Stahl putting in the effort
Tar Heel interior lineman Aaron Stahl has been competing throughout training camp for a starting job, and while he may or may not spend all of his time with the first unit this fall, he is putting in the work necessary to garner plenty of playing time.
Originally a defensive tackle, Stahl redshirted in 2005 and saw limited game action in 2006 as a reserve. Heading into this season, Stahl figures to see most of his playing time at left guard, but he is also working out in practice at the center position in case he may need to fill in at some point for Scott Lenahan.
"Me and Bryon (Bishop); we split reps sometimes. Usually I start off the groups (with the first team), but we'll split the reps," Stahl said about the competition at left guard. "Stuff happens in the season where some guys will go down, or something may happen, or you might get nicked up or something. We need people ready to go. I've played some center in the past, so if anything happens to Scotty, I might have to step up there, too. That's why we need depth at guard; you never know when something could happen. Pretty much if you can play guard, you can play center. It's pretty much the same concepts."
Stahl is positive about his experiences within the framework of North Carolina's training camp this August, and credits both the coaches and the medical staff for helping the players cope with the intense summer heat. For his part, he is trying to give maximum effort each time out at practice, while adding to the new spirit of excitement surrounding the program.
"It's been a real good experience. They're taking real good care of us," he said. "We have a whole new scheme for offense, which is great. It seems to be working pretty well when we have our assignments right. It's been really hot, but that's all right; we have a really good medical staff and everything. It's just been good. The team morale is really high, and they just all seem to be having a real good time. It's not so much like trying to survive, as it's been in the past a little bit. It's just all about effort. You just always have to try. When you think you're up, you have to work harder, and when you think you're down, you think it's never going to turn around. You just have to try over and over again."
Stahl has gained substantial weight over the last couple of years, particularly since he moved from the defensive to the offensive side of the ball, but he feels that he has improved his quickness, which he cites to hard work and offseason workouts implemented by the UNC strength and conditioning staff.
"Since I've been here (at UNC) I've gained 35 pounds," he said. "I'm faster, I feel like. Part of that is our strength staff."
From a preparation standpoint, the Tar Heels have spent the last several weeks doing practically everything imaginable to get the offensive line in position to effectively provide quarterback T.J. Yates the necessary time to throw, while also getting off the line and providing running space for the bevy of UNC tailbacks. Stahl indicated marked improvement in the team's second formal scrimmage when compared to the first, as the Tar Heels cut down on their errors and plays taken off, otherwise known as 'loafs'.
"We've done all kinds of stuff. We've done red zone; we've done 'PUP,' which stands for 'pass under pressure,' where the defense brings a whole lot of looks," Stahl said. "We've done our team scrimmaging; we've done goal line stuff. We've pretty much just done everything, covering all phases of the game. It seems pretty good. From the first scrimmage to the second, we like split (in half) the missed assignments and 'loafs,' which means that we're now understanding the schemes and the plays. We can play faster and more efficient."
While the new coaching regime under Butch Davis has cut down on the actual time the team is out on the practice field each day, Stahl, along with most of his teammates, has seen a difference in the way the new workout sessions are helping better simulate game situations.
"We're always on the go," he said. "The previous years here, our practices would be like three, three-and-a-half hours long, but it would be more slowed down; more breaks. Here, we're just trying to simulate the real speed of the game. That's how it goes; practice fast, play fast. I mean, it's shorter, but reps are more intense, and a lot more, you know."
Stahl is complimentary by nature, but he saves some of his best praise for his new offensive line coach, Sam Pittman. The energetic Pittman has breathed new life into a unit that was battered both physically and psychologically last fall, giving the group newfound confidence in its collective abilities.
"He's really brought confidence in ourselves; he always gives positive reinforcement," said Stahl. "He'll say what you've done right, what you need to work on, and then something else that you did good. It's always positive reinforcement while he's telling you things that you still need to work on. He's just a real good guy; he's a man of his word. If he says something, it'll happen. If he feels a certain way, he'll tell you too. I'd say the main thing is that he's very positive, and he makes us believe in ourselves, which is something we haven't had here."
The sophomore lineman also had good things to say about Davis, who, in his opinion, has done a good job of implementing his theories and concepts into the Tar Heel program while treating the players with respect and avoiding turning them off to his style.
"He (Davis) is also a man of his word, and if he says something, it will definitely happen," Stahl said. "He's treated the players really well, like we should be treated. He's very fair. He's not a coach that's always very 'up in your face,' like we've had in the past. He tries to set the scene where the players have to run the team, not the coaches, which is how it should be."
With his first legitimate opportunity to significantly help out the Tar Heels rapidly approaching, Stahl finds himself having trouble getting a good night's rest. He is consumed with images of coming out of the Kenan Stadium tunnel and realizing his dream of playing big-time college football in front of the UNC faithful, while also working to help Carolina light up the scoreboard against the Dukes.
"Oh man, I can't even tell you. I'm already having trouble at night sleeping, just because I've never played in front of a huge crowd, and it's my dream," he said. "The excitement level is all the way up to my skull. I'm just really looking forward to it; all the fans around here seem to have a good vibe about the season. We're all looking really sharp, too."