There was no other way for Jheranie Boyd last year than to come in and play.
Arriving in Chapel Hill as a highly-touted Rivals 100 receiver out of Gastonia (N.C.) Ashbrook, there were plenty who figured that Boyd would see playing time as a true freshman.
What a lot of people didn't expect was that Boyd would become the team's biggest deep threat his rookie year while leading the team with an average of 17.8 yards per catch.
"Last year coming in as a true freshman I didn't really know what the schemes were, what kinds of defense they (opposing teams) were running," Boyd said. "But after a year of experience and getting some game time last year, I think that's helped a lot this year."
Learning to play against BCS-caliber defensive backs compared to overmatched high school defenders was naturally a difficult adjustment for Boyd at first---as it is for most young college receivers.
Nonetheless he proved his worth as a scoring threat with four touchdowns in 2009---including a key scoring grab in the win at Virginia Tech, and two touchdowns in the regular season finale at N.C. State.
"It was tough (adjusting at first to college defenders), but scoring those touchdowns just made me more confident going into games as a freshman and going against DBs that were seniors and juniors with more experience," he said.
"(I've improved) I guess just being more mature, learning how to get off the line on 'press' coverage, what defenses they're running, and just running my routes better," he added.
Going against some of the more experienced and talented defensive backs in the entire Atlantic Coast Conference each day in practice has in no small way aided Boyd as well.
"It helps out a lot (practicing against UNC's defensive backs)," he said.
"Charles Brown is a more physical, big corner---it's going to be hard getting off him---Kendric (Burney) is the more shifty guy. You never know if he's going to play 'press' or 'bump' or 'cover two.'"
Heading into his sophomore season Boyd has worked to continue refining his role as a deep threat while also improving his ability to make more consistent catches on shorter routes.
"I feel like that's still one of my priorities---being a deep threat and taking the top of the defenses---but I'm going to work on shorter routes and taking those to the house," he said.
Coming off a season in which the UNC offense was heavily scrutinized by fans and media alike for his struggles, Boyd and the rest of the returning Tar Heel starters on that side of the ball have dedicated themselves this offseason to changing the perceptions.
"The offense has been working hard---T.J. (Yates), Bryn (Renner), me, Erik (Highsmith), Greg (Little), Josh (Adams), Dwight (Jones)---all the receivers have been working hard and all the running backs---Johnny White, Shaun Draughn," he said. "I think we're going to have a good offense this year. We've been working really hard."
"I've been talking to Erik and a whole bunch of people, and I feel like this is our breakout season. This is the season we have to make a name for ourselves and I feel like we're going to do it," Boyd added.
Boyd admitted that he was a little sluggish early on this summer in training camp, but over the past couple of weeks he's picked up right where he left off from last season and spring ball by making plays down the field.
"I feel like I started off maybe slow the first few days, but slowly you progress," he said. "I've been catching the ball---I really haven't been dropping many balls or anything---just making plays out there."
Like the majority of his teammates, Boyd doesn't shy away from big goals for the Tar Heels this fall.
Individually he's looking to improve his productivity, but from a team standpoint he's looking to help lead the Tar Heels to something that hasn't been accomplished in Chapel Hill in three decades.
"Individual goals are just to have more yards this year, be a bigger threat for T.J., and just bring that 'deep ball' presence," he said.
"Our team goals are just to make the ACC championship. Win that and wherever that takes us we'll be happy with that."