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July 25, 2012

4 stars to lead

First-year coach Larry Fedora does not have the roster depth he would prefer, but his Tar Heels are not without talent.

Four Tar Heels were named to the preseason All-Atlantic Coast Conference team. Two of those are offensive linemen, who happened to be among a group that form the foundation of the offense and the team.

Junior James Hurst and senior guard Jonathan Cooper were recognized individually on the All-ACC offense. But Carolina also returns starters Brennan Williams and Travis Bond on the offensive line.

This group combines true talent with a vast amount of on-field experience.

Perhaps the biggest question is whether they will be athletic enough to operate in the spread offense when they were all recruited for a pro style.

Fedora says yes -- without hesitation.

"They are definitely athletic enough," Fedora said. "These guys are not only athletic enough, they're big. They're really big. But if you look at them now compared to what they were at the beginning of the summer, they're not nearly as big as they were.

"Our strength coach has carved a little bit of weight off of these guys. All he has done is build their work capacity. Each and every one of them, to a man, has gotten stronger. But they've also cut body fat. That just means their work capacity is going up, and they'll be able to do some great things this year."

While the linemen chosen to the team really represent their entire group across the front, sophomore running back Giovanai Bernard and linebacker Kevin Reddick stand out for their individual excellence.

Bernard ran for 1,253 yards last season, the third-best in ACC history for a freshman. He was among the top three vote getters at any position.

"The first two days in the spring, we're in shorts," Fedora said. "I don't put a whole of stock in what we do in shorts. But there was one guy while we were in shorts, it didn't take me about half a day to figure out he was special."

Fedora, of course, was referring to Bernard.

Fedora is enamored with his senior linebacker as well. Reddick has taken charge of this team. Another member of the team, not one who attended the annual ACC Kickoff this past weekend, told THI that when Reddick addresses the team, everyone immediately gets quiet and listens, really listens.

Reddick commands that kind of respect.

"I embraced a leadership role last year," Reddick said. "That has helped me be a better player, a better man now. At times I try to take over the whole team and be that say-so guy. When we call the huddle, I'm talking every time.

"When somebody messes up, I'm going to let you know. I think everyone needs that on the team. A lot of guys are afraid to speak up. I wanted to let it be known I would be the guy who would speak up. I want the guys to know that we're in this thing together. If you mess up, you're going to be told."

Reddick said he had no choice but to focus on his position in the spring because he cannot help anyone else until he is sure of what he is supposed to do. But he's been studying and working since spring practice ended, and he has a plan for summer camp.

"I'm going to take part of training camp to learn what everybody else is supposed to do so I can help teach the young guys," Reddick said. "I tell the young guys, 'Put a mission out there for yourself and go get it.'"

Fedora has watched closely how Reddick's teammates respond and how Reddick has acted with respect to the coaching change and his decision to return for his senior season.

"He was one of the guys, who after we talked about it as seniors, 'Hey, you can leave if you want. You can do whatever you want.'

"He was the first one to stand up and say, 'I'm not going anywhere. We're going to have a great season here next year.'

"He's a leader on our defense," Fedora said. "He's very, very well respected by his teammates because of his work ethic and the way he carries himself."

Reddick said his goals extend far beyond just leading, though. He has something to prove to himself and his teammates.

"I see it [the attention], but I've got to play first," Reddick said. "It does feel good to know there are people looking at me, but I haven't played yet. I have to go hard in practice and put in the work.

"I've gotten more mature every year," Reddick said. "I came back for a reason. I don't feel I played good. I made some plays here and there, but not enough for me to come out and try to enter the draft. I don't feel like I've made enough plays."

In turn, Reddick said he fully believes his team is going to get the job done this fall.

"We're going to come out and play smart, fast and physical," Reddick said. "We're going to try to win 12 games."


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