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December 10, 2013
Exams, then practice for UNC
North Carolina is looking forward to getting down to business later this month in preparation for December 28th's Belk Bowl against Cincinnati.
But first things first, the Tar Heels are finishing up end-of-semester exams before getting back into practice mode.
"I am extremely excited as we prepare for our first bowl here at UNC. We're extremely excited about being in the Belk Bowl in Charlotte, where we have quite a few Tar Heel fans in that area. We're looking forward to playing Cincinnati, a very well-coached team that finished the season 9-3," said head coach Larry Fedora in a teleconference.
"We have finals that started Friday, and going through this entire week. We won't practice during finals," he added.
Fedora expressed happiness in particular for UNC's group of seniors, who endured perhaps the most trying time in history to play football at North Carolina considering that they had three head coaches and numerous assistants over their careers in Chapel Hill, and were in many ways put through the wringer for things they had no control over.
"I'm excited for our seniors, who have overcome a lot of adversity in the four or five years that they've been here, and for our team as they've come back from a 1-5 record early in the year."
Players such as Kareem Martin, Tre Boston, Tim Jackson, Jabari Price, and others were thrust into key roles early in their UNC careers partially as a result of the NCAA investigation, and wound up being punished along with many other innocent Tar Heels as part of the fallout (some would call it collateral damage) of the sanctioning body's decision to give North Carolina a one-year bowl ban in 2012.
"You think back to these seniors, we've talked about this going into the last game (against Duke), these guys have overcome a lot. They came in at the beginning of an NCAA investigation and saw it through to the end, and then they had to accept the sanctions against them," Fedora said.
"And then they had three coaches. They had two staffs. Some of these guys had five or six position coaches in their career here. They're a pretty unique group, and so I'm very proud of the way they stayed together when we were 1-5 (earlier in the season). I just think they are very appreciative, and really excited about the opportunity (to play one more game)."
Though UNC did come together Sunday for a workout, just a few hours before they received the official word they were heading to Charlotte, they won't reunite again on the practice fields until this coming weekend when preparations for the bowl game will begin in earnest.
"We had a practice (Sunday), and we will practice this upcoming weekend when finals are over with, and we'll prepare. I'm thinking we'll get somewhere between 10 and 12 practices in, in preparation (for the Bearcats). Our players have been going to finals since this past Friday and this week. We want them to finish very strong in the classroom this semester."
"They (the UNC players) are all really excited. They really are. They knew we would be going somewhere, but they didn't know where. And to be in Charlotte, to be in our home state, they were really excited and they're looking forward to it," the UNC coach continued.
Certainly it's a big advantage for the UNC program looking ahead to 2014 that they get a dozen or so additional practice sessions---it's almost like an extended spring football season---and Fedora admitted they'll be taking advantage of it to get some young guys some work, especially starting next week before they get into Cincinnati-specific game prep.
"We've played a lot of young guys the entire year. Those guys have been very productive for us. We're going to approach it the same way we prepare for every game. We're going to go into this game and put together a game plan and try to win a football game," he replied.
"But in preparation, we will be getting a lot of young guys work, especially early in the preparation. We won't direct towards Cincinnati until we get into the latter half of our practice."
With the UNC coaching staff out on the road recruiting this week and the Tar Heel players taking exams, they're not concentrating yet on the Bearcats.
But that will come heavily in the 10 days leading up to kickoff, once Carolina is free of all distractions so they can again focus in directly on an opposing team.
"I haven't seen them (Cincinnati on film)," Fedora said. "There hasn't been any cross-over film. We have started breaking down all the film. We'll really start this upcoming weekend. The film will all be broken down, but the coaches won't jump into it until probably this coming weekend."
Fedora coached Southern Miss in bowl games all four of his seasons there as head coach (New Orleans Bowl appearances in 2008 and 2009, Saint Petersburg Bowl in 2010 and Hawaii Bowl in 2011), and many other bowls in his other coaching stops.
And while it may be his first turn in a bowl game at UNC, Fedora has learned that it's somewhat counter-productive to try and overload the players with too much while they're also trying to concentrate on exams and finishing the semester in the classroom.
"You have to be careful. That's why we won't start preparing for Cincinnati until the latter half of the practices. I've been on staffs where you started very early in preparation, and really the guys kind of get bored with the reps," Fedora said.
"What we'll do is we'll prepare for the future in these early practices and get as many reps as we possibly can, and then when we get into the latter half of the practices then we'll start implementing a game plan for Cincinnati.
Naturally Fedora is happy about the fact that UNC is playing in-state for its bowl game in what will likely be an almost home game-like atmosphere in Bank of America Stadium.
For a 6-6 football team it's really a best-case scenario for Tar Heel fans.
It's on a Saturday. The December 28 date doesn't directly interfere with Christmas plans but it's close enough when people can make arrangements to get off work if they need to. And perhaps best of all, it's a favorable 3:20 pm kickoff.
UNC fans from throughout the Carolinas and beyond will be able to converge on Charlotte and make one more football weekend of it in 2013, and along the way root for the Tar Heels to maintain its run of winning seasons going back to the 2010 season (or 2008 if you're not counting vacated losses).
It's also an awesome opportunity for UNC to showcase itself during the Holiday season to recruits in and around Charlotte, which has become along with Atlanta and Northern Virginia one of North Carolina's primary and more successful recruiting territories.
"That's one of the great things about going to the Belk Bowl. We have so many alumni and Tar Heel fans in that area. It's a very lucrative area in recruiting. And so to have such a great presence in that area for a full week getting ready for our bowl will be a great thing for our program," Fedora said.