Now entering his third season as a Tar Heel, Searcy is accustomed to the college game's speed and has played enough to allow him to make a virtually seamless transition into Goddard's vacated starting spot.
"I'm having fun with it because I'm back there with Deunta [Williams]," Searcy said on Monday. "We talked about it all during the spring, so now I'm just having fun with the transition… I'm back there with some guys that have a whole lot of experience, so I don't have to worry about too much. I just have to worry about playing my position and focusing on that."
While Searcy totaled 25 tackles, two sacks and three pass breakups in '08, most observers point to the Meineke Car Care Bowl as his coming-of-age performance – working as a nickel back and a hybrid linebacker at times, the Georgian posted a career-high 10 tackles, two tackles-for-loss and two sacks in UNC's defensive attempt to slow down Pat White and his West Virginia Mountaineers.
Ask his teammates to describe Searcy, and the word you're most likely to hear is "aggressive." He credits that mentality to playing running back and linebacker at Towers High School, and the joy of initiating contact never eroded, even after moving to safety in Chapel Hill.
Searcy possesses the size and frame to excel as a quasi-linebacker in certain packages, but a recent development during training camp exemplifies his ability to play numerous positions by utilizing different physical traits.
The Tar Heel coaching staff has been working diligently to find a replacement for Brandon Tate at the return positions, and so last Friday morning, Searcy – who returned punts in high school – trotted out on the practice field to catch some punts. When Friday evening's practice rolled around, the junior's role increased to running out with the punt return team during live team drills.
And by the time the new depth charts were posted on Sunday evening, Searcy found himself listed as the No. 1 option at punt returner. It was quite a shocking turn of events.
"During the spring I asked about it, and they put me back there some, but when training camp started I didn't see my name on the depth chart, so I thought they maybe just wanted me to stay in my regular position," said Searcy, who was timed at a 4.4 40 this offseason. "So one day in pre-practice, I was just messing around catching balls and they saw it, so coach [Charlie] Williams went and talked to coach [Butch] Davis and then last Friday they put me back there."
Searcy points to two absolute requirements for excelling as a punt returner – great vision and simply fielding the football.
"It's taken me a little bit to get back in rhythm, because I haven't returned punts or kicks in three years," Searcy said. "But just getting back in the feel of it is pretty fun."
As for the much-hyped Tar Heel defense of '09, Searcy believes that one reason for the optimism is the unit's efforts to improve its communication skills to ensure that everyone is on the same page. It doesn't hurt that the starting secondary feels their backups can enter the game with minimal drop-off in production.
And with so much attention being placed on UNC's youth at wide receiver, Searcy indicated that two players in particular have stood out to him – junior Greg Little and red-shirt freshman Todd Harrelson.
"One day, Todd was in for like 28 straight plays, and on every rep, he was going full speed," Searcy said. "I saw him make a couple of nice moves on our secondary – he just looks pretty good."
It won't be hard to spot Searcy this fall – just look for No. 21 at strong safety, nickel back and punt returner. And don't be surprised if he shows up in other roles as the season progresses.