LUMBERTON — The North Carolina football team took its lumps early last season.
With losses in five of its first six games including setbacks to nationally-ranked Virginia Tech and South Carolina, the Tar Heels changed course and finished the regular season with a late run before capturing a bowl win against Cincinnati.
It’s a roller coaster that head coach Larry Fedora tried to remind his team of when practice resumed this spring.
“Everybody remembers the feeling when we were 1-5 and at that point in the season we talked a lot about ‘All that’s going to matter is how we finish, not how we do in September, but actually what we do in November is what everyone’s going to remember,’” Fedora told The Robesonian on Friday. “They took that to heart, they finished strong and they knew in January that they don’t want to start 1-5 again, so we want to pick up where we left off and try and be a better football team at the spring game than we were on December 28 and I feel pretty good that we were.”
Fedora visited Lumberton on Friday as part of the Rams Club Tar Heel Tour. He addressed a crowd of 150 UNC supporters who gathered for lunch at Candy Sue’s. He was joined by former UNC basketball star Eric Montross and longtime broadcaster Woody Durham.
“We’ve got 150 people showing up today to talk about Tar Heel athletics and they’re all excited about the upcoming season,” Fedora said. “It’s a tremendous thing. That’s the great thing about these Tar Heel tours is that we can get all over the great state of North Carolina and cater to the fans.”
In the three weeks since his team had its spring game, the third-year coach is optimistic.
“We made a lot of progress in the spring but we’re still far from being a great football team,” Fedora said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do but I will say that we were able to build up a lot of depth and get some reps with the guys that we think are going to have to help us this season.”
On display at the spring game was a quarterback competition between Marquise Williams, who led the Tar Heels’ turnaround last year after an injury to Bryn Renner, and incoming prospect Mitch Trubisky. Fedora said the starter’s spot is still open.
“Marquise Williams started five or six games for us last year and took us to a bowl game last year and won the bowl game last year, so he’s probably got the leg up in experience alone,” Fedora said. “In opening it up, it’s made him and Mitch better football players because they’re competing with each other every day and they’re challenging each other every day.
“I feel very comfortable that we have two guys we can win with.”
The two have an experienced core of receivers, less experienced tight end Eric Ebron, and will be working with new offensive coordinator Seth Littrell, who Fedora said spent the spring evaluating players to help refine the school’s system.
“What he’s going to do and what all of our guys offensively will do is once we get through spring ball, they’ll go back and evaluate everything and start tweaking for the talent that we have on this football team,” Fedora said. “We will take some things out that don’t fit for us from last year’s team and we’ll add some things that fit for us. It will still be the same system but you’ll see some changes in the offense.”
The concern right now lies on the offensive line, which could be young with 10 of the team’s 13 players on scholarship in their freshman and sophomore seasons.
“They’re very young and inexperienced, so we’ve got a lot of work to do right there,” Fedora said.
Entering his third season, Fedora isn’t content with how his teams have done, though he is encouraged by their progress.
“The only way they’d be the way I’d like them to be is if we’d won all our game and were national champs, but that’s (the goal) every year,” he said. “We are making progress, we’re headed the right direction, we’re doing things the right way, we’re recruiting good kids, kids that can be successful in both the classroom and on the football field, and we’re working hard.
“If we continue to do that, good things are going to happen.”
Reach Scott Schlaufman at 910-272-6111 or on Twitter @ScottySchlauf.