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For UNC true freshman Dominique Green, the first half of the 2013 football season has been a strange, somewhat disastrous at certain moments, but always adventurous start to his college football career.
Through the first six games of his Tar Heel career he's got 25 tackles---good for eighth on the team---and he's now got two interceptions after picking off Miami quarterback Stephen Morris twice during 'Zero Dark Thursday.'
"I feel like I'm progressing a little bit. I'm learning the game a lot. I'm using technique. At the beginning I wasn't really using technique---I didn't think technique would get me there---but technique will really help me out," Green told Tar Heel Illustrated following a practice earlier this week.
Just a couple of years removed from Scotland County High School in Laurinburg (N.C.), where he helped the Fighting Scots win a state championship during his prep days back in 2011, Green enrolled at UNC this past spring after a semester at Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham (Va.), where he played on the last post-grad team at Hargrave.
Arriving at UNC as a walk-on in time for spring ball, Green proved himself to be a viable contributor in the deep secondary and wound up earning a scholarship in time for the current season, where he's been a fixture at safety for the Tar Heels since the opener.
It's been a whirlwind at times---an occasional comedy of errors that has resulted in multiple big plays for opposing teams---but Green has held a strong work ethic and sense of maturity through it all.
He knows he's learning how to be a college football player with each passing week, and he knows he's getting better each time out, which was evident this past Thursday night with the two picks and nearly a third against one of the nation's top programs.
"The kid, he has a knack, and he steps up and makes plays for us. I mean, he started doing it during the spring and fall camp, and he's continued to do it. He's a true freshman just getting better and better as we go," said UNC head coach Larry Fedora of Green.
"His best ball is all still out in front of him. There's no doubt about it. But the effort is there. Every single time he's giving it all he's got."
"It was pressure (coming in and playing right away) but then again, I had my mind built determined. I'm determined to get it," added Green.
Green seems to have a strong sense of community. And in following a long line of former Scotland County standouts to UNC, he feels a unique duty to make his hometown proud.
"Back at home (in Laurinburg), I didn't want to let nobody down. I feel like I've got to prove something and show my city we can make it out of my city, because my city is small. All I want to do is prove to my city that I can make it, and then I want to help out the team too," Green replied.
This past weekend he was able to go home to a Scotland County High game, where naturally one of the biggest topics of conversation was his two interceptions against The U.
"I went back home for the high school game, and they were just happy to see me there," he said. "I wasn't celebrating real big. It's hard to celebrate when you come up short in the end. I mean, it was a good game, we fought hard, but it's just hard to celebrate (a loss)."
Despite his two picks, Green knows a lot of people will talk about the interception he didn't get.
The one that resulted in a 68-yard reception for Miami's Phillip Dorsett when Green misjudged what appeared to be an easy pick in mid-air and allowed the ball---and Dorsett---to get behind him just enough for the big gainer, which led to a Miami field goal.
"I saw some things last week in practice. I've started to see some improvement. I made comments about (Green's improvements), and then he goes out there and lets them get over behind him. He's got that dead-to-rights. So he could have had a chance for another interception if he just plays the ball," said defensive coach Vic Koenning.
"I should have had a third one. I saw the ball wobbling in the air, and all I could do was smile. I was like, 'I've got to get this one.' And then I just misjudged the ball," Green told us. "I beat myself up, but in my head I was like, 'He's not going to get that again.'"
Sure enough, neither Dorsett nor any other Miami receivers had any big passing plays of that caliber through the remainder of the ball game.
Green admits that it's been highly-challenging at times this season adjusting quickly to the pace and speed of the college game, as well as the athleticism of the guys he's being asked to defend. But he also realizes that the lessons he's learning this fall will greatly serve him---and hopefully the UNC defense as a whole---in the coming years.
"My most difficult thing coming in was learning the plays. It was way more plays than we had at high school and at Hargrave, but then as I got along with it, I noticed you've got to break it down to where you understand it. So now I'm understanding it, and I'm breaking it down every time until I understand it," Green said.
"I feel like it (all this early playing experience) is going to get me up there, because just to get some knowledge from the vets, it's a good thing. I feel like I'm ahead of the game, for my class at least."
From a team standpoint, Green believes, like his coaches, that the Tar Heels are on the brink.
The rookie safety sees hunger in his teammates to get the season turned around, starting with Saturday's 3:30 tilt in Kenan Stadium against league rival Boston College.
"I feel like we've got a good chance. As a team, we're coming together real great. I feel like we've got a lot of aggression coming in (to the BC game). We're practicing hard. And we're going to take that next inch, and I still feel like we've got a good chance."