Commentary

Tudor: Heels put the fun in Fedora debut

ctudor@newsobserver.comSeptember 2, 2012 

UNC07-SP-090112-RTW

UNC head coach Larry Fedora thanks the fans in the student section following the Tar Heels' 62-0 victory over Elon on Saturday September 1, 2012 at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill, N.C.

ROBERT WILLETT — rwillett@newsobserver.com

— The Larry Fedora era in UNC football officially began Saturday in Kenan Stadium with a 62-0 win over Elon that wasn’t radically different from the way Butch Davis and Everett Withers got started.

It may seem long ago to some distraught fans, but Davis’ first game in 2007 ended in a 37-14 romp over James Madison.

Withers, the interim head coach and former Davis assistant, began last season with a 42-10 win over JMU.

But this season-opening waltz came with a sense of stability even as Fedora relentlessly paced the sidelines and folks wilted in the stands.

So oppressive was the weather that more than 20 fans were treated for heat-related problems.

Coupled with a 12:30 p.m. kickoff, those 90-degree temperatures and high humidity no doubt contributed to the many no-shows and early departures.

“It was so hot out there I couldn’t quit sweating for a minute, even when I wasn’t in the game,” said senior wide receiver Erik Highsmith. “But it was fun. It was what we wanted to show. We’ve worked the hardest during this off-season we’ve ever worked.”

Long term, that fun factor likely will rate as the issue of primary importance in Fedora’s debut.

The schedule will get more difficult, of course. Starting with Saturday’s game at Wake Forest (3 p.m.), the Tar Heels will find it harder to score, snuff opposing offenses and return kicks with such stunning ease was was the case against the hopelessly outmanned Phoenix.

But after more than two years of uncertainly and anxiety in the locker room and in the stadium, the Tar Heels were glad for a new beginning.

Although a NCAA probation means there will be no bowl game or any hope of an ACC title this season for the players, it’s obvious they’re excited about the possibilities they see in playing for Fedora.

“It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun,” defensive lineman Sylvester Williams said.

The word “fun” was used frequently, even by Fedora, who got a kick out of watching tailback Gio Bernard stuff a stat sheet from almost every direction possible.

“That was exciting for because that’s the first time I’ve seen him play in a game,” Fedora said. “I’ve seen it in practice but until you see it in a game … that’s a lot of fun to see.”

Bernard left the game with an undisclosed injury just before halftime, but Fedora said twice that the sophomore could have played if needed in the second half.

Bernard wasn’t needed deep into the game, of course. Neither was quarterback Bryn Renner, who passed for 236 yards and three touchdowns.

In the second half, Fedora even ordered offensive coordinator Blake Anderson to scale back the attack mentality. “He got bad and he stays made. He’s probably mad at me right now, but was time to move on,” Fedora said.

The Tar Heels and school officials have been talking about “moving on” for a long time, but some movement took place Saturday on and off the field.

The weather was awful, as was the game after a quarter or so. But the Fedora era is under way, and the coach in this case felt it as much as anyone.

“It was awesome,” Fedora said of his day. “It was awesome from waking up in the morning in Chapel Hill and having my family here to see it _ just a great feeling.”

Tudor: 919-829-8946

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