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UNC’s TJ Logan steps out of shadows, into leading role at Sun Bowl

North Carolina's T.J. Logan to start in Sun Bowl

Video: UNC running back T.J. Logan discusses the chance to start against Stanford in the Sun Bowl. Logan is approaching 5,000 all-purpose yards during his years at UNC, but he has thrived amid relative obscurity after arriving in college amid cons
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Video: UNC running back T.J. Logan discusses the chance to start against Stanford in the Sun Bowl. Logan is approaching 5,000 all-purpose yards during his years at UNC, but he has thrived amid relative obscurity after arriving in college amid cons

The last time T.J. Logan was a senior playing in his final game at a school, he ran for 510 yards and eight touchdowns. That was four years ago in the state championship game at Kenan Stadium during his senior year at Northern Guilford High.

“I’m number eight and I scored eight,” Logan, the North Carolina senior running back, said earlier this week after his final practice with the Tar Heels. “So that was pretty cool.”

Now comes another last: Logan’s last college game, Friday in the Sun Bowl.

The end of these four years of college football has brought back memories of his final high school game, when his 510 yards and eight touchdowns rewrote the state’s high school football record book. The last of those touchdowns came on a fake punt.

“A lot of people were mad at that,” Logan said with a laugh.

Logan’s final high school game – and what he did in the preceding years – followed him into college. He arrived at UNC with the kind of expectations reserved for only the most coveted of prospects, and a few years ago the thought was that it was only a matter of time before Logan became a star in college.

Before he ever played a game at UNC, his future appeared certain: 1,000-yard rushing seasons, All-ACC honors, perhaps an All-American team or three. The past four years haven’t exactly gone that way, though.

They have been good years for Logan. Productive years. Not long ago UNC coach Larry Fedora argued that Logan has had “a great career” with the Tar Heels – but, nonetheless, he has played behind Elijah Hood the past two seasons, and Logan at times has been the forgotten man in the UNC offense.

That will change against Stanford. Hood will be back in North Carolina, addressing the medical problem that will keep him from playing in the Sun Bowl, while Logan will start in his final college game.

“I get to get my legs under me, try to make some big runs and get my confidence up,” Logan said.

That has been one of his primary challenges the past few years: developing a rhythm given his relative lack of consistent opportunity.

Logan has averaged more than 5.7 yards per carry in three of his four seasons at UNC. In his final college season, he has gained nearly 600 rushing yards, and is averaging about 50 rushing yards per game. Still, he has rarely been the focal point of the offense the way many expected he would be.

Not that Logan has allowed that to bother him – at least not publicly. He has made a habit of saying the right things. He hasn’t complained about his playing time, though some UNC supporters undoubtedly would have liked to have seen more of him.

“The guy’s always got a smile on his face, he’ll do whatever you ask him to do,” Fedora said last month. “Whether it’s punt return, kickoff return, you put him on the field, whether he’s got a block, he’s got to do his job – he’s going to get his job done. He’s a tremendous teammate.”

The guy’s always got a smile on his face, he’ll do whatever you ask him to do. Whether it’s punt return, kickoff return, you put him on the field, whether he’s got a block, he’s got to do his job – he’s going to get his job done. He’s a tremendous teammate.

Larry Fedora on TJ Logan

Logan enters the Sun Bowl needing 78 yards – rushing, receiving or on kickoff returns – to move into third place in school history in all-purpose yards. He has gained 4,851 of those, which isn’t too far behind Amos Lawrence in the school record book.

If Logan gains 150 all-purpose yards on Friday – a figure he has reached in four games this season – he’d become the third player in school history to leave with 5,000 all-purpose yards. Don McCauley and Leon Johnson are the others.

McCauley remains one of the most beloved players in school history. Johnson, meanwhile, was the featured running back on some of Mack Brown’s best UNC teams in the early-to-mid 1990s. By comparison, Logan has thrived in relative obscurity.

He has been the second man in the Tar Heels’ backfield, another face in the crowd among Mitch Trubisky’s numerous receiving targets and the number one target for opposing teams on what’s considered the most dangerous play in the game: the kickoff return.

In his final college game comes the kind of opportunity Logan hasn’t often encountered at UNC – especially during the past two seasons. For all of Logan’s success as a runner, he has received more than 10 carries in a game only 10 times during the past four years.

Eight of those came during his freshman and sophomore seasons. Without Hood, though, UNC’s rushing success on Friday will be dependent on Logan. It’s an opportunity he embraces, but one he begrudges in a way, too, given how it presented itself.

“I want E to be out there with us,” Logan said of Hood. “The whole team does. But we always have that next man up mentality. Even when I was down or Khris (Francis) was down, just next man up.”

Logan is up, and not only as a return man. During the past four seasons, he has returned 77 kicks. He has blocked and at times served as a decoy.

He has done, as Fedora said, “whatever you ask him to do.” Rarely has he been featured the way he’s likely to be on Friday, though – the way he was years ago in high school, the way many thought he’d be that night when he ran for more than 500 yards and eight touchdowns in a state championship game.

“Hopefully it’s the same,” Logan said, thinking back on that game. “Maybe not the same numbers, but hopefully the same feeling.”

Andrew Carter: 919-829-8944, @_andrewcarter

UNC vs. Stanford

Sun Bowl

When: 2 p.m. Friday

Where: Sun Bowl Stadium, El Paso, Tex.

TV: CBS

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