As the saying goes, nobody quite does it like a senior.
But along with that phrase goes another word— temporary.
That’s one this year’s seniors on North Carolina’s football team learned quickly in the days leading up to their home finale against No. 12 Miami.
“I’ve been here so long, I never thought this day would come,” senior defensive tackle Cam Thomas said. “It seems like just the other day I was coming into Carmichael to get ready to register for classes.”
The class of 2009 has been through quite a transformation of UNC’s program during its four years.
Just one year after Thomas and his classmates joined the team, coach John Bunting resigned under pressure from the University.
In his place, athletic director Dick Baddour hired Butch Davis, who brought along with him a host of assistant coaches with NFL experience.
Senior defensive end E.J. Wilson said the culture around the team changed almost immediately upon Davis’ arrival.
Instead of players hoping they came out with a victory, Wilson and the rest of the team went into each game expecting to win.
“(Davis) brought a championship mentality to this program that wasn’t here when I got here.” Wilson said. “I didn’t expect guys that were here when I came in to buy in as fast as we did.”
But success under Davis hasn’t started as rapidly as the team bought into his message.
UNC went 4-8 in a humbling 2007 season. And despite finishing 8-5 in 2008, that season had a few perplexing losses as well (see Virginia, N.C. State).
So far, this season resembles much of those two. The Tar Heels didn’t live up to preseason expectations in slumping to 4-3, but they rebounded to win their last two conference games to improve to 6-3.
Wilson said he and the rest of the seniors know what they need to do to cement their legacy — eliminate the inconsistency and firmly put North Carolina in one direction.
A winning one.
And that starts with what games they have left.
“We wanted to be known as the class that helped turn this thing around,” Wilson said. “The senior class that came in here for three years under coach Davis, we really want to go out of here winners.”
In terms of numbers, 2009’s senior class is small.
Forty-eight of UNC’s 81 scholarship players are freshmen and sophomores, and there are just 13 seniors listed on UNC’s roster.
But while those underclassmen outnumber them, their impact is felt beyond just how many bodies they have in the locker room.
Davis said they’ve been invaluable in helping UNC’s coaches train the team’s young players, particularly Kyle Jolly and Lowell Dyer on the offensive line.
“They’ve helped a lot of those young offensive linemen behind the scenes. Watching film, talking to them, meeting with them independently,” Davis said. “Reassuring them that they’re going to be OK because they’ve gone through some of those things.”
Davis also singled out Wilson and Thomas as integral role models for showing other UNC’s defense how to approach practice with a business-like attitude.
As for their Senior Day festivities, Thomas and Wilson want to make sure they will remember for it for the rest of their lives.
But that’s not to say they’ll be too serious about it. Most of the ideas they have tossed around have been jocular in nature.
“Me and Cam were actually thinking about renting tuxedos for the Well Walk because it was going to be our last one,” Wilson said. “But we’ll see what happens. I’m pretty sure I’ll get something crazy planned.”
Whatever the two defensive linemen do, count on it to turn plenty of heads.
After all, nobody quite does it like a senior.
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