CHAPEL HILL — After Eric Ebron disparaged N.C. State and Carter-Finley Stadium in comments to reporters following the Tar Heels win over Boston College last weekend, North Carolina opted not to make Ebron available to the media this week to discuss the impending matchup with the Wolfpack.
The unspoken hope is that the tight ends actions in Saturdays game against N.C. State will ring louder than any pre-game words.
If last years NCSU-UNC game will forever be remembered for Gio Bernards heroics Bernard returned a punt 74 yards for a touchdown with 13 seconds remaining to lift the Tar Heels to a thrilling 43-35 victory Ebron would seem to be the North Carolina player who is most capable of providing one or two dynamic plays to lead the Tar Heels this year.
He definitely has that ability, UNC offensive coordinator Blake Anderson said. We expect him to make plays, and hes made them every week. Hes got that ability to be the guy that can have some game-changing plays if he plays to his talent level and his work ethic, he will make some of those plays.
The Greensboro native almost propelled North Carolina to victory over Miami on Oct. 17, making eight catches for a career-high 199 yards. Among other highlights, the junior had a 71-yard touchdown catch in that game where he fought off a tackle and sprinted past the Hurricanes secondary.
It was unbelievable, UNC quarterback Bryn Renner said.
As impressive as that sequence was, a similar effort against the Wolfpack could really cement Ebrons place in UNC lore.
North Carolina coach Larry Fedora was asked about Bernard and his punt return no less than five times during his weekly press conference Monday. The queries ranged from what his vantage point was during the return (I was standing somewhere on that sideline; I dont know exactly what yard line, he joked) and whether that play was the most memorable of his coaching career (I would say thats probably the biggest one play that I can remember, he said).
Clearly, the adrenaline rush of the moment has only diminished so much in the course of a year.
That play was special, sophomore linebacker Jeff Schoettmer said. It goes down as one of the top plays in UNC history, really.
In general, the Tar Heels offense hasnt been characterized by big-play ability this year, which is one reason Ebrons athleticism stands out. At 6-foot-4, 245 pounds, Ebron has an enviable package of size and speed that could allow him to enjoy a notable NFL career.
Last year, in the middle of a season in which he set program records for receptions and receiving yards for a tight end, Ebron showed off his versatility by playing a couple snaps at defensive end against N.C. State.
Then against BC last Saturday, Ebron managed to convince the coaches to allow him to take a couple of handoffs in the backfield. After the win, Ebron said he didnt necessarily think he needed to add new dimensions to his offensive game, but that he wants to have the ball in his hands as much as possible.
Ebrons teammates wont disagree with that sentiment.
While the Tar Heels talked this week how they will need a complete team effort if they want to beat the Wolfpack, many of players mentioned Ebrons name when asked who they could see leading the team to victory a la Bernard.
He can really do it all, Renner said.