Tar Heels ready to move on under Larry Fedora

The North Carolina Tar Heels know no matter how many games they

win under new coach Larry Fedora they won’t play in a bowl this


An NCAA investigation of the program hovered over training camp

the past two seasons, but now the results are in for the Tar Heels

and the former Southern Mississippi coach.

Still, defensive tackle Sylvester Williams said the Tar Heels

have a plan.

”At the end of the year, if we’re 12-0, we’ll know we should’ve

been ACC champs and we’ll be all right going home with that,”

Williams said. ”Stuff in the past, you’ve just got to kind of put

that behind you and move on.”

And there certainly is a lot the Tar Heels would love to leave


Two years ago, they were unsure of how many players would be

available for the opener and beyond due to the NCAA probe into

improper benefits and academic misconduct. Last year, they had an

interim coach after the abrupt firing of Butch Davis just before

preseason practice began.

The Tar Heels (7-6, 3-5 Atlantic Coast Conference) started 5-1,

but stumbled down the stretch and looked disinterested in a 41-24

loss to Missouri in the Independence Bowl.

New North Carolina athletic director Bubba Cunningham – whose

arrival was also a product of the NCAA probe – turned to Fedora, a

former assistant at Florida and Oklahoma State who spent four years

with the Golden Eagles and led them to last year’s Conference USA


Fedora, 49, has been aggressive in recruiting, meeting with

school supporters and reaching out to university faculty turned off

by the program’s reputation-damaging troubles. He also speaks

frankly about holding players accountable for their actions, down

to installing a rule prohibiting players wearing hats or earrings

in the football building.

”I don’t know if they’ve embraced it the same way, but you

don’t have much choice with rules,” Fedora said. ”When you’re

trying to change habits that guys have, it doesn’t happen

overnight. I’ll still see a guy with a hat on and he forgets.

They’re kids. … They’ll see me and see if they’ve got (earrings)

in. They don’t even know. But I know they’re thinking about


When asked whether the players were embracing those changes,

senior linebacker Kevin Reddick was blunt.

”Absolutely, because they have no choice,” he said. ”He

instills that in us: you have no choice. Either you get aboard or

you get left behind.”

Fedora’s staff also pushed the players to practice at a faster

pace through spring drills as they turn to a no-huddle spread

offense and a 4-2-5 defense.

The offense seems positioned for a strong year. Four starters

return to the offensive line to open holes for sophomore Gio

Bernard, who ran for more than 1,200 yards last year to become the

first Tar Heel to crack the 1,000-yard mark in a season since


In addition, junior Bryn Renner is preparing for his second full

season as the starting quarterback while senior Erik Highsmith

returns to lead the receivers.

There are more questions on the defense with only five returning

starters, though North Carolina should be solid up front with

Williams and Kareem Martin, and with Reddick at linebacker.

The Tar Heels are also getting a boost with the return of kicker

Casey Barth, who was granted a medical hardship waiver to play a

fifth year after playing just three games last season due to an

injured groin.

In addition to the bowl ban, the NCAA in March imposed a

15-scholarship reduction over three years, with the first five

coming this fall. Fedora said he thinks everyone associated with

UNC football is ”tired” of talking about the past and doesn’t

want to hear about it anymore. His players seem to agree.

”People are always going to scrutinize you but we’re used to

that,” senior offensive tackle Jonathan Cooper said. ”We’re just

playing for one another. We’re excited to start over and do the

best we can.”