Heels Focused on Football

North Carolina kicked off its most highly-anticipated football season in more than a decade on Friday afternoon, pushing the NCAA investigation to the sidelines for approximately two-and-a-half hours at Navy Fields.

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* A crowd of more than two dozen media members stood waiting at the Kenan Football Center field tunnel as the Tar Heel players and staff members made their way down the stadium steps, closely watching Marvin Austin and Greg Little as they walked toward the locker room. But while reporters rushed to ask questions about the pending NCAA investigation, head coach Butch Davis and his players indicated that they would much rather talk about the pigskin.

"We're just football right now," cornerback Kendric Burney said. "It was a great first day. We're just out here to compete and have a great training camp and get ready for LSU."

The fourth-year UNC head coach echoed his senior's sentiments, saying, "It's good to get back [playing] football. I think our players were excited. Any time you go on the practice field for two hours… As a coach, you're always talking about, ‘Hey, block out distractions, block out the weather, block out the noise, block out the other team's fans.'"

Practice was open to the media for roughly 45 minutes on Friday afternoon, leading to the observation that Austin and Little – central figures in the NCAA probe – were running drills during that allotted window with the second-string units. Davis told reporters after practice not to read anything into that move.

"We rotate a lot of guys throughout in a lot of different situations," Davis said. "At some point in time during the course of this training camp, we'll have to make a decision based on what we find out what direction that we need to go, but right now, we're just practicing football."

Davis indicated that he has not talked about the situation with his roster since a team meeting on July 20.

* There was some concern that the players may have lost some conditioning after a longer-than-usual break after the end of summer school two weeks ago, but that concern was alleviated early Friday. The Tar Heels conducted their annual 16-110s in the morning hours, a series of 16 110-yard dashes that have to be completed within a certain time depending on position, with a short rest between each one.

"I think this morning proved that they showed up pretty good," Davis said.

When asked specifically about Austin's performance, Davis said that the 312-pounder made all 16 of the runs in the required time.

* The wide receiver position group was a huge question mark heading into the '09 season, but Little emerged as a playmaker down the stretch and Erik Highsmith and Jhay Boyd displayed vast potential as their freshmen seasons went along.

With legitimate options still being limited, Davis called on some players buried on the depth chart to make some noise in August.

"It's time now for guys like Dwight Jones and guys like Todd Harrelson – they need to step up," Davis said. "It's time. They're going into their third season. They need to be able to go out here and compete and fight and earn opportunities to play."

Davis also indicated that freshmen wide receivers Sean Tapley and Reggie Wilkins drew strong praise from their veteran counterparts during OTAs this summer.

* The benefit of returning 18 starters, including a number of multi-year starters, is that the players know exactly what to expect during training camp. The bad news for those players, however, is that the coaching staff can ratchet up their intensity.

"We can probably actually be tougher on them," Davis said. "Mentally, we're going to challenge them… We want to encourage a lot of competition in practice. We want to encourage an awful lot of situational football."

* At the ACC Football Kickoff in Greensboro, Davis suggested that possibly 10 true freshmen would see the field this fall. After only one day of practice, it doesn't sound as though the fourth-year UNC head coach will be taking that statement back any time soon.

"One of the impressive things has been the freshmen class – how quickly they've picked stuff up [and] how hard they're willing to work," Davis said.

* Injury report:

Freshman tackle T.J. Leifheit (ankle surgery) did not practice on Friday, but is expected to return to individual drills within the next five days. Freshman wide receiver Brendon Felder (ACL) is hoping to return to the practice field by late-September at the earliest, while red-shirt sophomore A.J. Blue (ACL/MCL) worked out with the quarterbacks and was able to participate in individual, skeleton and 7-on-7 drills.

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