Sophomore linebacker Travis Hughes has had several months to adjust and prepare for the likelihood that he would be a prominent figure in the North Carolina defense this fall.
And as the Tar Heels break training camp Monday and get closer to more detailed preparations for its season-opening opponent Elon, Hughes has established himself as UNC's starting weak-side linebacker.
"Things are progressing pretty well (in camp)," Hughes said. "The linebackers are really starting to understand what we're doing, so we're starting to move faster, and basically play ball and have fun. The body is getting tore up and everything (in camp), but right now all of the boys are really excited about it, just to get into game planning for Elon."
"I'm starting at the weak-side linebacker. I just want to go in there and make plays and play Larry Fedora football," Hughes added.
One of the more highly-regarded linebacker recruits to come to UNC in recent years, Hughes is looking to use his God-given talents, combined with the knowledge he's attained over the past several months on and off the field, to become an impact player for the Tar Heels.
"Travis is a heck of an athlete. I mean, he really could be a great linebacker in this scheme. Just as soon as he really truly understands what to do and can just be an athlete out there, he'll be a heck of a player for us," said Coach Fedora.
"Just being a role player, I definitely I want to go out there and just use my speed, and well as my field vision to see where the holes are going to be at, where the running backs are going to pop out at, and just use my aggressiveness to make tackles or whatever I need to do," Hughes added.
"He (Hughes) has got to be one of those big guys that flies around and knocks the crap out of everybody," added Coach Fedora. "And that's what he can do. He's got great speed and he's a ball hawk. Now it's making sure you learn what you do, and you play within the defense. You have to do what you're required to do, your job, to make the whole thing work."
Hughes is thrilled about the prospect of playing in UNC's 4-2-5 defense, which is built around creating confusion in opposing offenses and opening opportunities to attack the quarterback.
"It's a hard defense to try to scheme up against. I mean, good luck to a lot of offenses. it's really tough," Hughes said with a smile. "Right now we're having a lot of fun with it. I mean, guys have shown one thing and done a whole different other thing."
"Our line has done an awesome job actually keeping up with us, but it's a great defense."
Hughes had the best of both worlds as a true freshman last season, as he was able to get on the field and make some impact (he recorded 13 tackles), but he was also not thrown to the wolves by being thrust in too prominent a role too prematurely.
As Zach Brown's key backup, he was able to learn a great deal on blitzing, technique, and other fundamentals without having to be overworked or overwhelmed.
"Zach Brown, I learned a lot about how he used to blitz and everything, and I feel like I can use a lot of what he was doing last year, just a little technique, this year," Hughes said. "
Unlike a lot of his teammates, Hughes didn't need to drop pounds to get to his desired playing weight this offseason. In training camp he's been working to maintain.
"I was actually at about 230 (pounds), so right now I'm really trying to maintain weight. That's where I'm at right now," he said.