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Friday January 15th

UNC receivers fill void left by Mack Hollins' injury

Mack Hollins (13) makes a diving play while being defended by an FSU player to score a touchdown.
Buy Photos Mack Hollins (13) makes a diving play while being defended by an FSU player to score a touchdown.

On Monday, North Carolina announced wide receiver Mack Hollins had surgery on his right collarbone — ending his senior season and, ultimately, his Tar Heel career.

It’s a massive loss for the offense. Hollins finishes his North Carolina career with 81 receptions for 1,667 yards and 20 touchdowns. But as much as the coaching staff and players will miss having Hollins, the job this week is to move forward.

“I love Mack,” head coach Larry Fedora said. “Love him to death. He’s been a great player for us. But we’ve got a lot of season left.

"We can’t just fold it up and shut it down because Mack Hollins isn’t with us.”

North Carolina plays Virginia at 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, and the Cavaliers won’t be giving the Tar Heels a break just because their best deep threat is out.

“Nobody else around the country really cares about what our injuries or who’s banged up, or who’s this or who’s that,” quarterbacks coach Keith Heckendorf said.

“They know the Tar Heels are going to line up on Saturday, and they are going to look at the score at the end of the game and they are going to say, ‘Who won or lost?’ So we’ve got to find a way.”

North Carolina isn’t completely in the dark as to how to prepare for Hollins’ absence. In the Tar Heels’ first game against Georgia, Hollins didn’t play in the first half because of a targeting penalty committed in the second half of a 49-38 loss to Baylor in the 2016 Russell Athletic Bowl.

“(Wide receivers coach Gunter Brewer) has done a good job since the beginning of camp of really rotating those guys around,” said Chris Kapilovic, UNC's offensive coordinator.

“Obviously, we had to go into the first half of the first game without him. So we got a lot of work during camp, so that’s the good thing. It’s not like it’s something we haven’t done yet.”

The same names were thrown around by all three coaches when asked about who would have to step up.

Junior Austin Proehl — listed as Ryan Switzer’s backup in the slot on the depth chart — will play more snaps, especially on the outside of the formation. Proehl is third among active players in catches and yards, and teammates and coaches have lauded his sure hands and route-running skills this season.

Anthony Ratliff-Williams is a 6-foot-1 redshirt first-year who was recruited to UNC to play quarterback, but he was moved to wide receiver to take advantage of his speed on the outside. He returns kicks for the Tar Heels, but he hasn’t played a role yet on offense — he has just one catch for six yards.

Jordan Cunningham, a four-star recruit in the Class of 2013, originally committed to and attended Vanderbilt before transferring to UNC in 2015. He sat out last season per NCAA transfer rules and hasn’t played much this season, recording one catch for 20 yards in five games.

Both Cunningham and Ratliff-Williams figure to get much more playing time Saturday than they’ve been seeing this season. The coaching staff stressed Hollins’ loss is a chance for someone — be it Cunningham, Ratliff-Williams or Proehl — to thrive.

“It’s an opportunity for someone else to step up, just as Mack stepped up two years ago,” Heckendorf said. “His opportunity presented itself — nobody knew who Mack was, and he stepped in and all of the sudden, everybody’s like, ‘Well, who’s this dude?’

“I’m expecting that same thing from the next guy.”

@bauman_john

sports@dailytarheel.com

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