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September 12, 2007There is no truer Tar Heel on the football team than linebacker Mark Paschal.
His father, Doug, was an outstanding fullback from 1976-79, and his mom, Jeanne, played softball for the Tar Heels. His younger brother, David, who does not play sports, is a freshman at UNC.
Paschal said that he can remember always wanting to follow in his family's footsteps, which would carry him from his home in Charlotte to Chapel Hill.
"I feel so blessed," Paschal said. "I have such an amazing family. I can't say how glad I am to be here. Hopefully, I've made my old man proud."
Naturally, the entire family would come to Chapel Hill to watch games. Those moments fueled Paschal's desire to become a Tar Heel.
"The most memorable game for me was against Florida State when Coach [Mack] Brown was here," Paschal said. "I remember going to the game and staying at a hotel and wishing I could have a chance to play here.
"I feel so lucky. I count my blessings every day. It's been such a great opportunity. I love this place."
Paschal is a junior who has continued to improve throughout his career. During this past offseason, first-year coach Butch Davis told Paschal he wanted him to lose some weight and work on his speed.
When Paschal discusses his athleticism, he jokes about not being fast enough and admits his friends kid with him because of the things they read about him from fans on the Internet.
"Every day you find one thing you want to work on," Paschal said. "That can go from getting your reads down to speed to anything. The one thing I really worked on was Coach Davis wanted me to lose some weight and work on my speed.
"I least tried to do that; I'm still the slow white guy everyone thinks I am. I joke about it because you hear things. I have friends here who read those message boards. They joke with me a bunch. If I wasn't athletic enough, Coach Davis wouldn't have me on the field. I believe in my athletic ability, and I believe in what we're doing here. We have a great opportunity ahead of us."
He certainly is not joking about this next game. Virginia will come to Chapel Hill for a noon kickoff on Saturday at Kenan Stadium. The Cavaliers defeated UNC 23-0 in a Thursday-night game last season, a game broadcast nationally on ESPN.
Coach John Bunting was fired soon after that game.
"I've never been so fired up to play a game," Paschal said. "It was national TV, Thursday night; everybody was going to be watching. My high-school coach had called me the day of the game and wished me luck.
"We got out there and just couldn't get it together, offense, defense or special teams. We're looking forward to this week. Whenever you get shut out on national TV, you have a sense of embarrassment. We were embarrassed for ourselves, and we were sad to hear about Coach Bunting because that news came right after."
In addition to playing a rival such as Virginia, this week is special for Paschal and the Tar Heels because it is the first Atlantic Coast Conference game.
"Whenever you get into ACC play, it adds that extra bonus," Paschal said. "You have to win. It's one of those do-or-die type of things. Our goal here is to win an ACC championship, so you have to take care of the first ACC game. We would have loved to have had last week, but last week is done. This week is Virginia."
The Tar Heels were hurt and disappointed to lose at East Carolina in the last game, but Paschal said a loss is not going to keep this team from being ready to play as well as it can on Saturday.
"I wished we would have had a better outcome, obviously," Paschal said, "but it was a good learning experience for all those guys. You don't lose a game and go into the tank. As you saw in that game, we kept fighting. We kept working.
"There was not one moment on that sideline where we felt like, 'Dang, we're not going to win this game.' We believed until the very end we were going to win that game."