By Megan Walsh, GoHeels.com
Following North Carolina's victory last Thursday at Virginia, the realization sank in for UNC's senior class. Saturday's matchup against Maryland will be the last time Tar Heel football seniors will play in both a North Carolina uniform and in Kenan Stadium.
"It really did (sink in) and I'm really trying to focus on not letting it hit me too hard too soon," senior offensive guard Jonathan Cooper said. "I'm trying to focus on each one of these days and try to enjoy myself because I know my time is coming to an end."
But before Cooper and his teammates don their graduation robes, they have one thing left to accomplish on the football field: another win. Taking a victory against the Terrapins would push North Carolina to an 8-4 season with a 5-3 record in the ACC. It would also give UNC a share of the Coastal Division title.
"Our guys understand that first of all it's the opportunity to get number eight and again building on the legacy that these seniors want to leave of when a team comes in here to the Tar Pit, how hard it is to play," coach Larry Fedora said.
"Our guys want to win this football game and also if we take care of our business then there's a chance that we will have reached our goal as far as Coastal Division champs."
The Tar Heels are focusing all their attention on achieving those goals. With one more win left to accomplish, the determination behind this one is to dedicate it to the senior class. Along with standout players like Cooper, linebacker Kevin Reddick, kicker Casey Barth, defensive tackle Sylvester Williams and others, UNC will honor 17 seniors in Saturday's effort.
After those seniors opted out of a free opportunity to leave the team following NCAA sanctions and returned to Chapel Hill, quarterback Bryn Renner said that makes this final game even more meaningful.
"It's an emotional time," Renner said. "We've worked many hours and worked really hard this summer to prepare for this season, and we're just going to try to enjoy the time we have. It's going to be really just time to reflect and a good time to have with these seniors. It's going to be a big day for them. We really just want to send them out on a good note."
Cooper echoed those sentiments. He added that he can move on without playing a bowl game because the real impact of playing his final game for UNC comes with playing one final time alongside his teammates.
"I want to win the game on senior night, play to the best of my ability and win as a team," Cooper said. "If I cry, don't cry too hard. I can't imagine (what I'll be feeling). I really can't imagine. It's just going to be a rush and a mix of so many emotions. I feel like I'll be super excited, but sad it's over, but it is what it is."