This is where you have to get up and dance, where you have to entertain, Larry Fedora told Bentley Spain on Friday afternoon. They were standing outside of a big auditorium at the annual ACC football kickoff, about to walk in and face the cameras and the lights.
Spain, the rising senior offensive lineman from Charlotte, did not dance. Not in a literal sense, anyway. In a figurative sense, though, football conference media days are a dance of a different kind – days of performance of art in which coaches and players answer the same old questions, over and over.
And so goes the familiar dance of the preseason. That Spain was here says something about the UNC offense. Fedora, entering his sixth season as UNC’s head coach, had few other options when choosing which offensive player would represent his program in front of the assembled media mass.
Indeed, Spain is a rare commodity on the UNC offense: He is a returning starter, for one, and a proven difference-maker, and those are two things the Tar Heels cannot take for granted in this, their summer of rebuilding and replacing.
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UNC’s personnel losses on offense are considerable: its starting quarterback (Mitch Trubisky); its top three running backs (Elijah Hood, T.J. Logan and Khris Francis); two of its best offensive linemen (Lucas Crowley, Caleb Peterson). Spain is now an elder, a steadying force for a unit in transition.
He was asked on Friday to speak on behalf of an offense that has lost players who accounted last season for more than 98 percent of the Tar Heels’ passing and rushing yards. It is easier to remember who has left than to know who is returning.
Like at quarterback, for instance. Trubisky is gone, and those vying to replace him are all relative unknowns: Brandon Harris, a transfer from LSU, and returnees Chazz Surratt, Logan Byrd and Nathan Elliott.
“I’m extremely happy for Mitch, and we definitely miss him and wish him the best,” Spain said. “But the next guy is going to step up.”
Or so the hope goes, both at quarterback and everywhere else the Tar Heels face these kinds of questions. Never before, Fedora said, has he encountered such a rebuilding project. Spain, then, provides something of a foundation, a stabilizing presence.