By Megan Walsh, GoHeels.com
Sean Tapley didn't get many opportunities last season as a freshman wide receiver in a pro-style offense.
In fact, he got one. While running a curl route in the third quarter of UNC's matchup against Georgia Tech in 2011, Tapley finally got the ball he had been waiting for the entire first half.
"I was wide open and I was so excited about getting the ball that I thought about running before I caught the ball," Tapley said. "I took my eyes off of it, and it slipped right through my hands. It was tough."
Tapley's brief stint starting in place of an injured Erik Highsmith ended that day, and the play stayed seared in his mind throughout the offseason.
But when head coach Larry Fedora and his spread offense came to Carolina, Tapley earned a fresh start. With four touchdowns to his name at the midpoint of his sophomore season, the Jacksonville, Fla., native has come a long way since that haunting dropped pass.
Beyond working on his fundamentals - namely keeping his eyes on the ball and making a catch before moving his feet - Tapley has improved his confidence since his UNC beginnings.
"You actually see it in his game and you see it in his everyday life," cornerback Jabari Price said. "He's getting better and along with that he's building his confidence, as in no one can stop him. That's what we need if we want to be successful."
In Carolina's season opener against Elon, Tapley caught the first pass on Carolina's first drive for a first down. His success has stemmed from there.
His list of achievements now includes a 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Virginia Tech last weekend and another touchdown from a 19-yard reception later in the game. Both his teammates and coaches are taking notice.
"He doesn't say much," quarterback Bryn Renner said of the reserved Tapley. "But when he gets on the field he plays with the heart of a lion. He's not the biggest kid, but what he did on that kickoff return was special. He's really been a critical player for us as far as making plays like that."
Renner added that Tapley's focus has made him one of the first players to enter the Kenan Football Center each day and one of the last to leave. As of last spring, that drive to succeed has carried into his life off the field, as well.
After a grueling application process that included a lengthy application and a formal interview, Tapley was accepted to the prestigious Kenan-Flagler Business School in February.
"It's tough getting in and once you get in it gets a little tougher, but I'm just grinding," Tapley said. "I want to get that degree. That's my goal."
In the future, those goals will extend toward a career in marketing. For the time being, though, Tapley is focused on the business at hand - preparing for a trip to his home state to face Miami's secondary this Saturday.
"He just goes about his business every single day and works hard," Fedora said. "You don't ever have to worry about Tap. He's not a guy that you've got to continue to push hard because he's preparing himself each week. And it's all paid off for him."