CHAPEL HILL, N.C. --- It has become routine for many, if not all, of the true freshman class to attend the second session of summer school at UNC.
That helps in several ways. It helps get them off to a good start academically, to get acclimated in new surroundings, and to get a head start in the weight room and in conditioning. Different classes "report" differently, and UNC strength and conditioning director Jeff Connors couldn't be more pleased with this one.
"I would say that this group of freshmen, as a group, really has been one of the most impressive I've seen in my career," Connors said.
Their work could pay dividends for themselves – and most importantly, for the team.
"We do this thing on Wednesdays, we do three hundreds (hundred-yard dashes) around the field," Connors said. "We do that for conditioning and we also do it for mental toughness, because we only give them 30 seconds rest in between hundreds. If you're able to show a certain level of conditioning and mental toughness in that particular test, what I like to do is have those guys not have to run the conditioning test when they get back. We had several freshmen step up and make that test.
"That's not easy. That, in conjunction with their work ethic coming in here, (is impressive)."
In particular, several of the true freshmen caught Connors' eye.
"Tim Jackson, if you look at him, physically what he's done for himself – he stayed on our program that we sent him from February on, and you can tell it," Connors said. "He has gained weight and he looks really good. He's put on probably 20-30 pounds.
"Jabari Price has looked very good in all the drills in regard to position specifics. Very impressive kid from a work ethic standpoint."
James Hurst, T.J. Leifheit, and Brandon Willis all reported in January, and all have made their impression in the weight room (though Leifheit's participation has been limited since his injury) but they aren't the only guys in the trenches who've made an impression on Connors.
"Russell Bodine and Nick Appel have been here the whole second session of summer school," Connors said of the freshmen offensive linemen. "Russell Bodine is uncharacteristically strong coming in as a true freshman. He did 225 pounds (bench press) for 29 reps; right now he's a 400-plus bench guy coming in the door. Appel did well also - his numbers are average right now, but he's got a nice frame and works hard. He had a real good work ethic for us this summer."
A lot of UNC fans will be anxious for news about running back Gio Bernard, but he's not yet made it into the weight room with Connors yet.
"Primarily this summer (Bernard) has been with the trainer because we wanted to make sure that his main focus was getting his hamstrings ready," Connors said. "He seems to have done well with that. We didn't press it."
Overall, Connors had high praise for the incoming freshmen. "That whole group, I have to credit every one of them, including kids we had in here as walk-ons, they were impressive."
Reflecting back over a long offseason of hard work, and the state of the UNC program overall, Connors' excitement for the season to begin is evident.
"I am happy with where we're at right now, I'm happy with the progress we've made over the last few years, and real happy with the way we've been recruiting - that makes my job a lot easier," Connors said. "It is an exciting time."