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March 25, 2010

Spring Notebook 3

North Carolina head coach Butch Davis spoke with reporters Wednesday afternoon prior to his team's sixth spring practice about multiple topics---including a look back at one of the more notable eras in his coaching career.

During his time as an assistant coach at the Univeresity of Miami, Davis was there for the Hurricanes' devastating loss in the NCAA title game in the Fiesta Bowl to Penn State to close out the 1986 season.

He was also there as the 1987 Hurricanes, led by a wealth of veterans like Danny Stubbs, Melvin Bratton, Michael Irvin, and the Blades Brothers, along with a group of talented new faces, went all the way and won an undefeated national championship.

"Coming off that '86 team, we had Jerome Brown and Vinny Testaverde and Winston Moss and Alonzo Highsmith---we had a lot of terrific players," Davis said.

"The national championship game the next year (1987) was kind of with some unsung heroes who eventually became very, very good players---Russell Maryland, who was waiting in the wings, and Danny Stubbs and Greg Mark and Steve Walsh. No one had really heard much of Steve Walsh (before then)."

How this relates to the 2010 North Carolina football team is that coming off back-to-back 8-5 seasons and getting a whiff of what it takes to be successful, the Tar Heels seem to be working with a purpose this spring bent on making sure it doesn't let a potentially great opportunity slip away this fall.

"Success breeds success, and it creates an attitude of expectation and an attitude of what it takes to try to get to where you want to go," Davis said. "Certainly a lot of that I think comes from kids being older."

"We've got for the first time a pretty significant group of juniors and seniors, and these guys, they're a little bit on a mission," he added. "They think we've got something that's potentially unique and special, and they don't want to lose that opportunity."

Having so many veterans in the lineup this spring is allowing the team to practice much faster and more efficiently according to Davis.

"Certainly the experience factor allows you to do an awful lot more than a traditional spring practice," he said. "We can practice faster. We can practice a lot more sophisticated things, and at the same time not have to rely on it being as physical a practice---we can go at almost 'game tempo' without having to worry about all the contact and the injury aspects of it."

Davis spoke in detail about Carolina's upcoming Spring Game, which will be held in Kenan Stadium on Saturday, April 10 and is scheduled to kick off at 3:00 pm.

This is the first time under Coach Davis that UNC is playing more of an actual football game for its Spring finale as opposed to what has been little more than glorified practices in recent years.

"In previous years the limited number of players forced us to basically kind of have a preliminary 35 to 40 minute practice prior to just kind of a big scrimmage, where we would kind of scrimmage for maybe 45 to 60 plays," Davis said.

"We're far enough along now in the program that we've got enough players and we've got enough quality walk-ons that can certainly contribute to that effort that it is going to allow us to have a legitimate Blue-White game."

While depth is still a concern at a couple of positions this spring, the Tar Heels are going to manage to put two distinct teams on the field that actually play each other for the Spring Game instead of just having the offense and defense run plays.

"There's not a lot of depth---I mean certainly we won't have a lot of third and fourth team players---but we will have two teams that will have some limited back-ups at some of the positions," he said.

The game will be 'live' in terms of full-contact hitting with officials and a running game clock, and while they probably won't run live punts, there will be several special teams situations played out.

"We are going to actually try to do some of the kicking game situations. We'll probably fair catch punts. It will be full speed live on everything else," Davis said.

The game, which is scheduled to be televised on ESPN, has to be played within a two-hour timeframe to accommodate the network, which means it will be shorter than a normal game.

"The only probably difference that we'll have from a traditional, normal game, we'll probably play 12 minute quarters, as opposed to 15 minute quarters," Davis said. "We're under a little bit of a time constraint from the standpoint that ESPN wants this to be a two-hour package."

"Traditionally they give you three hours to try and play a complete 15-minute game with a halftime (during the regular season), so we're going to try to limit it to just two hours, and 12 minute quarters will just about allow us to do that," he added.

This year's Spring Game is the climax of what has turned into a month of weekend activities for the Tar Heel football program.

After hosting several hundred high school football coaches last weekend at the annual UNC Coaches Clinic, the program will host a large group of recruits this weekend for a Junior Day.

Along with the Spring Game, there are also plans for a UNC football alumni golf function.

"I think we've tried to have Junior Days (in the past), and we've got Alumni Golf tournaments coming up. We've got a lot of functions throughout the spring," Davis said.

"We're trying to use the football program as an opportunity to kind of tie-in a lot of things, whether it's fund-raising for the stadium (expansion), whether it's alumni and former football players and lettermen, or whether it's recruits," Davis added.

"It adds a little bit on the plate of the coaches to have to juggle an awful lot of things, but it's adding to the excitement of it. There's a lot of stuff going on, on campus, and I think the players enjoy being a part of it."

Davis indicated that the teams' five true freshmen that are working out this spring are coming along progressively, and while none of them are going to come out of this spring season the final product, all of them are getting valuable exposure which could lead to them helping the team next fall.

"I think they (the spring freshmen) are off to a good start," Davis said. "They had eight weeks to get ready physically, and I think (we are) just trying to find out where they are as far as how strong are they? How flexible are they? What kind of speed and quickness (do they have)? What are things that they need to focus on and work on?"

"You're not going to fix everything that they need in eight weeks," Davis added. "It is going to be an on-going process throughout the rest of this second semester and over the summertime and even clearly throughout their first year as true freshmen here, but they are excellent workers."

"One of things in our recruiting process, we really try and focus in on kids that love to play. They love to compete. They like to work, and all of those guys have really embraced what Jeff (Connors) does in the weight room and we've had great success with our early signees," he continued. "Over the last couple of years all of them have come in here and done a really good job contributing their first years."

"You look at what Zack Pianalto and Bruce (Carter) and Quan (Sturdivant) were able to do in that very first year, and some of these guys will have an opportunity to make some contributions (as well),"

Davis also touched again on senior running back Shaun Draughn, who as we reported last week spent time this offseason working with UNC's track and field program.

The fourth-year UNC head coach says he's pleased with Draughn's recovery from last year's shoulder injury, and the time he spent with the track program has helped him.

"I think he's looked very good (in practice)," said Davis of Draughn. "I think he is as big and strong as he was a year ago, but he looks significantly quicker and faster than he did---almost back to where he looked in 2008."

"I think one of the things besides the typical off-season things, we took probably 25 of our players and we spent at least one day a week, and sometimes twice a week, working with the track program," he added.

"Even though they didn't participate in indoor track meets themselves, they got an opportunity to work with the track coach on eliminating wasted motion in their running mechanics, about accelerating and speeding up the revolutions and how fast their feet run and how quick they turn their legs over. And I think Shaun has really benefited from that."


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