Joshua Ezeudu is a longtime fan of J. Cole and Lil Wayne. Growing up in Lawrenceville, Georgia, the North Carolina offensive lineman also came to appreciate nearby Atlanta rappers such as Migos and Lil Yachty. But he didn’t start really working on the skill his UNC teammates now laud him for — freestyle rapping — until last fall.
When Hurricane Florence hit the state in September 2018, cancelling classes and a home football game in Chapel Hill, Ezeudu had plenty of free time. So he downloaded Audacity, a free audio editor program, found some instrumental beats and recorded a few freestyles on his laptop — “just to see how it would sound,” he said.
A year later, the redshirt first-year has earned a reputation among players as someone who can “rap on a dime,” teammate Allen Cater said. Ezeudu also tries to work deeper meaning into his freestyles, dropping a reference or rhyme that clicks for listeners a few minutes later.
“I’m probably the whole team’s entertainer, I would say,” Ezeudu told the Daily Tar Heel with a laugh.
He’s not alone. Under Larry Fedora, players were always free to express themselves. But Cater said new head coach Mack Brown and his staff have further encouraged and emphasized their players’ off-field interests — a practice that lines up with Brown’s adage that committing to UNC is a 40-year decision, rather than a four-year decision.
“I think that’s a good thing to push,” Cater told the DTH. “It helps guys realize there’s life after football.”
Jake Lawler is another prime example. The redshirt sophomore linebacker drew national attention and praise this summer when he published a candid, 2,300-word blog post detailing the depression and suicidal thoughts he’d battled, on his own, for the last eight years.
“It’s crazy,” Cater said of his fellow linebacker. “I told Jake, ‘When I have kids, I’m going to let them stay with you. They’re going to know every word in the dictionary.’”
A creative streak seems to run, especially, through the defense. Cater has played drums on and off since his childhood, for both his church and a few bands. The senior has recently looked into buying a set — which would be tough, he said, since he doubts the loud practices would be popular in his apartment complex.
Ezeudu labeled defensive lineman Lancine Turay the second-best rapper on the team. And multiple teammates described Tomon Fox, a junior linebacker, as a talented artist.
A few of Fox’s paintings hang on the wall of the team academic adviser's office. He also provided the sketch for one of Cater’s newest arm tattoos: the letters of his fraternity, Phi Beta Sigma, with a crown on top.
“He can pretty much draw whatever,” defensive lineman Jason Strowbridge said of Fox.
On offense, running back Michael Carter, Lawler’s roommate, enjoys photography. He’ll also appear on the first episode of UNCUT’s “Tar Heel Talk” next month in a round-table discussion about life as a Black student-athlete. And offensive lineman Brian Anderson does impersonations, including a great rendition of his head coach.
Such skills aren’t universal, though. Running back Antonio Williams laughed when recalling his on-and-off music career, which he ended last summer. Center Nick Polino grew up in the same Georgia area as Fox and called his teammate’s work “phenomenal.” But even though his mother, Tammy, is an artist, Polino said he missed out on those creative genes.
“I’ll do some damage on a karaoke mic when I get the chance,” he said, “but I’m no Josh Groban out there.”
Ezeudu said the trend, as a whole, is “really cool.” He entered college expecting a laser focus on sports and soon realized that wasn’t the case.
“As soon I got here, I thought it was football 24/7 and no one could really do anything else besides just football,” he said. “As I’ve stayed here more and more, there’s a lot of people who can do a lot of things.”
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