Heading into his senior season, UNC cornerback Kendric Burney has gotten a well-deserved reputation around the Atlantic Coast Conference for being a guy that can change a game at any given moment.
Last fall he set North Carolina's school record with 200 interception return yards, and his three interception returns for touchdowns over his three-year career so far is currently tied for the school record.
Head coach Butch Davis credits some of that to the fact that Burney, along with several others in the UNC secondary, are used to having the ball in their hands a lot from playing offense heavily in high school.
"Certainly one of the things that's kind of ironic---our defensive coaching staff talks about this all the time---if you take look at almost our defensive players, they were all former offensive players in high school," Davis said. "Kendric was a quarterback."
'When somebody throws an interception and everybody marvels at the fact that one of our defensive players is able to niftily shift his way through and maybe score on an interception (return for a touchdown) , they just threw it to a guy that was probably All-State on offense, so that is a pretty good trait," Davis added.
"When you look, the only players (on the UNC defense) that really played defense (in high school) were the defensive line," said Burney, who won a pair of state titles as an option quarterback at Southwest Onslow High School in Jacksonville (N.C.) back in 2003 and 2004.
"You've got quarterbacks at linebacker and you've got quarterbacks and receivers all over the secondary, so whenever we want the ball we go get it."
"That's the great thing about our defense is we're all ball hogs---we all want to touch the ball and show that we could have played a little offense in college," he added.
"It's definitely fun and we smell the end zone every time we touch it, so that's a big emphasis for us."
While Carolina's starting players will obviously get most of the headlines this fall when healthy, Burney was quick to point out that the future is bright at the cornerback position for UNC with the guys currently playing behind him.
Mywan Jackson and Terry Shankle have definitely made plays," he said. "LeCount Fantroy, behind me, has definitely taken every bit of coaching possible and he's definitely making plays," he added.
"Those three right there as far as guys that are returning are definitely making a stand at camp."
He's also been impressed with rookies Jabari Price and Tre Boston---a pair of Florida rookies who have shown up and competed this August.
"They're playmakers. They're definitely ball hogs. And that's the great thing about it---you can teach technique and you can teach coverages but you can't teach somebody that knows how to play a ball, and that's something that those Florida boys are definitely coming and doing," Burney said.
"It's real easy to teach technique (to them) because they know how to make plays on the ball."
With 38 consecutive starts under his belt and nine career interceptions, its safe to say that Burney has as much experience as any corner in the ACC, and he's impressing on the rookies how critical it is to take advantage of every opportunity due to the fleeting nature of the college experience.
"I can still remember my freshman days walking into Granville (dorm) and my parents leaving. It's just like yesterday," he said.
"That's what we were telling the freshmen---it comes and goes, so make sure you get the best out of it. We're just thankful that we got the opportunity to do it."
Coming of last year's All-league first-team selection Burney was placed on the preseason first-team heading into this year.
"It's definitely great (to be back in camp practicing)," he said.
"We busted our butts all summer, and there's been a lot of stuff that's been going on, but just to get back on the field with your brothers---your family members---it's definitely something fun to be back."
It's been discussed quite a bit in the past, but it bears continual mentioning that Burney is working with just about as experienced a secondary in college football, including fellow three-year starters Deunta Williams and Charles Brown, along with Da'Norris Searcy, who is now heading into his second season as a starter.
"It's a lot easier during camp---I can tell you that. The communication is great," Burney said. "You kind of sense whenever somebody is going to do something. You can let something go knowing that somebody else has your back."
"It's really good for the simple fact that we've been there with each other," said Williams of his relationship with Burney.
"If a certain route comes up I know that Kendric is going to jump it, and if a certain thing comes up he knows that I'm going to jump it, so we cover for each other very well without even having to communicate a lot," he added.
"With everybody coming back that's a big plus for just our whole defense and our whole program in general. That's the next big step for this program to take the next step to the big level," Burney continued. "It's just the little things that's going to help our defense be great."
Burney says he's improved over the offseason in his foot quickness and his conditioning.
He toned up his body and shed a few unwanted pounds to get into top shape for the fall.
"(I've improved with my) speed, foot quickness, and definitely in the weight room," he said. "I lost a little weight just to tone up and get a little faster, and that's a big emphasis that (strength) Coach (Jeff) Connors worked with me on and that our coaches wanted from me, and I can't wait to go out on the field this year and show it."
"Your conditioning---that's a big part after you've been here for so long---you make sure that your wind is good. You make sure you're able to run to the ball every play," Burney added.
Burney hasn't had to play nearly as much in scrimmages and team portions of practice this summer as years past due to his experience and the need to get players behind him quality repetitions for their development.
This summer for Burney is all about tidying up small things in his game that need to be improved while building up his stamina for the coming grind.
"We (the starters) won't get every rep that we do in practice because we've got to teach younger boys," he said, "But as long as we do our conditioning right and we keep making plays on the ball and doing the little things right---you clean up the little things and you find something every day that you need to work on and you do it---that's how you get the best (out of camp)."