The Daily Tar Heel

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Monday November 29th

Mack Hollins leads UNC football to a win over UVa

Former walk-on Mack Hollins led the Tar Heels in their match Saturday against the University of Virginia.  Hollins finished with two touchdowns and retrieved the ball for UNC on an onside kick recovery.
Buy Photos Former walk-on Mack Hollins led the Tar Heels in their match Saturday against the University of Virginia. Hollins finished with two touchdowns and retrieved the ball for UNC on an onside kick recovery.

Yes, No. 13 on the North Carolina football team. A former walk-on, a current revelation. A product of both grace and grit. A wide receiver, but so much more.

Let’s talk to him: So, Mack, what can’t you do?

It’s appropriate, that question, because here is what he did do in UNC’s 28-27 win against Virginia on Saturday at Scott Stadium: two catches, two touchdowns, one downed punt at UVa’s 1-yard line, one crucial onside kick recovery.

He thinks. It’s hard, you see, because anything Mack tries to do, Mack masters, because, well, that’s Mack. There is no room for halfway.

“What can I not do?” he asks, with great puzzlement and no arrogance, as if repeating the question would provide an answer. He’s standing, slender but sturdy, 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, in front of the door of UNC’s visitor locker room, for a postgame interview. He pauses.

“I don’t think I’m very good at knitting,” he says.

Oh, of course. But how about on the field, Mack?

“They say I can’t throw, but if I loosen up my arm now...”

He smiles, loosens up his arm. Mack at quarterback?

Nope, that’s Marquise Williams, who bombed 120 yards to him on Saturday — Hollins’ career high. Here comes the QB, trying to get out of the locker room but finding Hollins blocking his way.

“What, man, what?” Hollins says mock-aggressively to Williams, who’s peeking his head out the door.

“Hey,” Williams says.

“Hey,” Hollins says, without missing a beat on the question he was answering.

That’s Mack, playful but always getting done what needs to get done. Ask freshman linebacker Cayson Collins.

“He jokes around in practice. He says he’s always open,” Collins says. “It’s literally true: You put it up there, ’Quise puts it up there, he’s gonna go get it.”

Like he did Saturday. First and 10, UNC down 14-7 with the ball on its own 43, the first quarter nearing its end. Williams steps up in the pocket and lets fly down the left sideline. Hollins jumps, kicks both legs wide, snares the ball between two Cavaliers, runs 17 more yards and scores.

“People call it a 50-50 ball,” Hollins says, “but in our minds it should be 90-10, if not 100-0.”

Then, with less than five minutes left in the half and UNC down seven, Williams unloads again to Hollins. Shoot, overthrew him this time. Wait, no. Hollins keeps sprinting, stretches his hands as far as physics allow, the ball falling into them as he doesn’t miss a stride on his way to a 63-yard score, his team-leading seventh touchdown catch of the season.

“He is a guy that will find a way to make a play if you need one,” Coach Larry Fedora says.

UNC needed one, up 28-27 with 4:05 left, on the kickoff after T.J. Thorpe scored the go-ahead touchdown. Word comes in to Hollins: onside kick . He knows what it means: “I’ve got a chance to get the ball.” After the recovery, he’s more amped than he is after either touchdown, because, he’ll tell you, he’s a special teams guy. Always will be.

“Like if (Ryan) Switzer takes one to the house, I’m so pumped, and I gotta go back on kickoff, and I’m about to pass out ’cause I’m so pumped for Switz...”

Hollins takes a breath. Only time he’s more excited is when he’s talking about the popcorn machine he bought last week, or how he learned how to set up surround sound in his house, or how he’s a pasta-cooking connoisseur.

So, Mack, what can’t you do?

“Umm...” He pauses, thinks. “I don’t know how to weld.”

Mack Hollins, everyone.

sports@dailytarheel.com



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