Linemen Growing Up

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Travis Bond and Brennan Williams were tossed into live game action last fall before they even knew their way around the North Carolina campus. But the sophomore offensive linemen plan to use those experiences as the starting block for a solid '10 campaign.

Coming out of high school, there was never any doubt that Bond and Williams would factor into position coach Sam Pittman's plans along the offensive line. After all, Bond picked UNC over offers from Virginia Tech, Michigan, East Carolina and N.C. State, while Williams announced his decision at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

But there was also no indication that North Carolina would have to lean on the highly-touted true freshmen so early in their careers.

The '09 spring depth chart boasted a wealth of talented offensive linemen. Fifth-year senior Aaron Stahl was listed as a starter at left guard, sophomores Carl Gaskins and Kevin Bryant were backups at tackle and red-shirt sophomore Mike Dykes was lined up as the second-string right guard.

Injuries and attrition, however, removed all four of those players from the season-opening depth chart against The Citadel, and early season injuries to starters Lowell Dyer and Jonathan Cooper forced Pittman's hand in playing his two rookies only weeks into their collegiate careers.

Bringing up UNC's Week 2 victory at Connecticut elicits a chuckle from Bond, who filled in for Cooper at left guard.

"I just like playing football," Bond said. "I like challenges, so I just tried to take it one step at a time."

For both players, the whirlwind that occurred in moving from high school graduation to playing time in three short months was not an easy transition.

"It was pretty tough, but if you ask Travis, we just did it because we had to," said Williams, who played 78 snaps in ‘09. "Nobody wants to sit out a year, so it was a good thing… In the beginning, we were thrown into the fire. We just tried to mimic what the older guys were doing, and that was just the way we got into it."

Bond echoed his classmate's comments, saying, "It was complex at first, trying to learn the offense and making the transition from high school to college with snap counts, plays and just seeing the competition out there. It's very difficult, but once you get into it, you learn more and see how easy it can be by going hard in practice and learning the plays."

Adjusting to college life is tough enough, but enduring the pressure that comes along with immediate expectations can be unsettling. Fortunately, these two linemen were experiencing the same trials and tribulations in the same position group, so a natural bond was formed.

"It's always good to go through something with somebody else," Williams said. "I think that really helped us both, especially having somebody right next to each other."

The duo endured the hardships of their freshman seasons and emerged the other side with a solid foundation for what it takes to excel in the college landscape.

"Playing early forced me to be more alert and more of a student of the game of football," said Bond, a 6-foot-7, 335-pounder that played 243 snaps in ‘09. "I had so much stuff that I had to learn that I didn't learn in high school, from reading blitzes to picking up certain little keys that the defense may be giving away."

The experience also paid dividends for Williams, who bulked up from 275 pounds to 310 pounds during the offseason.

"Mentally, I'm just a lot smarter," Williams said. "I don't have to study the plays. I know the plays. It's more about the other team now. So going into this game, I'm looking at what LSU does as opposed to last year, I was just trying to get the plays down so that I don't mess up. This year I've got a better chance to show what I can do."

Bond is locked in as North Carolina's starting right guard, while Williams is listed as Mike Ingersoll's backup at right tackle. The West Roxbury, Mass. native had been working at both tackle spots, but with true freshman James Hurst's rapid development at left tackle, Williams has been able to focus solely on right tackle.

UNC head coach Butch Davis told reporters on Monday that he expects 7-8 offensive linemen to play significant snaps this season, highlighting a 180-degree turn from last season when a defensive linemen, true freshmen and walk-ons were called on to wrap the line's gaping wounds.

"It's been a big change," Bond said. "There's been more chemistry and there's more depth, players behind you challenging to play. That makes you play harder, and as they get better, you get better."

And while Bond and Williams may have a season of experience in their back pockets, they have been in Chapel Hill for less than 18 months. Their learning curve is far from over. Williams indicated that this preseason has been tougher than his initial training camp last August.

"There's been more expected of me this year, so there's a lot more pressure on me to play better than last year," Williams said.

With North Carolina's recent recruiting success along the offensive line, it appears as though Bond and Williams may have battled through a potential trough last season, and if their play and work ethic are any indication, they may eventually become the veteran cornerstones that hoist this unit to that lofty peak down the road.


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