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The Daily Tar Heel


1 p.m.
Painting the Field

From the sky to the field, from the bleachers to the scoreboards, the colors Carolina blue and white dominate Kenan Stadium.

But sometimes nature upsets the delicate balance. The grass grows, and the white lines become mottled. The blue borders become faded.

A team of groundskeepers are fighting Mother Earth to keep the lines on the football field crisp, bright blue and white. Hour after hour they are carefully walking the length of each stripe, tracing each border and filling in the logo in the center to make sure the field is pristine for Saturday's fans.

Between Wednesday and Thursday, the five groundskeepers are devoting about 14 hours to perfecting the grass with latex field marking paint, says supervisor Mark Gaines. They carry long pipes with hoses attached, several rumbling pumps push the paint through the hoses to the pipes, where it sprays out of the end.

The team of groundskeepers also repairs bleachers, fixes light bulbs and takes care of any maintenance needed in Kenan Stadium.

"Anything you see here, we take care of," Gaines says, gesturing around the stadium with his hand. "You name it, we do it."

Gaines says he enjoys his work, but it does come with one hazard. After a full day's work all of the groundskeepers are wearing Carolina blue, even if they didn't start the day that way.

"His shoes didn't come that color -- it was the paint," he says, pointing out one of his co-workers, who is wearing tennis shoes the color of Papa Smurf.

"Sometimes if you're wearing shorts, the paint will mist the whole bottom of your legs," Gaines says. "But we usually just wear old shoes, old clothes."

Gaines says the repainting is painstaking. It takes the workers' total concentration to follow the old lines. But he says the hard work all pays off on game days.

"The best part is when we watch them play."

2 p.m.
The Goalpost

The sun beats down, and the smell of paint wafts through the air at Kenan Stadium.

Rodney Morris stands on a rickety ladder inspecting the new paint on the goalpost. Bruce Noell stands on the ground below him, squinting into the sun as he rolls another coat of yellow paint along the metal.

Morris and Noell, facilities maintenance employees, have spent the past couple of hours painting the replacement goalpost.

Morris says they normally only paint the goalposts once per year, at the beginning of the season. But after students tore down the goalpost in their excitement over the Florida State victory, it had to be replaced and repainted.

Morris, who has been working for the University since he graduated from high school 27 years ago, says he doesn't mind the extra work. It's worth it in a way. Repairing the field after a victory is a bit a headache, but it is a part of the school's history, he says.

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Morris talks of a picture he's seen of students tearing down the goalposts in the 1940s. And he recalls the game in 1992, when students not only tore down the goalpost but took the pieces off the field and headed for Franklin Street. The students didn't get far, he says, because they couldn't get the pieces over the fence.

Noell says he does not mind working on the goalpost either. He has been an employee of the University for 13 years, and he says it's nice to do something different every once in awhile.

Noell grins at the prospect of greasing the goalposts or turning on the sprinklers right after the game to deter fans, ideas the groundskeepers have jokingly thrown around.

But he says he really doesn't mind the extra work; he sees it as job security.

6:15 p.m.
Marching Band Practice

Brilliant green AstroTurf blankets their feet while just across South Road the flags of the UNC colorguard paint the air wildly in blinding hot pink.

Shiny brass catches the lights of Navy Field and mirrors the precise formations of the Marching Tar Heels.

In fierce preparation for the upcoming week's game, they warm up in a semicircle around a drum major perched atop a ladder platform. Marching in place, their feet rolling from heel to toe, band members hold one eye on the waving arms of the drum major and the other on the music stand.

It is a large group, 333 members, that occupies the field. The commands of Director Jeffrey Fuchs are barked from loudspeakers to reach each player in position on the field. Tubas are wheeling around the field, and marchers maneuver backward to commands of "32, 16, back 16."

The language of the Marching Tar Heels is lost to the outsiders watching.

The percussionists, who happily do not have to march with their marimbas in tow, take a break when they can, sprawling out on the field, their drumsticks unable to remain still as they beat on the AstroTurf out of habit.

Almost half an hour later, the rehearsal has gained a circus-like atmosphere. Baton twirlers take swipes at the air above them at one end of the field, while the colorguard, now wielding flags of black, white and gold, frames the hard-working band on the other.

6:45 p.m.
The Radio Show

Mick Mixon of the Woody and Mick Mixon show on the Tar Heel Sports Network, awaits the beginning of his interviews after UNC's football practice.

In a quiet lounge on the fourth floor of the Kenan Football Stadium, he sits in a makeshift set with a camera and lights, chatting about players and team plans for the upcoming game.

At 7 p.m., two monstrous defensive linemen, Will Chapman and Ryan Sims, get off the elevator, all smiles and handshakes. The players treat Mixon like an old friend, joking about fellow players' lists of girls (or lack thereof).

It will only be 15 minutes until lights, camera and action.

The interview begins, and Mixon leads by asking Sims about the attitude necessary for a successful defensive linemen. Sims responds that they have to be the biggest and baddest players on the field. He laughs about his own strength and drive. Both players relax and poke fun at each other, but they are already putting on game faces, discussing Sims' role in the upcoming contest.

Chapman praises the coaching of Bunting, saying that throughout the week Bunting is hard and loud but when game day hits he is all business. Exchanging understanding glances as they tell stories of their hard work, Chapman and Sims are obviously glad to be out of a demanding practice.

When the camera shuts off, the players saunter away, thanking Mixon for the interview and a few good laughs. Quickly scribbling a few introductory phrases, Mixon prepares to head home, now ready to write his pregame script.

10:21 p.m.
With Linebacker David Thornton

"Yeah, it was a busy day," says North Carolina senior linebacker David Thornton, finally having walked in the door of his apartment.

Thornton started his day with an 8 a.m. breakfast at the football center. As if the torture of being up that early wasn't enough, Thornton headed into the weight room for a light workout for half an hour.

Tuesdays and Thursdays, Thornton only has two classes (at 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.), so he met with his coach after his workout to discuss what the mistakes he made in Wednesday's practice.

After class and a quick stop to pick up a bite to eat, Thornton presented himself for a 2:15 p.m. meeting and then walked with his teammates from the football center to the practice field next to Henry Stadium.

When practice was over, Thornton headed back upstairs to the dining area of the football center for the feast laid out for the post-practice meal. Ribs, collared greens, barbecue. "Healthy" food, Thornton calls it, being completely sincere.

That's probably because on his way from after hitting the books at the University's academic center, Thornton made a slight detour on his way home to Wendy's. "I had to get some late-night food," he says with a laugh.

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