UNC takes a hit

An NCAA investigation and a linebacker's arrest have put the Tar Heels on the defensive this summer.

Staff writerJuly 24, 2010 

  • Today: UNC - As the NCAA continues to investigate, this wasn't the offseason coach Butch Davis or his Tar Heels expected.

    Sunday: Five things to watch as ACC teams rev up for the football season.

Louisiana State football coach Les Miles spent Friday at the SEC media days talking about his quarterback, his defense, chasing Alabama in his division and his team's season-opener against North Carolina.

Nowhere in the question-and-answer session was Miles asked about an NCAA investigation.

North Carolina's football team would welcome questions about the Chick-fil-A Kickoff on Sept. 4 in Atlanta, but an NCAA investigation into two stars and an arrest of an All-ACC linebacker in July have turned the focus away from football.

What was supposed to be a feel-good summer of anticipation of a breakout fall for the Tar Heels has turned instead into a referendum on agents and their role in college football.

Despite the distractions, Davis said Thursday his players were excited to get back to football and continue to move the program forward from what had been a dream sequence since the 2009 season ended with a one-point loss to Pittsburgh in the Meineke Bowl in Charlotte.

Davis believes the program, which has posted consecutive 8-5 seasons, can handle the July setbacks.

"The majority of our football program, they are doing absolutely everything that we would like for them to do," Davis said.

The school has not launched its own investigation, UNC spokesman Steve Kirschner confirmed Friday. The NCAA told the school it could not interview players before or after the NCAA interviews, he confirmed, because it might hinder the NCAA investigation.

Senior defensive tackle Marvin Austin and senior wide receiver Greg Little were both interviewed by NCAA officials last week in relation to an investigation concerning possible improper contact with agents.

Davis met with his players in Chapel Hill on Tuesday. Players are scheduled to return to campus for the start of practice on Aug. 6.

But since a nearly flawless spring game with almost 30,000 fans at Kenan Stadium and in front of a national audience on ESPN, the build-up for UNC's opener has been put on the backburner.

Miles, for his part, seems to be confused about which side of the ball is UNC's strength.

"Nobody went into summer knowing that we were going to play a very good, quality football team to start," the LSU coach said at the SEC gathering in Hoover, Ala. "Now the challenge is to make the offensive line better. The challenge is to make a defense ready for a very, very good North Carolina offense."

(UNC ranked No. 6 in the country in total defense last season but No. 108 in total offense.)

UNC could not have asked for a better beginning to this football offseason. A group of six juniors decided to return to school for the 2010 season in the first week of January.

Top recruit James Hurst enrolled early in January, giving the left tackle a head start on his freshman season.

The spring game was a national showcase for Davis' fourth team, which has been tabbed by Phil Steele as a potential national title contender and picked by ESPN's Chris Spielman as the No. 5 team in the country.

Then on July 10, All-ACC linebacker Quan Sturdivant was arrested for simple possession of marijuana during a traffic stop in Albermarle.

Two days later, NCAA investigators arrived in Chapel Hill to interview UNC players.

On July 15, athletic director Dick Baddour confirmed the NCAA had begun an investigation at the school, and on Thursday, Davis confirmed the investigation concerned his football program.

Davis declined to comment on the details of the NCAA investigation. He issued a statement through the university after Sturdivant's arrest.

"In addition to the outcome of the legal process, he also will face disciplinary action from within the football program beginning immediately," Davis is quoted in the statement.

What that internal punishment consists of, Davis has declined to reveal in the past.

Fullback Anthony Elzy was arrested last May on a similar marijuana charge and did not miss any game time due to the arrest.

The coach viewed the legal problems for Sturdivant and the NCAA investigation as an opportunity.

"When kids make mistakes, that's why they call you a coach and a teacher," Davis said. "It gives you an opportunity to try to help them learn from their mistakes."

Staff writer Robbi Pickeral contributed to this report.

jp.giglio@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8938

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