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April 10, 2007Wesley Flagg carries the "P" word with him wherever he goes on the football field.
At 6 foot 1, 235 pounds, Flagg has plenty of size to play linebacker. What separates him is his extraordinary speed to go along with that big body. That is where the 'potential' label attaches itself to him.
"He can run," UNC linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen said. "Wesley has everything you look for in a [middle] linebacker. He's strong. He's physical. He's a guy who tackles well in space. We just have to keep giving him repetitions every day so he will get comfortable with the defenses. That takes time and it takes reps. None of these guys walk in and pick up on the defense from Day One. He'll pick it up this summer."
Despite rumors to the contrary, Flagg says that he has not been timed at UNC in the 40-yard dash. When he played for Jack Britt High School in Fayetteville, Flagg said that he ran in the range of 4.4 seconds in the 40.
No matter who did the timing, that's just plain smoking.
"He's fast, big and strong," defensive tackle Kentwan Balmer said. "Look at him. Look at him. He looks like he's ready to kill somebody right now. He's going to be a hell of a player. People are amazed by his speed and his size, but he's like a tub of bricks. I've seen him blow several people up. I love watching him every day.
"I think he and [linebacker] Durell Mapp are going to be the biggest surprises."
Flagg still has a ways to go to realize his potential. A rising sophomore, Flagg has to learn a new defensive scheme, get some game experience and learn how to play instinctively rather than thinking his way through the plays. He will never be able to utilize his unbelievable quickness until he can simply react and run.
When that day comes, opposing ballcarriers are going to take some big-time hits.
"There is an old saying that you can't tell the difference between a scared player and a confused player," Thigpen said. "They look the same.
"Every week he gets better and better," Thigpen said. "He's a guy who has made tremendous progress in the springtime. We look for a lot from him this fall."
Flagg said that he's seen all the rumors that he has run some eye-popping times during the off-season. He just laughs.
"I've been seeing stuff, people are saying I ran the 40 in spring ball," Flagg said. "I haven't run a 40 since I've been up here. My last 40 time was in high school, and it was 4.4 [seconds]. I keep seeing stuff on the Internet, people saying I ran a 40 during the spring.
"It's a lot different, the 40-yard dash and out here on the field," Flagg said. "People have game speed and 40 speed. I'm trying to get my game speed a lot faster. Read faster, come on the ball. Make the right angles. It's really about angles. If you don't get your angles right, it's going to be hard."
As great as his speed may be, Flagg said that Thigpen is looking for more.
"He wants me to lose 5 or 10 more pounds and get faster," Flagg said. "It's really kind of hard to please him. The best thing I've learned so far is having fun and not thinking too much. When I came here I was thinking too much. I was worried about what people were going to say. I'm staying focused. I've got a lot of energy, and I'm staying focused."
He said that he is finally starting to feel more comfortable on the field, which should translate into tapping more into his great potential.
"It was kind of uncomfortable at fist," Flagg said. "I wasn't really used to having that thrown at me. Last year I was with the threes. I'm starting to catch on to it faster. I'm getting real comfortable with it.
"The first week of spring ball, I was thinking too much," Flagg said. "Now I'm out there just running."
Thigpen said the one sure thing with Flagg is the potential is real. Now it is up to Flagg to do the work and show the dedication necessary to realize it.
"He's a guy, it's on him how much he wants the game," Thigpen said. "It takes time. You have to do the extra work. You have to do the film study. At one time, he was sitting around and it was a bunch of old guys, and he was waiting his turn. Well, it's his turn.
"He's a strong kid," Thigpen said. "He can get to sideline to sideline. He doesn't stay on blocks too long. That is where he is pretty instinctive as a linebacker."
Flagg said that he loves Coach Butch Davis' philosophy on defense, which is to get as many defenders to the ballcarrier as quickly as possible. That is where Flagg fits. He can often be one of the first to get there.
"This is going to be real fun," Flagg said. "It's going to be a real change. It's going to be real fun. We need to finish every play and challenge the man across from us. We need to finish."
Flagg learned a lot while playing little a year ago.
"We had a tough year," Flagg said. "I didn't play a whole lot, but watching the older players, they kept their heads up and kept fighting and fighting. They never stopped fighting."