Dyer Front and Center

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – It wasn't long ago that Lowell Dyer was entering the North Carolina football program as a local walk-on hoping to find scraps of playing time. Now, the starting center is in his second scholarship season and heads into his senior campaign as a member of the 2009 Rimington Trophy watch list.

The Durham, N.C. product out of Riverside High School joins left tackle Kyle Jolly as the lone seniors on Sam Pittman's offensive line, boasting 15 career starts under center. Dyer moved into the two-deep in the middle as a sophomore in '07, and when then-starter Scott Lenahan went down with various injuries throughout the season, the walk-on stepped in to start six games and hasn't looked back.

With North Carolina working to overcome the 69 combined lost starts that followed right tackle Garrett Reynolds and right guard Calvin Darity out of Chapel Hill on graduation day, Dyer has become an essential piece of the Tar Heels' offensive hopes in '09. Placing an even larger onus on his shoulders was the departure of fourth-year offensive lineman Aaron Stahl this summer, who elected to forgo his final year of eligibility.

Dyer was not shocked by Stahl's early graduation in May, saying, "I supported the decision that he made and I wish the best for him. I roomed with him for a few years, so it's something where I hope he does well. I still see him when I go to the pool or what not. I know he graduated, so he'll be able to get a job – I'm certainly not envious of that."

But assuming a critical leadership role for a young group of position players is nothing new for the 6-foot-4, 295-pounder.

"I've always tried to be there for people, as far as any kind of coaching that I can help with in terms of getting things down in the offense," Dyer said after Saturday's practice. "I guess it's just more of trying to be vocal and trying to lead by example. It's hard to be a leader if you're not working hard and studying as much as somebody else, so that's something that me and Kyle have both tried to do… I think our actions are more important than our words."

While North Carolina's efforts to replace five wide receivers from last fall's squad will dominate preseason headlines, the lack of experienced depth along the offensive line is considered an equally troubling area of concern. Junior guard Alan Pelc is the only lineman other than Dyer and Jolly to have started a game in his career, and red-shirt junior Mike Ingersoll led the rest of position group with 78 snaps in '08 – most coming on special teams.

Despite those sobering statistics, the two-time Academic All-ACC Team member points to a solid spring session and legitimate talent as reasons for those fears to be swept aside this season.

"We have guys that have been around the program a long time," Dyer said. "Mike's been here for four years, Carl [Gaskin's] been here for three years, Greg Elleby's in his fourth year – I know he's only had a spring at offensive line, but he'll come along – and you've got Cam Holland and you've got the freshmen working in too. We don't have a lot of game experience as far as the depth is concerned, but we have a lot of depth in people that can go in and play for us."

Butch Davis brought in a trio of highly-touted offensive linemen this offseason in Brennan Williams, Travis Bond and David Collins, and their potential is already evident.

"The freshmen that came in – they're outstanding," Dyer said. "It's only their second practice with the team and they're already getting into the rhythm of things and learning the offense. I know a lot comes at them, so I think they're doing a great job."

It also helps that the old cliché about offensive linemen being joined at the hip has been proven correct in Chapel Hill under Pittman's guidance.

"Some people would argue, but I think the offensive line is definitely the most tight-knit group," Dyer said. "I lived with three of them last year and I live with one now. Pretty much we all live together and eat together – we go to the buffets a lot – but it's definitely something where most of my best friends on the team are offensive linemen. That's the way it is – we stick together and we hang out together."

But friendships and chemistry don't hide the fact that this offensive line ranked T-79th nationally in sacks allowed (2.15) in '09, or that UNC's total offense stood at 92nd behind just 321.4 yards per game. Dyer acknowledges those statistics as motivation for the coming season.

"You always want to strive to be the best in the ACC and in the nation," Dyer said. "That's what we're working for – to eliminate some of the problems that we had. We're working to replace some of the receivers that we lost and everyone that has gone on to the next level or that's hanging them up."

One thing is for sure, though – few players emerge from walk-on status to become a cornerstone piece of a top-20 program's offensive line. But rather than pat himself on the back, Dyer prefers to view his success in how North Carolina finishes in his senior season. Everything else is inconsequential.

"It's certainly been a great run for me, coming in as a walk-on and earning a scholarship," Dyer said. "But I think more important is the overall picture of the team. I just want to be the best that I can be in order to create the best team that we can have."

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