The defensive backs at North Carolina still call themselves “the rude boys,” the nickname Dre Bly bestowed on the position group when he was an All-American cornerback in the late 1990s. Sometimes nicknames don’t fit, though.
At times in recent seasons, UNC’s secondary hasn’t often been all that rude. It hasn’t performed poorly, either, but the days of a dominant defensive backfield at UNC have been something of memory.
Perhaps now the Tar Heels have their best chance in long time at a kind of rude boy renaissance. There might not be a player of Bly’s caliber in the defensive backfield but the secondary appears to be the unquestioned strength of UNC’s defense entering the season.
And it appears that way, in part, because of the emergence of Desmond Lawrence and Brian Walker, a pair of sophomore cornerbacks from Charlotte. They’re roommates now, and have become best friends, but they arrived at UNC as strangers, almost. They didn’t really know each other in high school.
“Brian’s like my brother,” said Lawrence, who played at Charlotte Christian. “We do everything together, that’s my roommate, we were at camps together, we talked a lot at the camps and then when we got here, it was kind of like, ‘We’re going to do this together.’
“We want to be one of the best tandems to ever come through North Carolina.”
At the least, Lawrence and Walker have a chance to become one of the best cornerback tandems UNC has had in a while. The 6-1 Lawrence is known for his physicality while the 5-11 Walker, a former standout at Mallard Creek High, is known for his speed.
Physically, they’re different. Lawrence is taller and leaner. Walker is shorter, stockier. They play with the same kind of confidence, though, and their shared confidence might be their best intangible asset.
“They've got a tremendous competitive nature,” Vic Koenning, UNC’s defensive coordinator, said recently. “And if you’ve got, I don’t want to say a fearlessness about you, but you’ve got to have a little bit of that to play corner. You don’t want guys that are scared to mix it up.”
Lawrence and Walker both received plenty of experience during their freshman seasons. Walker appeared in every game, and started three, while Lawrence played in the eight games he was healthy enough to play.
During their high school years their paths rarely crossed until the camp circuit. Walker committed to UNC first, and Lawrence followed not long after. They talked some after that, and then became roommates when they arrived in Chapel Hill.
“We've gotten real close,” Walker said. “We're roommates, play the same position. We have the same bond. We have the same personality. We both like to work. We want to get better. We want to be the best two corners that ever came out of here. We have a lot to prove to ourselves and other people.”
Lawrence and Walker spent most of last season waiting and learning. They played behind Jabari Price, who was selected in the seventh round of the NFL draft, and Tim Scott, who has moved to safety for his senior season.
Sometimes they talked about the future, and about the kind of opportunity that awaits them – entering the season starting on opposite sides of the field. Lawrence is the boundary cornerback, where his physicality is an asset, while Walker is the field corner, a position that better utilizes his speed. Behind them now is another young cornerback, freshman M.J. Stewart, who has earned raves during the preseason.
“Those three are almost the same,” Koenning said. “They’re very competitive. Easy to coach. Want to please. Work their tails off. Physical. They’re three of the same type guys.”
They’re rude boys – and their hope is that it’s not in name only.