Deunta's Inferno

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – If you're looking for an honest discussion about North Carolina football, Deunta Williams is probably your best option as a player that will tell it like it is. So when the red-shirt junior free safety talks adamantly about turning potential into production, it may be worth your time to listen.

Williams wasted little time in meeting with a handful of reporters following Monday morning's two-hour practice in relaying the Tar Heel defense's emphasis this preseason.

"We don't focus on the small things about defense," Williams said. "What we're really focusing on right now is domination. That's one thing that I've been pumping to these guys each day. We have the talent to go out there and dominate all of the time. 'Potential' is a word that I'm getting sick of hearing. We need to capitalize on all of that potential and go out there and dominate and play like we're supposed to play."

The 2007 ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year is tied for the team lead in starts (25), and enters his third season under Butch Davis after posting 65 tackles and three interceptions in 2008. Williams is as friendly and well-spoken as anybody on the roster, and those attributes help explain his sharp rise as a defensive leader. He talks about the importance of guiding his teammates without even being asked about that responsibility – a sure sign of a player relishing leadership and not being burdened by the invisible weight.

"One thing that I've brought back and I'm really trying to push through everybody is staying low," Williams said. "Coach Davis always talks to me about how I'm a tall guy and I need to bend and use my hips and everything like that, so as I do it, I think the guys see me doing it… I'm just trying to lead as a role model, as an example for those guys that look on film and see it."

Losing a second-team All-American like Trimane Goddard would be cause for concern in most secondaries across the country, but Williams believes the departed senior's old backup has the physical tools to adequately step in.

"Trimane was a great pass-coverage guy, so we're going to miss him in that aspect," Williams said. "But when you talk about being physical and being so fast, Da'Norris Searcy is definitely the guy that jumps out in everybody's mind. He's probably one of the fastest [defensive backs] and strongest DB's. We had a little meeting last night and he was on both charts as [having] exceptional speed and exceptional strength."

As for Goddard's leadership capabilities, as well as graduated linebacker Mark Paschal's, the continuing evolution of a young program has confronted that issue with a multi-pronged attack.

"There's really no fall off," Williams said. "… As we mature – we're three years into it, most of these guys that are here right now – there's a lot of guys stepping up. At the end of practice, it's not just one or two guys speaking up. There's about four or five guys, and I think it's good that we've been here for three years so that we can relate to each other, and [know] what buttons to push to fire it up."

As for the aforementioned "domination" talk, Williams points to the increase in talented depth across the board, including the defensive backfield, as reasons for optimism.

"The biggest thing, I think, with our defense is that our 1's and 2's bring the same level of intensity," Williams said. "So when you have that with guys like Jon Smith, Melvin Williams, LeCount Fantroy – he's actually playing pretty good – and we have a starter on the 2's now with Jordan Hemby, so I think the whole chemistry with those guys mixed in with the 1's, we can just interchange with each other any time. I think that's the biggest thing – there's no fall off from the 1's to the 2's."

His backup at free safety is senior Melvin Williams, but unsurprisingly, Deunta doesn't mind breaking down his elder teammate's game in a discussion of the safety position.

"We've got a lot of guys that can go get it," Williams said. "Melvin really brings his hat. He's a hard-nosed guy. The one thing is that he's got to get a little finesse with it, so he can be out there in pass coverage. We're not playing linebacker back there – you've got to be able to move those hips. When he's doing that – he looks really good."

The 6-foot-2, 205-pounder missed spring ball due to surgery to his left wrist, but he waved off a question about the brace he was wearing on Monday, indicating that he just uses it as a protective measure during contact drills. His enthusiasm is contagious – when he talks about it feeling like a bye week instead of the beginning of the grind of training camp, it's easy to believe him.

And he sounds just like a coach when asked about being ranked No. 20 in the preseason USA Today's Coaches Poll.

"We don't look at that stuff right now," Williams said. "We're just taking each day [and] each meeting and trying to improve like that. Every day, the [defensive backs] will go out there with one thing to improve on that day that you didn't do yesterday."

So if you're looking for reasons as to why this North Carolina defense is poised for a breakout '09 campaign, feel free to ask Deunta. Just don't be surprised if you leave the conversation believing every word he said.

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