The Ever Evolving Elzy

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – If you are looking for tangible evidence of how Butch Davis has transformed the UNC football program, look no further than Anthony Elzy. The red-shirt junior weighed in as a 225-pound tailback in the spring in ‘07, but he's since found a permanent residence as a fleet-footed 205-pound fullback.

The Warren, Ohio native was part of offensive coordinator John Shoop's failed three-pronged attack three falls ago, finishing second on the team with 321 rushing yards on 92 carries and a team-high five touchdowns. But while Richie Rich left the program and Johnny White has seemingly reared his head at every other position on the team, Elzy's blocking ability and knack for receiving out of the backfield (10 catches for 73 yards in ‘07) provided enough evidence to the coaching staff to keep him in the offensive backfield.

The move to fullback prior to the 2008 season has been a blessing for the former two-time Ohio Division 5 offensive player of the year. The UNC version of this position serves as a smorgasbord consisting of various details taken from the tailback, H-back and traditional fullback roles.

"You have to be elusive, and you have to be able to catch and block at the same time," said Elzy, who sat out Tuesday's practice with a shoulder bruise. "And you've got to know coverages and blitzes, so it's a pretty unique position."

While the move wasn't an easy one for a long-time tailback that once tallied 470 yards and seven touchdowns on 22 carries in one game – that's 21.4 yards per carry – at John F. Kennedy High School, the adjustment took hold in the early stages of the '08 schedule.

"Making the move from tailback to fullback, you really don't understand what the fullback has to go through until you play that position," Elzy said. "By being in both scenarios, it's an excellent spot to be in because you can pave the way for the tailback because you're kind of thinking like a tailback. So it's like I want to block this way to clear the way for my tailback because that's probably the way I would want to go."

Elzy's production moved him into the starting role ahead of incumbent Bobby Rome against Connecticut on Oct. 4, but his season ended abruptly 15 days later in the loss to Virginia in Charlottesville when he fractured his right scapula (shoulder blade) in the second half. While Elzy was back to 100 percent by February, missing the stretch run of last season was devastating.

"It was tough because you get into that role and then you buildup your expectations for yourself and your team, and then having an injury like that was a hard blow personally," Elzy said. "But at the same time, I knew I had to be there for my team and be supportive. It was hard, but I got through it.

Speaking of Rome, the fifth-year season finished last fall strong and currently sits atop the depth chart at fullback. But hearing Elzy talk about the position battle, it almost sounds, well, brotherly.

"The competition is amazing," Elzy said. "We push each other every day. We challenge each other in the classroom and we go back every night and go through our books. We challenge each other like, ‘What do you do on this?' and ‘What do you do on that?' And it's just all day that we hit each other with questions and quizzes. That kind of competition builds a strong relationship between us and helps us to become more trustworthy of each other. I love the competition – it's a lot of fun."

Davis told reporters during the ACC Football Kickoff in Greensboro, N.C. several weeks ago that the offensive coaching staff had placed an emphasis on the short passing game – namely running backs and tight ends – during spring ball and that goal would carry over to training camp. The third-year UNC head coach has apparently been true to his word.

"That's our whole game, as of right now," Elzy said. "At this point in camp, the short passing game is our whole game. It's all about the little things. Our coaches are always preaching to us that if you do the little things right, the big things take care of themselves. So we believe that these little short passes build up over time and those little dump-offs can drive you down the field and eventually score."

Despite a difficult start to his career in Chapel Hill, with coaching and position changes, Elzy has evolved into a player that utilizes his strengths in an ideal fashion. After contributing just three carries for five yards and seven receptions for 86 yards in an injury-shortened sophomore campaign, the 5-foot-10, 205-pounder is ready to showcase his multidimensional style of play.

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