Tar Heels get started on new beginning

acarter@newsobserver.comMarch 14, 2012 

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UNC football coach Larry Fedora watches his players work out on their first day of Spring practice on Wednesday March 14, 2012 at Navy Field in Chapel Hill, N.C. The Tar Heels are preparing for their Spring football game on April 14, 2012.

ROBERT WILLETT — ROBERT WILLETT - rwillett@newsobserver.com

— Larry Fedora’s first spring football practice at North Carolina came with a soundtrack. It came with speed and energy, and it even came with a can of his favorite drink: Red Bull. In the early moments of his team’s workout Wednesday, he took a few sips while scanning the scene before him.

The Tar Heels began spring practice on Wednesday afternoon, and for the first time, Fedora and his staff led their players through a couple hours of on-the-field work. UNC learned earlier this week that it wouldn’t be eligible to participate in the 2012 postseason, that there would be no ACC championship for which to contend, or bowl game beyond that.

The postseason ban was perhaps the most severe of the sanctions the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions dealt UNC in the aftermath of a scandal that tore into heart of the university’s athletic program. But if outsiders expected the latest blow to cast a pall over the start of spring practice, there wasn’t one.

“It’s definitely a blow, just knowing if you win out and go undefeated nothing is going to happen after that,” said Giovani Bernard, the running back. “For us, it’s not about the postseason, really. It about University of North Carolina football, and that we change. That we have a new offense and a new defense.

“That we have new players, new coaching staff. It’s just a new feel around here, and that’s the main thing.”

Fedora said he wanted Wednesday to represent a new beginning. He and his staff made the Tar Heels work at a faster pace than they’d been accustomed. Coaches asked for energy over execution, hoping that would come in due time.

And yes, they asked for song selections, too. Music blared throughout UNC’s two-hour practice – everything from rap and R&B to classic rock and alternative. The players chose their own songs, though some couldn’t remember afterward what they’d chosen or what they’d heard.

“I don’t know,” linebacker Kevin Reddick said when asked to name his contribution on the playlist. “Probably was a Young Jeezy song, but man, I was either hurt or tired, so I couldn’t really hear the music.”

That was the point, too: to practice at such a rapid pace that the surroundings become a blur. Bernard said the hardest part of the workout was finding time to breathe. James Hurst, an offensive lineman, said the difference in UNC’s practice pace now compared to last season’s was like the difference between high school and college football.

Fedora, meanwhile, said Wednesday’s pace was “not near the speed” at which the Tar Heels will practice once they grow accustomed to his expectations. And those would remain high, Fedora said, even without the motivating enticement of a 2012 bowl trip, thanks to the NCAA’s ruling.

Players who stopped to talk about the postseason ban shared disappointment and resolve.

“It kind of hurt, you know,” Reddick said. “Just not to be able to play another game if we was to get there. But at the same time, it’s like we’ve got a family – we’re a family, let’s just bond closer. That will bring us closer, because since I’ve been here I’ve been through a lot of adversity.

“And this is just another step, you know, to add to my timeline.”

Because he will be a senior and because UNC is facing a postseason ban, Reddick can transfer from the program and be eligible to play immediately at another school. He dismissed the thought on Wednesday, though.

“I’m here,” he said. “Here till I die, man.”

Sylvester Williams, a Tar Heels defensive tackle who also will be a senior next season, said he wasn’t considering leaving, either.

“I’m at home right now at North Carolina,” the junior-college transfer said. “I’ve been here since day one.”

The senior class that gathered here on Wednesday has been through no shortage of drama. There was the height of expectations during the Butch Davis era, and then the collapse of those expectations amid scandal. There was an NCAA investigation, Davis’ firing, Fedora’s hiring.

And finally, on Wednesday, a fresh start – one that couldn’t be sullied even if players know how it will end.

Staff writer Chip Alexander contributed to this report.

Carter: 919-829-8944

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