Everyone wants to ask Larry Fedora about South Carolina. If not North Carolina’s opening game this year, on a Thursday night in Columbia, then the just-announced opener against the Gamecocks in Charlotte in 2015.
At this point, Fedora told the Tar Heel Tour stop at North Ridge Country Club on Thursday, he’s more concerned about the Tar Heels’ home games than any they will play on the road. He’s expecting the same atmosphere at Kenan Stadium that he saw the one game they played “those guys in red.”
“If you’re excited now, it’s going to get real exciting in the future,” Fedora said. “We’re a long way from where I see us in my vision for the program. I’m still going to make a pitch for full stands each and every game. We’ve got to do it more than once. If we only do it once, we’re not getting any better. We have to do it at least twice.”
Fedora wasn’t pushing this hard with casual fans. Some of the Rams Club donors in attendance Thursday have been members for more than 50 years, the most loyal of the loyal. It made for an interesting illustration of that vision for the program, and how far away from it the Tar Heels are both on the field and in the stands.
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Coming off eight wins in Fedora’s first season – and a self-proclaimed ACC division title that Fedora would only allude to as “something else I’m not supposed to say anymore, so I won’t” – and returning one of the ACC’s best quarterbacks in Bryn Renner, the Tar Heels should be in better position this season than they were a year ago when Fedora took over, even with the loss of dynamic back Giovani Bernard.
They do have serious questions to answer on both sides of the ball, most urgently at running back and kick and punt returners, jobs filled more than ably by Bernard last season. Fedora said he’ll consider incoming freshmen in the return game and is likely to go with a running-back committee rather than a feature back. With the scholarship restrictions imposed by the NCAA, depth is an issue as well.
“It’s 112 days away and we have a lot of work to do in a short period of time to get ready to go down to Columbia,” Fedora said.
Ah, there’s no ignoring South Carolina, which lurks on the other side of the summer. It will be Jadeveon Clowney’s first game since his all-time highlight in the Outback Bowl against Michigan – smashing Wolverines running back Vincent Smith behind the line, detaching both the ball and his helmet, then recovering the fumble – and everyone in college football will be watching him.
“Everybody’s seen the hit Clowney put on the Michigan running back,” Fedora said. “We’ve seen it all year. It scares me to death. Everybody wants to see that guy play on national TV, and they’ll see us, too.”
After his remarks and some Q-and-A with the assembled Rams Club members, Fedora picked raffle winners, shrugging off radio broadcaster Jones Angell to read the names himself. The prizes included a pair of seats in the Blue Zone luxury seats for one game this season, and Fedora couldn’t resist poking fun at the people who hold many of those tickets.
“These come with strings attached,” Fedora said. “You have to keep your butt in the seats. Don’t go inside and have a beer and watch on TV. I don’t want to hear about how hot it is outside or any of that. You stay in the seat.”
Everyone wants to talk about South Carolina. At this point, Fedora is clearly still more concerned about North Carolina, where he sees plenty of work to be done right at home.