Hemby steps up for senior year

As he comes into his senior season on the gridiron, UNC cornerback Jordan Hemby finds it a little hard to believe that he's already facing the end of his collegiate career.
"When I first came in (back in 2005) the seniors told me that it would fly, but I didn't really think it would fly this fast," said Hemby. "I didn't know that at the end there would only be so few (left from my class), but I'm glad that we're all still here."
Widely considered the top cornerback prospect in the state of North Carolina during his prep days at Morganton (N.C.) Freedom, the Tar Heels won a high-profile recruitment, beating out the likes of Florida, for Hemby.
After redshirting the 2005 season, Hemby found himself in the two-deep for the Tar Heels early in the 2006 season, but in Carolina's debacle against Clemson that fall, Hemby shredded the ACL in his left knee---an injury that affected him for the better part of the next two years.
Missing the remainder of the 2006 season and all of the spring 2007 season, Hemby was relegated to special teams duty for the 2007 season, and there were concerns as to whether or not he'd ever be in position to help the UNC secondary again.
Those questions were answered in the spring of 2008, as a 100 percent healthy Hemby emerged and showed that he could be counted on once game day rolled around.
Last fall, playing heavily for the first time in two years, Hemby recorded 49 tackles, three tackles for loss, three pass breakups, and a team-high three forced fumbles.
"It's a lot different (coming into this year's season), because I've had the experience to actually play in the game," Hemby said. "It's a lot different from actually watching. It felt good. I went a lot of different paths trying to get to where I was, but it felt good to finally get a chance to play."
As he's been preparing for the upcoming season over the past few months, Hemby has been working specifically to improve his coverage skills on deep passes, along with playing the ball in mid-air.
"I tried to work on the 'deep' ball, because I had a lot of problems not turning back sometimes during the (2008) season, so I worked a lot on that, and playing the ball when it's in the air, so I can get my hands on a lot more picks this year," Hemby said.
"I think that Jordan has become a lot more consistent," said UNC head coach Butch Davis. "I think he's playing the ball better. No one ever questions his speed. He's got all of the speed and foot quickness and ability to flip his hips."
As it stands, Hemby comes into the 2009 season as one of the top three cornerbacks on the UNC roster, which means he'll be getting plenty of action on Saturdays.
"(Going into) this year, I feel like I've been through a lot, like almost everything," he said. "I'm just ready to go out and play. It's a lot better, because the players know how each other is going to react, and we've all been going through the same calls and what not throughout the years. Our communication is a lot better. I will say my knowledge about the games and schemes and learning about pass concepts (has improved a lot)."
One thing that has helped with the team's communication is the fact that for the first time since the 2005 and 2006 seasons, the Tar Heels have the same defensive coordinator for two straight years.
"We know Coach (Everett) Withers, so the longer him being around, us knowing him more on a personal level has helped us grow as a defensive unit. It made it a lot easier," said Hemby.
Another thing that should help the UNC secondary this fall is the fact that there is so much talented depth, including multiple true freshmen that could potentially enter the game and be productive.
"I feel like it (the team's depth at cornerback) is pretty good, especially the young guys. The depth---we've got way better depth---so we can switch in and out and there will be no drop-off," he said.
Hemby doesn't have a list of individual goals for the season, but his motivation lies in helping the team continue to make a rise in the Atlantic Coast Conference standings, while also hopefully putting himself in position to play at the next level.
"I just want to help the team to win and have a successful season, and hopefully have a chance to play in 'the League' (NFL)," he said. "I think everyone on the team is more focused and everyone's goal is the same. We realize if we do want to be the best then it requires dedication, and we have to really be dedicated, like when we go out to practice, we have to practice like we want to play."
Hemby is getting amped up for the opportunity to come through the tunnel and take the field at Kenan Stadium on September 5, and having seen the new light fixtures in their luminous glory, he knows it's going to be a great night in Chapel Hill.
"It feels so great (that the season is approaching)," he said. "I was walking out here the other day and nobody else was here (in Kenan Stadium) and they just had the lights on. It looked amazing. I was just amazed at everything."