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July 21, 2011

Football draws closer

As I sat at my desk on Wednesday afternoon, suddenly the announcers on a nearby television could be heard discussing college football.

The next voices were those of various coaches in the Southeastern Conference. ESPN was broadcasting live from SEC media day, the unofficial start to the football season.

Practice is still a few weeks away, but the searing sun baking the county is as much a beacon leading us to summer camp as it is discomfort for ordinary folks trudging through it.

For the players, the heat is punishing preparation for what is soon to come. Strength and conditioning coaches across the country have been running their pupils in the heat, working them in an effort to tune their systems to what they will endure in August, weaning them from the cool rooms in which they would otherwise lounge if not prodded to expose themselves to the 100-degree heat and breathtaking humidity.

As I listened to South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier and the other SEC coaches field questions and discuss college football and their teams, my pulse quickened.

The idea of just how close we are now getting to the start of a new season began to stir my love for the game once again and my eagerness to watch another season.

On Sunday, Adam Powell and I will travel to Pinehurst for the ACC's annual Football Kickoff, which is our local version of the SEC's media days. We will interview all the coaches from around the ACC and various players from each team.

Unofficially, while practice is not yet here, the season will have started.

The excitement will spill across the rooms at the Pinehurst Country Club, given every team is undefeated at this point and there is hope for those who genuinely believe they can exceed their performances of a year ago or recreate something of a similar nature.


For Carolina, the desire is to exceed the accomplishments on the field in 2010, which were significant given the circumstances, but to avoid the troubles that caused so much controversy last fall.

Unfortunately, the final verdict of an NCAA investigation into wrongdoing on the part of a few players is scheduled to come toward the middle of the season. But Coach Butch Davis, his team and his staff proved a year ago the depth of talent and the commitment to perform is enough to overcome for these Tar Heels.

There are plenty of reasons for hope on the part of Carolina, too.

UNC has players at several positions who can match or exceed what anyone in the nation has to offer. For all the talk about the dominant lines in the SEC, the Tar Heels' tandem of Quinton Coples and [/db]Donte Paige-Moss[/db] take second to no one.

And there is not going to be a large drop-off when Kareem Martin and Tim Jackson rotate in place of Paige-Moss and Coples.

The offensive line has a chance to be the best in a couple of decades at Carolina. Left-tackle James Hurst started all of last season as a freshman, an unheard-of accomplishment.

Bryn Renner will be a first-year starter at quarterback, but he brings excellent athleticism and one of the strongest arms ever for a Carolina quarterback.

He will be aided by Dwight Jones, who has a chance to become one of the top wide receivers in the nation, not just the ACC. At 6-4 and with a great deal more strength than when he arrived at Carolina, Jones is a special player. Fortunately for Renner, Jones is just one of several such potential stars at wideout.

Erik Highsmith and Jheranie Boyd have shown glimpses of excellence in their first two seasons. Now they have a chance to become consistence producers.

Renner will be helped greatly by senior running back Ryan Houston, who should be well and ready to go after suffering a broken collarbone in the spring game.

Houston, as he showed two years ago, is capable of beating a defense into submission. And everyone may not recognize it, but Houston has excellent feet and a feel for making precise cuts, particularly late in the game when defensive backs are diving out of his way after trying to tackle him the first three quarters.

It is almost here, and I, for one, am ready.


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