Nazair Jones carries it with him before road games, into hostile opposing stadiums. He carries it off the field after games, usually wrapped around his neck like a towel. During the week, he keeps it in his locker at North Carolina.
“It’s just like my helmet and shoulder pads,” said Jones, the Tar Heels’ junior defensive tackle. “It’s going to be with me, regardless.”
Jones always knows where the chain is. It’s a thick chain, heavy duty and industrial-sized. It looks like something that’d be at home at a construction site, perhaps, or hanging off a bulldozer, or wrapped around a powerful piece of machinery, securing it in place on the back of a flatbed truck.
Undoubtedly, people have seen Jones with the chain and wondered: What’s that about? Why before and after games is he always toting about six feet worth of thick, heavy metal with him everywhere. It’s not uncommon for Jones, as a team captain, to bring the chain when he goes out to midfield for the coin toss.
The UNC defensive line started carrying the chain around last season, after defensive line coach Tray Scott brought the chain into the program. Jones, as something of the elder statesman of the position now, has most often been the chain-bearer this season.
“It’s basically just a big thing about symbolism about how we have to be like a group,” Jones said, “and we’ve all got to be a strong link in the group and we can’t let our brothers down. So that’s really all it is.”
Jones treats the chain as he does any other part of his uniform. It’s as essential a part of his game day attire as his helmet or cleats and symbolically it’s perhaps more important: the chain represents unity, each link doing its own part to hold the entire unit together.
When Jones missed a game earlier this season, he passed the chain down to Jeremiah Clarke, a sophomore defensive tackle. Several weeks later, Clarke sealed a victory at Miami when he recovered a fumble that was forced by Malik Carney, the sophomore defensive end.
The play embodied the kind of message behind the chain: each player doing his part. During games, that message is easily conveyed. The chain is never too far away from the Tar Heels’ defensive linemen.
“I usually sit on the edge seat of the bench,” Jones said, “So it’s right there hanging on the back seat of our bench most of the time.”
Jones and his teammates on the defensive line played their two best games in UNC’s past two victories, the one at Miami on Oct. 15 and then another at Virginia on Oct. 22. At Miami, the Tar Heels allowed 139 yards rushing, then a season-low. The next week at Virginia, UNC allowed 110 yards rushing.
Afterward Jones and his teammates celebrated one of their strongest performances. He walked off the field wearing the chain.