CHARLOTTE — Just call Larry Fedora the rainmaker.
His North Carolina football team made its annual trip to Charlotte for a spring practice, and for the second time in three years, the Tar Heels brought bad weather with them. The UNC coach joked that whenever Charlotte needs rain, schedule a Tar Heels’ football practice.
But with a few hundred fans in the stands at Ardrey Kell High on Friday night, the Tar Heels ran a full two-hour practice in a homecoming for 13 Charlotte natives and even more players from the area on the team.
“There are a lot of great players in the Queen City, so we’re going to recruit this area very hard,” Fedora said. “This is probably our largest alumni base. We want to come out here and give them an opportunity to see what these kids are doing this spring but also all the players in the area, all the high school players in the area, it gives them a chance to see us as well.”
While Mallard Creek product Marquise Williams is projected to be the team’s starting quarterback entering the 2014 season, running back Elijah Hood and offensive tackle Bentley Spain are two Charlotte products vying for starting jobs at UNC.
Hood and Spain graduated from Charlotte Catholic and Providence, respectively, early to join the Tar Heels as January enrollees and begin their quest for starting spots. UNC does not allow freshmen to speak to the media until after the April 14 spring game.
Hood worked mostly with the second-team offense while sophomore T.J. Logan, who was the Tar Heels’ second-leading rusher last season, took the majority of first-team reps.
Hood, the U.S. Army national player of the year, ran Friday night much like he did during his career at Charlotte Catholic. Known to rarely go down on first contact in high school, Hood had a handful of big runs that mirrored some of his Mecklenburg County-record 8,981 career rushing yards.
“I feel like he’s a jaguar. Or a bear. He can’t be stopped,” Williams said. “The guy just runs very physically. He feels like nobody’s going to tackle him. That’s what I like about him.
“And he catches the ball out of the backfield really well, even though he played at Charlotte Catholic where they just handed it off to him all the time. He’s unbelievable he’s going to be great for us and help us in the run game.”
Hood fumbled during a goal line drill near the end of practice, but on the ensuing play he ran hard off the right guard and into the end zone. Hood, 6-foot and 220 pounds, will push Logan in training camp for the starting job.
Both Hood and Spain were on the sloppy side of the ball Friday night. The Tar Heels coughed the ball up three times as the defense out-shined the offense.
As for Spain, the Providence product could be the Tar Heels’ starting left tackle come late August. Sophomore John Ferranto saw the majority of first-team reps at left tackle, but the 6-foot-6, 285-pound Spain is projected to compete for the spot.
Spain played in the U.S. Army All-American Game last year and was ranked by Rivals.com as the fourth-best player in the state of North Carolina.
Williams hasn’t seen much of Spain yet in spring practice, but he knows Spain is considered to be the next James Hurst—UNC’s former left tackle who will likely be a mid-round selection in May’s draft.
“Both of those guys are extremely intelligent and have picked up the offense very quickly,” Fedora said. “Now they just need as much experience as we can get them rep-wise. But you saw (Hood) making some plays out there today. If you were watching Bentley he was doing a nice job over there. They just need more reps.”
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