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March 17, 2011As North Carolina started its 2011 spring practice season on Wednesday, the Tar Heel players and coaches were naturally asked several questions about the status of the NCAA investigation and how that affects them heading in.
It's been a while since reporters have gotten a chance to ask such questions to the players and head coach Butch Davis. Davis hasn't had a press conference since National Signing Day last month, while the players haven't done coordinated interviews with the local press since the Music City Bowl.
Over that period of time the Tar Heel players seem to have really allowed the NCAA situation to move beyond them.
The ones we spoke with all seemed as if it's no longer a prevailing thought on anyone's mind.
"We're really trying to take the point of starting fresh," said quarterback Bryn Renner. "Last season is in the past and we've got to push forward to this season and just have a new mindset. Everybody is focused and ready to go."
"I know I haven't been paying attention to it, not really. I'm just moving forward," said rising junior wide receiver Jheranie Boyd. "We really don't talk about it. We're just going on with our meetings, talk about what we need to talk about, but as far as the NCAA, we haven't mentioned anything about it."
"No, we're not even thinking about sanctions anymore," said rising senior All-ACC defensive lineman Quinton Coples. "It's all about just us now and we're just going out and getting ready for this season, taking care of this season and us making a BCS bowl game."
"I haven't really thought that much about it to be honest with you," added Coach Davis.
"They (the NCAA) haven't been here in several months, and that's something that obviously the University, the institution, that's more in their area of expertise."
"Ours is to try to get this football team ready to play the 2011 season." Davis added.
The fact that everyone currently practicing with the Tar Heels has been checked out and completely cleared of any impactful situation as it relates to the NCAA certainly helps.
"All the players that are here are obviously are cleared and eligible to play, and we're going to prepare this football team for 2011 to be the best we can be," said Davis.
For the players, the key has been simply to try to get it the whole NCAA thing out of their minds.
It's not all that hard for the players to do given their extreme time demands with schoolwork, weight lifting, and now the onset of practice once again.
"We really don't pay attention to that honestly," said Renner. "I think us as players, we kind try to put that out of our mind and kind of just focus on playing the game. That's the approach we've been taking even during the season when it was going on still."
"It's still going on---and we know it, we're aware of it---but we're just trying to focus on just playing ball."
"I think it has (kind of slipped our minds)," Boyd added. "I forgot we were under investigation still. I haven't been paying any attention to it. I don't know anything about it. I don't know."
"A lot of people, they're not really paying attention to it," Boyd continued. "I didn't remember until I think I saw something on ESPN talking about the investigation. I didn't even realize."
"I think the team has actually responded real well as far as what happened to us NCAA-wise. So I think we're relieved from it. We're stress free and we're ready to play football again. I think so," said Coples.
With no potential resolution from the NCAA in sight, there's really no reason for the Tar Heel players and coaches to dwell on the situation.
After all, they've got enough on their plate having to prepare for the likes of Virginia Tech, Miami, Georgia Tech, N.C. State, Clemson, and everyone else on the docket of games next fall.
"We're ready for it to end, and we kind of just want to rest and just focus on our play, so I think we're ready for that," said Renner.
"Oh yeah, we're definitely anxious and more than ready for it to be resolved," Coples said.
"Nope, not at all (am I worried about the resolution). Just work on the things that we can control, and that's us," added Coach Davis. "I'd love to get it over with, but we couldn't control it during the fall of last year, and certainly don't have any control over it now."
Davis indicated that some of the players who were ruled permanently ineligible last year talked to the returning players and expressed their sincere regret about the circumstances that resulted in their Tar Heel careers being taken away from them.
The hope is that the younger UNC players will take to heart the lessons that players like Greg Little, Marvin Austin, and Robert Quinn had to learn the hard way.
"I know that the guys that got suspended, they have expressed emphatically to these guys the remorse that they went through, and how devastating it was for them to have to sit in the stands and watch games and not be a part of beating Florida State and not being a part of going to a bowl game and winning, beating Tennessee," said Davis.
"It crushed a lot of them. They sat in the stands and cried. They didn't like it, and I think they've shared that at times with guys on the football team. I don't think that message will be lost for a while."
"I think a lot more accountability of looking after each other, putting an awful lot of peer pressure within the football team to look after each other and help guys make good, smart, wise decisions (is a good thing)," Davis added.
Davis believes that one possible benefit out of the NCAA mess is that the players have more sense of urgency in terms of knowing how quickly their situation can change, and how important it is to get ready to play.
"There's a lot of things that can derail and it doesn't necessarily have to do with the talent on your football team," Davis said. "I think there's a lot more seriousness in this past nine or ten weeks leading up to the start of spring practice."
"I think the way that they've approached the offseason conditioning and lifting program, and certainly from an academic standpoint, (is) a lot more seriousness."
Not that long ago Coach Davis took part in a coaching event in which he was able to talk with several prominent college coaches, including Boise State's Chris Petersen, about the UNC situation with the NCAA and how other schools might learn from it.
"I went on a trip that Nike sponsors every year, and one of the deals is that a lot of us (head coaches) spend a lot of time talking about all of the things---agent seminars, education, extra benefits---and you talk to a bunch of different coaches about how they handle it," Davis said.
"They ask questions about some of the stuff that went on here, and you just try to share with people that you know."
"You don't want anybody to ever have to go through what we went through," Davis added.
"I've got a lot of respect for a lot of coaches at a lot of programs, and if there's a way that I can help them, you'd like to be able to help them and they can certainly help me."