Junior offensive lineman Nick Polino, the starting left guard, says that Barnes and Ross have made tremendous strides this offseason, but neither has separated himself from the other. Polino raved about the physical tools of the 6-foot-5, 320-pound Barnes.
“He’s physically way ahead of where I was coming in as a freshman, just strength-wise and size-wise,” Polino said. “If he ends up getting to play, I have no doubt that he’ll be able to physically keep up with it.”
Barnes was the 53rd-overall recruit and the fifth-best offensive tackle in the class of 2018, according to 247Sports. The four-star player from Apopka, Fla. is the highest rated recruit in the Tar Heels’ incoming class.
Ross was not as highly touted when he came in as a three-star recruit in the class of 2017. The 6-foot-5, 325-pound Huntington, W.Va., native was the 380th-overall recruit and the 40th-ranked offensive tackle in his class, according to 247Sports.
Though Ross doesn’t have game experience, either, he has the advantage of having learned from the sideline for a year. Polino says Ross’ work ethic is one his biggest assets.
“Billy’s a grinder,” Polino said. “He’s kind of a blue-collar kid. He’s going to put his nose in there. He’s going to hit somebody.”
Polino, who says he remembers learning from graduated offensive lineman Bentley Spain, has been a leader to underclassmen on the offensive line like Barnes and Ross this offseason.
“Young guys in their first training camp ever, that’s a really tough experience,” Polino said. “You just kind of have to pull them aside and just be like, ‘Hey, c’mon. You can do this. We’ve all been there.’”
While naming a starter sooner rather than later would provide clarity, Polino says the competition is making the entire unit better. He is confident that whoever earns the spot will do a great job.
“It forces them to elevate their game,” Polino said. “It forces everyone to elevate their game. I’ve established myself, but if I start messing up, there’s no telling. Competition is good for a team."
While Polino doesn't know who will ultimately earn the starting job, he emphasized both Barnes' and Ross' work ethic.
“It’s still a pretty fierce competition, but whoever’s there game one shouldn’t miss a beat,” he said.
One thing is certain, though; whichever player is given the starting role will have his work cut out for him in making the transition from high school to starting at the college level.
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