CHAPEL HILL — Landon Turner sports a light brown beard that makes him look older than 22. Marquise Williams just had surgery on his hip and joked he should have had surgery on the other one because the repaired hip feels so good.
Beards and talks of hip surgery definitely make these Heels look and sound like a pair of old men.
Turner and Williams are the last of a dying breed on the UNC roster. The duo, along with safety Sam Smiley and running back Romar Morris, are the last bunch standing from the 2011 class recruited by former coach Butch Davis. They all redshirted the 2011 season (Smiley missed the entire 2013 season with an injury) and have seen many of their classmates leave Chapel Hill.
Turner still remembers the day he moved into his dorm, smiling, as if for a moment he was back in the summer of 2011.
“It was night time, I flew in from Texas, I was playing in an All-Star game,” Turner recalled. “I drove up from Fayetteville. Marquise, T.J. Thorpe and Travis Riley all showed up and helped me move my stuff in, and we hung out that night. I remember that like it was yesterday. Now, here we are.”
Williams remembers his first practice at Navy Field, standing in the back of the line for warmups, next to Thorpe, Riley and Turner, trying to fit in, even admitting he showed up with a crooked chin strap that needed to be adjusted.
“My first camp I lined up right here,” Williams said, pointing to the endline on the turf field. “And my chinstrap was like right here,” he described with a chuckle, turning his head sideways to demonstrate where the piece of equipment was on the side of his helmet.
“I was trying to fit in, but I couldn’t fit in because I hadn’t made any plays,” Williams said. “I look back on it and I’m like ‘wow, this has gone by fast.’”
Thorpe and Riley have moved on, both graduating from UNC. So when the “old days” are brought up, only Williams and Turner can say they’ve been around through it all. The sanctions, different coaching staffs, all kinds of adversity.
“This group of seniors have had a lot of adversity in their four, some of them five, years of being here,” UNC head coach Larry Fedora said.
One of those seniors is wide receiver Quinshad Davis. The Gaffney, S.C. native came in one season after Williams and Turner, but has the most career starts (33) than any other Tar Heel. Turner is second with 28.
Davis ended the 2014 season being carted off the field in Detroit, breaking his ankle in the Quick Lane Bowl against Rutgers. After being held back from team activities the entire spring and most of the summer, Davis admitted he is nowhere close to game shape. He’ll be ready to go on Sept. 3rd against his home state South Carolina Gamecocks. But for Davis, the most important thing is going out with a bang.
“It’s my last year and I’m just trying to go out there and have the best time I can. Hopefully it’s a good time.”
According to Fedora, Davis and Turner have played close to 2,000 for Turner – and that’s invaluable.
Turner missed two games due to injury in 2014 and he, more than anyone, understands the clock is ticking on his career.
“It flies by, you know,” Turner said. “That’s something I understand, and that’s something I hope my fellow seniors understand. We are trying to instill that in the young guys.”
Turner admitted he isn’t naturally vocal and that he doesn’t like the spotlight. For a big man – 6-4, 325 – he doesn’t come off as physically intimidating because he is so welcoming and quick to smile. But the younger guys look up to him and he knows it is his role to lead.
“I’m not a rah-rah guy like they need me to be,” Turner said. “I understand that, I need to put myself aside. I need to get out of my own comfort zone. This team needs it more than anything. The other leaders on the team, they need my help, my support and I’m willing to step up for that.”
When asked how he likes being the old man in the offensive line room, Turner joked “it hurts,” admitting there is a Graduate Assistant in the program younger than him.
“I’ve been here a little long,” Turner said. “It’s kind of strange, I can recall my whole freshman season like it was yesterday. It’s kind of surreal, but at that same time it’s cool. I remember where I was, looking at these younger guys, so I appreciate being a resource for them.”