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August 8, 2012As a senior who has been in UNC's offensive rotation since the early days of his freshman season, Erik Highsmith is no stranger to expectations of performance.
But this summer it's a little different for the fourth-year wideout.
The Tar Heels were already thin at wide receiver heading into this summer with the offseason departures of Dwight Jones and Todd Harrelson, but with the onset of training camp, UNC has not gotten true freshman Quinshad Davis medically cleared yet, and on Sunday talented sophomore T.J. Thorpe broke his foot.
To compound the problem, fellow sophomores Reggie Wilkins and Sean Tapley weren't practicing Tuesday, which meant that true freshmen and walk-ons were getting repetitions with the first team at the various receiver positions at different points in practice.
"It's getting tougher and tougher every day (with the injuries at receiver)," Highsmith told THI on Tuesday after practice. "That's a tough thing."
So Highsmith, who already was expected to serve as a major producer and senior leader for the Tar Heels this fall, now finds himself in position where he not only has to perform and be a role model at practice, but he also has to try to give maximum effort while doing as much as possible---which admittedly isn't much---to try and stay healthy.
"(Tuesday's practice) I really felt the heat, but I know what I'm capable of. The coaches, they know what I'm capable of, and every time I slack up a little bit they yell at me, and I know I have to pick myself up a little bit," Highsmith said.
UNC head coach Larry Fedora has acknowledged his concerns about the wide receiver depth, and he admitted the concern the coaches have about trying to keep Highsmith and the other receivers fresh this summer.
That concern is exacerbated by the start of two-a-days on Wednesday.
"We have to be smart about how we handle them (the wide receivers)," Fedora said.
"We have to have enough legs to be able get through practices. We have to have enough legs to get through camp. Then, you can't be so worn out at the end of camp that you can't be at full speed each and every Saturday. We've got to juggle that whole thing during camp."
Given the time he's been in the huddle and the plays he's made over the years, it can be argued that Highsmith is not becoming a team leader for UNC just now.
He's been a leader on this team for a while now.
But with the losses at his position, combined with the fact that it's his senior year coming up, this summer has become a crucial period of time for Highsmith.
As the rock and foundation of the UNC wide receivers corps, Highsmith knows he's got to step up and be a model of consistency and execution every day during camp to make sure the offense is where it needs to be when game week arrives.
"I know I have to step up majorly now, be a senior leader, lead by example, be vocal, and go out there and make plays every chance I can get," he said.