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December 24, 2011With the overwhelming majority of North Carolina's football players hailing from the eastern United States, one wouldn't expect there to be too many connections between UNC and Monday's Independence Bowl opponent Missouri.
But there is one connection in the trenches that will play a vital role in which team gets to hoist the bowl trophy at the end of the day on Monday.
North Carolina junior defensive tackle Sylvester Williams is perhaps one of the few Tar Heel players that has a specific motivation to play the Tigers beyond the obvious that it's the next game on the schedule, the last game on the schedule, and a bowl.
Naturally any bowl game brings out the fire in a true competitor, but for Williams, a native of the Show-Me State's capital of Jefferson City, there's a little more incentive to try and go out and beat Mizzou.
"I'm excited, you know. I've got some guys there (at Missouri) that I know, and honestly being over here (at UNC), I don't get to play many guys I know," he said.
WIlliams attended Jefferson City High School alongside Travis Ruth, who was the No. 10 prospect in Missouri and No. 47 offensive guard prospect nationally in the Rivals.com class of 2008 rankings.
Ruth was a year ahead of Williams in high school, but now he's a key component of the Tiger offense poised to match up head-to-head with Williams many times on Monday.
"Travis Ruth is the starting center at Missouri. I'm the starting D-tackle here, so we're going to go up against each other a lot this game," Williams said.
That North Carolina and Missouri are matching up in Shreveport in the first place is still something of a surprise in ACC country, borne from the stunning ascension of Virginia Tech into the Sugar Bowl even after they got blasted a second time by Clemson in the league championship game.
The news that the Tigers were playing the Tar Heels was met with excitement by many that knew both Ruth and Williams.
"We've got a lot of buddies back in Missouri that was laughing, because we talked about this matchup a long time ago, that maybe you and 'Trav will play against each other in a bowl game. And look at it---I'm playing Travis Ruth in a bowl game," Williams said.
As one of UNC's top inside presences along the defensive front, the matchup between Williams and Ruth is going to be an important one strategically for both teams.
"Hopefully I'll get the win and do better than he (Ruth) does. Obviously I'll be going home right after the game and have to deal with them (my high school friends in Missouri). But hopefully I'll get the win. That's what mostly matters," Williams said.
Williams said he's probably reach out to his former teammate, but he hasn't and won't stir the pot in the hours leading up to the game with excessive trash talk.
"I may just tell him (Ruth) good luck and tell him he's got to bring his game just like I know I've got to bring mine," Williams said. "I talk stuff with my buddies and stuff back home because we all went to high school together. It's going to be an exciting matchup. I'm really excited."
While Ruth went to Missouri straight out of high school, Williams took the JUCO route, attending Coffeyville Community College in Kansas for two years before enrolling at UNC.
Williams had his choice of several schools in the fall of 2010 and winter of 2011, including multiple Big 12 schools and UNC.
He says that Missouri did show some interest, but he decided he wanted to spread his wings and play his major college ball in a different part of the country.
"They (Mizzou) did recruit me some. I didn't have any interest in Missouri because I always wanted to get away from home and get out and view the world. So I decided to come to North Carolina," he said.
As one of the few Tar Heel players with specific familiarity with Missouri, he knows that UNC will have its hands full against this collection of Tiger players.
But he's eager for the challenge of taking on the flagship school of his home state and hopefully attaining bragging rights for years to come when he goes back there.
"I just know they're great players (playing for Missouri). I'm a great player and they're great players," he said. "So I'm excited about this opportunity, and hopefully we can come out with the win,"