August 5, 2014

Why So Few Seniors?

North Carolina's senior class lists only 10 seniors.

Just six of those ten are scholarship seniors, prompting coach Larry Fedora to recently address his concern over the 2014 Tar Heels' youth before addressing any of his club's other issues or qualities.

But a look at the signee class of 2011 - which lists five of those six scholarship seniors and 20 other athletes - reveals that this year's UNC football team does not lack for fourth-year program members and leaders. It's really all in how the group's broken down.

"We got a lot of good players that came in with my class, one went number ten in the draft, he's the (one of the) only ones that left early," senior tight end Jack Tabb said. "There are lot of kids that redshirted."

Nine of UNC's juniors are entering their fourth seasons, making them the equivalent of more standard seniors when it comes to program experience. Combined, that almost matches the size of the full senior class.

"Obviously the guys that have been playing (for three full seasons), you see the experience and the guys that redshirted, honestly it paid off because they're playing really well," Tabb said. "They're playing at a high level now, they're experienced just as much as us. They've been really stepping their game up.

"Players like Jeff (Schoettmer), (Sam) Smiley, (Mar)quise (Williams), Kam(eron) Jackson, players like that, they're all in their fourth year, they've all had playing experience. They all know exactly what to do and for them to be juniors and lead other juniors and the younger kids really helps," Tabb said.

Landon Turner enrolled early in January 2011 along with redshirt juniors T.J. Thorpe, Marquise Williams, current Denver Bronco Sylvester Williams, and Travis Riley, now an undergraduate assistant for UNC. For Turner, an offensive guard, watching his class's evolution has been as much about the development of those redshirt juniors as it has been about the seniors.

"I feel like if anything, we've got even stronger leadership than we have since I've been here," Turner said of the lack of fourth-year players. "I've stepped into more of a leadership role as far as the offensive line and from that point of view, I'm just seeing the other leaders on the team and being able to communicate with them. There are a lot more people buying in, so we have our leaders but we have other guys who are seeing how the leaders are performing and kind of matching that, almost creating a domino effect down the board."

In addition to having a dearth of players with three years of game experience, these Tar Heels have an absence of over-the-top personalities. Turner said that while the team does "need some clowns," it's personality serves it's members well.

"I think every dynamic of us is helping the team," Turner said. "There's the confident guy that can speak to the team and really guide the team where they need to be, and then you've got the more quiet guys that are leading by example and pulling people with them and demanding more out of them."

The split in the signee class of 2011 (and the lone remaining fifth-year Ethan Farmer) means having a total of 15 players who are in at least their fourth years at UNC and have ridden out coaching turnovers and an NCAA scandal.

But Tabb believes that the experience of recording playing time in both interim coach (2011) Everett Withers' playing scheme and then adopting Fedora's system has the seniors well-equipped to adjust to anything.

"We definitely have a little more insight - just a little bit - because we went through traveling with the first team with coach Withers and then moving on and playing for coach Fedora," he said. "So, we have insight on both team dynamics and how to transition and how to work different ways so we definitely have real in-depth experience."

The biggest difference that Turner detects between the seniors and their counterparts in the redshirt juniors, though, is in the vocality of the less-experienced group.

Turner focus in fall camp is to exercise a mandate by the staff that he must be a more vocal and demanding leader.

Several other redshirt juniors and leaders across the team were given similar feedback and their responses are encouraging, Turner said.

"I feel like that's part of the growth that I've had and that leaders as a whole on the team have had," he said. "It makes me that much more excited about the season."

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