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The Daily Tar Heel

Draft-ready juniors return

Defense preps for 2010 season

A quintet of juniors from North Carolina’s highly ranked defensive unit announced they will return to Chapel Hill for their senior seasons in the week following the team’s 19-17 loss to Pittsburgh in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.

The five returning defenders — linebacker Bruce Carter, defensive tackle Marvin Austin, cornerback Kendric Burney, safety Deunta Williams and linebacker Quan Sturdivant — were all considered to be prospects in this year’s NFL Draft.

“We felt like collectively as a group that we all wanted to come back,” Austin said. “We felt like we didn’t accomplish everything we could.”

Williams put it more simply in the wake of the second straight season UNC struggled down the stretch.

“We’ve got unfinished business,” Williams said.

Their decisions mean the Tar Heels will return all but two of their starters from the No. 1 total defense in the ACC. UNC finished No. 6 nationally in total defense and will lose only seniors E.J. Wilson and Cam Thomas from its starting lineup.

Offensively, junior wide receiver Greg Little also announced he will be back for his final season.

Little led the team in receptions with 62 receptions and a team-high 724 receiving yards to complement his five receiving touchdowns.

“Throughout the year, and also following the bowl game, we sat down with the juniors who were considering entering the NFL Draft and educated them on the selection process and discussed the advantages and disadvantages of leaving early,” coach Butch Davis said in a statement released by the UNC athletic department.

“After talking with NFL personnel around the country, I thought it was in the best interest of all six players to return for their senior seasons.”

Austin’s decision was a departure from his original plan when he committed to UNC as a highly touted recruit out of Washington, D.C.

Austin said his goal then was to turn pro after his junior season, but decided to return one more season in order to shape himself into the best pro prospect possible under the tutelage of Davis and the rest of the UNC coaching staff.

“I have a lot of things I can get better at with my game as far as technique,” said Austin, who said he was given a second round grade by the NFL. “Also, it’s a great atmosphere at Carolina, and we have a chance to be a pretty decent team.”

Williams and Austin both said the group returned to have a chance to do something “special,” but the two differ on exactly what is meant by that word.

Austin referenced a possible BCS Championship appearance, while Williams wants to be considered a part of the best defense in the history of UNC football.

But to even get to the point of achieving those goals, Williams added, it will be up to the returning players to police themselves during the offseason to make sure no one is slacking.

“We didn’t come back to be subpar,” Williams said. “We came back to be great. We’ve got to hold each other accountable at all times.”

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