The North Carolina football team is getting back to business. The team’s group of running backs, led by senior Michael Carter and junior Javonte Williams, is looking to remain a vital part of the UNC offense in the upcoming season. In a press conference Wednesday, running backs coach Robert Gillespie detailed his expectations for Carter, Williams and the unit as a whole.
“We just have to strive every day to improve as a unit," Gillespie said. "From an Xs and Os standpoint, from getting stronger, from getting back in shape, obviously with the time we’ve had off away from being here in Chapel Hill. My expectations are like they are every year, we have to be one of the best units on the football field.”
Gillespie said his unit has successfully blocked out noise and speculation since their return to campus.
“We don’t listen to anything outside of what we have to do because in our room we have a standard that we set for ourselves," Gillespie said. "We can go out everyday and just push each other in the room. Mike Carter is competing with Javonte (Williams), Javonte is competing with Josh (Henderson).”
Gillespie said he has been impressed with the level of growth that he has seen from Williams in particular, from his time as a first-year to now being a part of a standout tandem rushing attack between Carter and him. The 2019 opener against South Carolina is when Gillespie said he felt Williams arrived as an impact player for the Tar Heels.
“He caught a screen pass toward our sideline and he just ran over the safety, and when he got up — and Javonte is a quiet guy, he had never really expressed himself a lot — but he got up, he kind of flexed at the sideline and the sideline went crazy," Gillespie said. "I remember in that moment, being on the sideline, and in my mind I said, ‘he’s ready.’”
Gillespie attributed much of the the offensive success last year on the ground to the durability of the team's running backs.
“I think they understand that yes, one guy could’ve stayed in the game and probably ran for 1,800 yards, 1,900 yards but I think they respect the fact that their durability and their ability to stay healthy is based off having those guys fresh."
Sophomore Josh Henderson is another running back whose growth has impressed Gillespie and who could become an impact player in the near future.
“He came into a group of guys and he wasn’t called upon to have to come in and play last year, so he was able to sit back and just learn the game," Gillespie said. "His film study improved, his confidence got better, because through wisdom you gain confidence… he’s in his most confident spot since he’s been here."
Gillespie wants the running back core to set the tone for the rest of the offense into 2020 with early season tests against Central Florida and Auburn looming.
“We want to work so hard every day that when the offensive line puts the film on, they get motivated, the receiver groups see how hard we work, they get motivated" Gillespie said. "Then, in turn, the defensive line at Pitt or Clemson or whoever we play, they see us competing.”
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