But the past two seasons have had more valleys than peaks: players suspended for selling team-issued sneakers in 2018, nine-loss seasons the last two years and the firing of head coach Larry Fedora last November.
This year, the return of Brown has helped the program rise back to respectability.
“It’s been really fun to do it with the guys you came in with, be a senior class that’s been able to start back on the trend of where we want to be,” Polino said Monday. “We still gotta finish strong.”
UNC’s five losses have been by a combined 19 points. Though there have been inevitable growing pains, the considerable struggles of Tar Heel football are, for the most part, no more.
Strowbridge, who watched from the sideline his first year in Chapel Hill as UNC won 11 games, sees similarities in the locker room culture of this year’s group and the one of the 2015 Tar Heels.
The 6-foot-5, 285-pound defensive end says when he arrived on campus in the fall of that year, he saw older players leading by example, “creating good habits.”
“We know what it looks like from when we first came in,” Strowbridge said. “Things didn’t go our way the last couple years, but we know what to do. We know what it looks like.”
Knowing the habits that lead to a winning culture has helped Strowbridge and Polino set that example for their teammates. They, along with Brown, have emphasized a win-now mentality while trying to pave the way for a successful future for the program.
“Just kinda doing whatever we can just to get back on track to where we want to be and set an example for the young guys to keep it going in the future,” Polino said.
And after a bye last week, the Tar Heels have refocused on their mission to send their senior class out the right way.
A win at Pittsburgh on Thursday would mark the program’s seventh consecutive victory over the Panthers. It would also almost guarantee a bowl berth in Brown’s first season back, as UNC will face a below-.500 Mercer squad on senior night next week.
“Everything the next three weeks is for them to try to finish a lot better than they have the last two years,” Brown said.
Strowbridge could not agree more.
“With everything we’ve been through," he said, "it’s only right we just finish strong.”
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