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Cunningham Talks Facilities, Injuries, State Of The Program

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UNC AD Bubba Cunningham discusses the football facilities, injuries and the state of Larry Fedora's program.
Bruce Young, THI

CHAPEL HILL – North Carolina’s football program is in a transitional phase at this time, along with a few other programs at UNC.

Construction is taking place at a few sites on and around campus with new facilities going up for multiple sports, including track and field, field hockey, soccer and lacrosse. The most notable sport included is the football program, which will move into a new state-of-the-art practice facility this fall, though it’s still uncertain exactly when the indoor building and outdoor fields will be ready.

The new indoor practice building was originally slated to open by Sept. 1, which happens to be the day the Tar Heels open the season at California, but it’s been pushed back, as Director of Athletics Bubba Cunningham said Tuesday morning.

Meeting with the media following a promotional bit for the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles and the new REAL ID that will go into effect in January, 2020, Cunningham answered several questions, most of which were about the football program and some of the projects taking place.

In addition to the new practice digs, Kenan Stadium is getting somewhat of a facelift with new Carolina blue chairbacks being installed almost everywhere in the stadium with the exception of the student and band sections.

Here is that interview with Bubba Cunningham:

On the indoor football facility and overall complex, which includes the soccer and lacrosse stadiums in one location but not sharing field space…

It’s coming along. They’re staged in a whole bunch of different ways. Field hockey will be done first in August, the indoor sometime in early September, Soccer probably isn’t going to be done until sometime in October or November and we will occupy the team building sometime after the first of the year (2019).

More on football not having access to the facility until after preseason camp and the season actually begins…

Yes, we’re going to do preseason camp in the stadium.

On the first home game being the third week of the season but the team still practicing there for a period in September, if the plans will be similar to last season when a new field was put down before the UCF game…

We will have to re-sod it. We will run all of fall camp in the stadium and then re-sod it prior to the opening (home) game. We just don’t know exactly what say we will do that yet.

On his role behind the planning and implementation of the new facility and practice fields being constructed…

Very closely. When we started on the project two-and-a-half years ago. It started with the indoor facility and then it dominoed because of the site we selected to put it required that we move the track, which led to us putting the track down by the golf course. so we’ve got practice fields down there plus the track. We’re redoing Fetzer (Field) so that soccer and lacrosse have a dedicated stadium.

The indoor facility and practice fields require that we move the field hockey stadium over to Earinghouse, so all of it dominoed. Once we decided on that site for the indoor facility, it made all of the other ones kind of fall in line.

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Rendering of the new football indoor practice facility.

On how excited he is about Fetzer and that whole complex…

I can’t wait. Right in the center of campus, the heart of campus, will have soccer, lacrosse, indoor facility, practice fields, the baseball stadium, field hockey – it’s all right there. And they’re going to be multi-use. Our recreation program, exercise and sports science program will use them as well. So when you’re kind of landlocked right in the center of campus you need to share the facilities. I’m very excited about what that’s going to bring to the campus community.

On the new seats at Kenan and how close they are to finishing that project…

I haven’t checked it in a couple of weeks, (but) from what I understand the entire lower bowl is done and they’re starting on the upper deck. James Sprawling does such an unbelievable job I have no question that will be done on time and done very well.

On every part of the stadium getting new seats except the student and band sections…

Right. The student section will remain bleachers.

On if there will be any other changes to Kenan…

We actually reconstructed the band director’s platform, that’s probably the only change we’ve had in the student section.

On the feedback from what’s being done inside Kenan…

Very positive. It looks terrific. I don’t know if you guys have been over there, but having the Carolina blue in there instead of the bright, shiny aluminum bleachers, just the everyday feel, just looks tremendous. With a smaller capacity, obviously we’re hoping to sell more tickets, but we want to have a place full.

On the changes in seating because of the reduction in seats and how that’s working out…

We’ve gone through the seat selection process this summer. You may have been sitting on the 45-yard-line and you might (now) be on the 42 or 40. So as we’ve reduced the number of seats, obviously we’ve spread the fans out.

On the football program coming off a 3-9 season with a lot of injuries and a challenging schedule to open this season and what he sees as the state of the program at this time…

I feel great about the football program. Obviously, we’re disappointed in last year but that’s an anomaly, we had a rough year with all of the injuries. We’ve done a lot of work in the offseason to try and understand why we had the injuries, how you reduce injuries. We’ve invested a lot of money and time and resources into trying to figure that out. (We’ve) kind of revamped the fall camp schedule to put ourselves where we won’t have as many injuries. But you never know, how do you measure something that doesn’t happen.

But I feel good going into the season. I think they’ve done a great job recruiting, have a great coaching staff, I really believe in the students that we have, and they’ve done a great job. So I;m very excited about it.

On how he evaluates the football program at the end of a season like last fall given the rash of injuries and that most occurred so early in the season it pretty much derailed the season…

That made it a little bit more challenging – what are we doing right, what are we doing wrong from a health and performance standpoint for the student athletes. That was a big part of the conversation. But, I’m also excited about the first year that Larry’s ever been here where he’s not recruiting under some false pretenses of people being negatively recruiting against us. I’m very excited about that and I think the coaches have done a great job being very positive about the program. We’re really looking forward to this year.

On what they did looking into why there were so many injuries…

We looked into everything. We looked at whether it happened in practice or whether it happened in a game, whether it happened on grass, turf, how fatigued somebody was, what their lifting habits were, eating habits, sleep habits. We’ve looked at all of that stuff – gps readings from how hard they’re exerting themselves in practice and games, and all of those factor into fatigue and whether or not you’ve been previously injured to determine how likely is it you’re going to be injured in the future.

So we’re taking all of that data working with our exercise and sports science as well as the trainers and strength coaches to figure out we can try to put the kids in the best position to be successful.

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Rontavius Groves was one of more than 20 Tar Heels lost for the season last fall.
Bruce Young, THI