Here we go. As I write this, there are slightly more than 48 hours before Carolina kicks off the 2012 football season with a first-ever meeting with Elon. The excitment for this Saturday has been building since December 8, 2011. That afternoon, a press release was sent out to announce the name of Carolina's new head football coach, Larry Fedora. The next afternoon, Fedora was introduced in the Loudermilk Center, overlooking the field that his team would take some 268 days later. It was written then that Fedora 'won the press conference.' Saturday, Fedora's team has the chance to win their first game.
Indulge me for a moment, if you will. When I was a child, I went to Camp Cheerio in the mountains. I enjoyed my experience and wanted to bring something home to my parents. In the arts and crafts hut, I worked on a key chain holder to bring home. By hand, I screwed several hooks into a small, round piece of wood. Above the hooks, I painted 'Mom's Keys.' I made a similar sign that read, 'Dad's Office,' because every estate attorney wants a hand-painted sign from his ten-year old in his very professional workplace. The crafts were kitschy, but I couldn't wait to show my parents.
There's been a similar theme around the Kenan Football Center this week. Carolina players are anxious to show off what they've been working on. They can't wait to show you, the fans, alumni and followers who have stood by them through the most turbulent time in program history. You fought for them, and you continue to wear the colors. The players have been at (training) camp, learning new offensive and defensive systems. Learning a new brand of football. They've got something to show you.
There's an increased tempo in practice and on the game field. There's no rest for the weary (defenses). "We're ready to really show everybody what we've been working on once we get out there, once we start marking the ball down," Giovani Bernard said. "People are going to cheer, and then the next play is going to be up. We're ready to show everybody what we've been working on."
That offense has been rehearsing against a brand new defense, a 4-2-5 system that promises to attack, blitz and stunt. "I can't wait to show everybody what we have worked so hard to do in camp and spring ball," linebacker Kevin Reddick said. "Now I just can't wait to show them what we've got on Saturday."
The no-huddle spread has gone against the 4-2-5 for weeks now. They've been working against one another to eventually work together against a 12-game schedule. "We're really looking forward to playing a different team," quarterback Bryn Renner said Monday. "We've kind of been beating each other around for the last 30 days or so. We're just looking forward to playing a different opponent."
There's a different excitment in the air. This team knows that the 12 games on its schedule are all the games they'll play; it's all they've got. They want to win all 12 games, but they also want to show you how they've turned the page. "It's new start," defensive end Kareem Martin said. "It's a new season. The past few years, we've always been in the media for the wrong things. This year, we've finally been able to go in with a clean slate. I think we can just focus on football now."
Safety Tre Boston, thrown into the fire two years ago at cornerback when much of the secondary was held out due to the NCAA investigation, is a junior safety now. He's paid his dues. Now, he's ready to shine. "I'm very excited," he said. "Elon is a chance for our defense to show exactly what we have and this new 4-2-5, people want to know what it looks like and we want to show them exactly what we want it to look like." Boston said that, in addition to the 11 defensive starters, he expects five or six more players to impact the game Saturday. "We want to be able to have two-deep everywhere," he said. He highlighed free safety starter Sam Smiley, a redshirt freshman, and sophomore reserve linebacker P.J. Clyburn as ones to watch for.
Like his teammates, Boston knows that the Elon game is just one game. But you get the sense that they think it's the start of something much bigger. "This is going to be an excellent program when Coach Fedora gets done with it, he said. "This weekend, we plan on showing y'all just the beginning of it. Hopefully, we can make everybody proud, because we definitely want to make ourselves proud, and show y'all what we need this to be."
On Saturday, Carolina football players plan on not only executing a game plan, but making you proud while doing it. They can't wait to show you what they've built. Carolina football is back. "Ready or not, it's here," Fedora said Monday. So it is. Here we go.Turner Walston is the managing editor of Tar Heel Monthly.
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