudden in years four and five it becomes hugely important. We're kind of still in the infancy stages with this program - it's 18 months old. So it'd be unfair to ask some of these kids to do some things they're not ready to do. Some will be ready to do much, much more next year than they were this past year."
Speaking of offensive linemen, you lose two seniors on the right side. What's the status of the depth there?
"There will be some competitive challenges when we get into spring because we've got to replace some really good football players - Trimane Goddard, Calvin Darity, Richard Quinn ... and it probably won't clearly be settled in the spring time. It'll probably continue into training camp, but we think we have some players who we think athletically have the ability to step up and fill some of those holes. These guys that are leaving are taking a tremendous amount of experience with them."
Is there a matchup on Saturday that you're most interested to see how it plays out?
"The 13 guys we're going to try and play on defense against Pat White [laughs]. Individual matchups, certainly some of them, but the speed and tempo of the game is a major concern. Any time you play an option team, the first couple of possessions, they're going to execute and they're going to run their offense so much faster and quicker - and the tempo will be faster than anything we can practice - it's a matter of getting our players and our defense up to that speed."
Can you talk about the impact Hakeem has had on this team this year?
"Hakeem and I have got a great relationship and we've been talking off and on throughout the entire season - it started back in the summertime - and we'll continue to talk over the next week or so. His impact to the team has been that he's been one of the most solid, consistent football players I've ever been around. Week in and week out, you can count on him to deliver. There's no disappearing acts on game day with Hakeem. When you call plays that have got his number involved, he's going to find a way to contribute. He's an excellent practice player and a lot of our young players are going to be very fortunate in years to come to have watched how hard he practiced. He practiced every single practice rep as if it was Saturday and game time. And he does all the little things to try and improve - he's worked on losing weight to get quicker, he's worked on his strength to be a better downfield blocker. As a coach, he's done everything you've asked him to do."
You talked about how this program is still in its infancy. What would a win in this game mean to this program?
"There's already been some growth in just getting here. You had to win enough games to qualify to get here ... Anytime you play good teams, and you get challenged - whether you win or don't win - you find out about your program: where are areas you need to address? As soon as West Virginia was announced as the opponent, you knew instantly that team speed is going to be challenged in this ballgame because that's historically been one of the things they've been known for - all their skilled athletes run extremely well ..."
How far has T.J. come since his return from the injury?
"He's probably pretty much back to where he was prior. The one thing you hate for any quarterback is that he missed those seven games of experience. Those are one of the things you hate to lose because every game and rep gives them a chance to grow ... the more you play, the better you get. From a mechanics and fundamental standpoint, I think he's back to where he was prior to getting injured."
How's the week been?
"A lot of fun, we've been doing things non-stop. But it's definitely exciting going to the Lowe's Motor Speedway, the Bobcats game and the other night we had a big thing at Dave & Buster's where everybody got to hang out, relax, play games and have a fun time. ... I think 99 percent of the team hasn't done this - haven't been to a bowl game, don't know what to expect, so we've taken in the experience as much as possible. One of our bowl gifts was a little video camera and every single guy on the team has been walking around with that thing non-stop. It's been a great experience for us this week."
What do you see as the long term significance of this game for the program?
"Winning the game and catapulting us into next season would give us a whole bunch of momentum and confidence going into next season. Last season we weren't as good and we flipped our record around. This would be another step in what we're trying to do to get this program to be nationally recognized."
On his thoughts about possibly jumping to the NFL:
"Coach Davis and me will have to sit down after the game and after the season and talk about it, and I'll be making my announcement pretty soon."
On the factors that will go into his decision:
"It's definitely not about money. It will just be based on my situation and the feedback that I get. As of right now, I'm still a Tar Heel and I'm looking forward to this bowl game and still have fun with my brothers right now."
Is leaving your teammates a tough part about having to make that decision?
"Yes, but when you make a decision like that, you have to think about your future. But like I said, right now, I'm still a Tar Heel and still playing for Carolina and I want to enjoy it."
On defending West Virginia:
"The biggest thing for us is that we've got to swarm the football. We've got to hit Pat White and Noel Devine every time they get the ball, whether they've got it or they don't, with any kind of fake. That way we can just go out there and have fun and just be the Tar Heel defense that we've been all year and we'll be all right."
On the secondary's role against White and Devine:
"Our defensive line and our linebackers, they can't get to Pat White every time, so we know as a secondary that there will be times when we're just going to have to make plays. I believe our secondary is up for that."
Which team this season most resembles WVU's offense?
"Virginia Tech, as far as the read-option concept. They're pretty much the closest thing to them. We played them pretty well. [West Virginia] has a little bit more weapons in the passing game, and as far as the secondary, we've got a lot more that we've got to do, too."