PINEHURST – Before the North Carolina Tar Heels take the field for the September 3rd opener versus South Carolina at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, some things needed to be ironed out.
This dates back to December 26, 2014. North Carolina was embarrassed by Rutgers, 41-20, in the Quick Lane Bowl. The wheels appeared to be already coming off a month earlier when rival North Carolina State whipped UNC 35-7 in the regular season finale.
After the bowl game, some of the players, most notably quarterback Marquise Williams and wide receiver Ryan Switzer spilled the beans. They didn’t name any names, but they did say everyone wasn’t playing for the name on the front of the jersey, but more so for the name on the back.
That had to change. Williams vowed to be a better leader this summer. Players had to buy in. A 6-7 record in 2014 wasn’t acceptable. But with two sides of the ball bickering at each other, it’s a surprise it wasn’t worst.
“Some things happened and offense didn’t like defense, defense didn’t like offense,” Williams confessed at ACC Media Day. “There’s no way you’re going to win football games if you both don’t like each other.”
The defense was bad in 2014. Historically bad. There were times when the offense put up numbers, only to watch the defense give up 50 or more points three times in 2014 – including 70 to in-state rival East Carolina. It’s human nature for the offense to feel like they were carrying the load, causing a divide in the locker room. Throw in guys with agendas, and it’s a miracle Carolina managed enough wins to make it to a bowl game.
Now, the players have addressed those issues and don’t even want to look back at 2014.
“We’ve moved on from last year,” linebacker Jeff Schoettmer said.
Schoettmer was a bright spot on a rather gloomy defense. The senior from Dallas, Texas led the team with 74 tackles. He also put points on the board, returning two interceptions for scores. But he couldn’t do it alone on defense, just like Williams couldn’t do it all on offense, not that he didn’t try. Williams threw, ran and even caught a touchdown last season, but things still turned bad the last two weeks of the season. Carolina peaked with a 45-20 win over Duke on Nov. 20. After that, it was a nightmare.
In the summer, team building became the focus. The Heels made a 14-player leadership council. The team was broken up into several smaller teams, competing against each other in all kinds of events, from kickball to a home run derby, all in an attempt to build camaraderie.
Williams, entering his second and final year as the full-time starter, took it a step further this summer. On a roster with 100 players, it’s only natural that factions will be formed. Offense hanging with offense, defensive players always around other defenders, starters with starters and walk-ons with walk-ons. Williams felt like that had to change. The Charlotte native made an effort to get to know different teammates this summer, switching it up from his normal crew.
“That’s just something I wanted to do,” Williams said. “A lot of people hang out with the same guys and never get around to the other teammates.”
Most Carolina fans don’t know the name Myers Colvin. The rising senior has only appeared in one game for UNC – on the complete opposite end of the spectrum from Williams. However, Williams said he makes an effort to go and hang with Colvin, a guy who keeps to himself, just to get to know all his teammates better.
“Leadership as a whole was a problem last year,” Schoettmer said. “That’s why we struggled.”
According to Williams, the bond, teamwork and chemistry are now there. In 2014, guys were jealous of other players – questioning who was getting more playing time or starting and just being selfish, but the Tar Heel quarterback says those day are a thing of the past.
“We don’t have any of that this year,” Williams said. “We’re all supporting each other. Now, I love those guys on the defensive side of the ball. We hang out together, we go to movies. It’s different things, and I’m excited.”