To succeed in college football, there were two things North Carolina first-year linebacker Kaimon Rucker had to adjust to: the faster speed and a new playbook.
“You gotta redo everything,” he said during a press conference on Tuesday. “It’s a reset button.”
But as the season rolls on, Rucker said he is getting quicker, stronger and reading the game faster, all the while becoming more confident. He said his “I can do this” moment was his first tackle in the season opener against Syracuse.
“I felt like, ‘OK, I can really kick it with these boys,” Rucker said.
North Carolina's young defense has had its fair share of struggles this year — allowing sub-.500 Florida State and Virginia teams to run up the score and ward off late comeback attempts from the Tar Heels — but if Saturday's win over Duke was any indication, Rucker and his fellow first-years are beginning to improve.
In praise of his fellow underclassmen who have been getting more playing time — especially on the defensive side of the ball — Rucker said linebacker Desmond Evans and defensive lineman Myles Murphy have both improved and adjusted tremendously.
"I feel like (Murphy) is getting better mentally, understanding the plays and where he needs to be," Rucker said. "... (Evans') improvement at rush mentally and physically has also increased, and I’m happy for both.”
Rucker said, as a football player, he describes himself as selfless, humble and willing to do the little things right. His dad had initially pushed him to play football, but he eventually fell in love with it and found what he wanted to accomplish in the game.
On choosing UNC, Rucker said that Chapel Hill had it all: great coaches, great teammates and great academics. Focusing on the team culture, he said the team feels like a brotherhood and sticks together through the tough times.
Sophomore defensive back Cam’Ron Kelly said the Tar Heels hold each other accountable through constructive criticism and keep each other going.
“No matter what, it’s next man up,” Kelly said.
Kelly said he could relate to senior defensive back Patrice Rene, one of the few veteran presences on the defensive side of the ball, because they both suffered knee injuries that ended their seasons. He said the team takes notes from Rene and his experiences, and the senior holds the team accountable.
“We call him the O.G.,” Kelly said. “He’s the original rude boy.”
With Wake Forest quarterback Sam Hartman entering the weekend's matchup against Tar Heels having not thrown an interception this season, Kelly, Rene and North Carolina's secondary will have to be in peak form to slow down the Demon Deacons' offensive attack.
In both of the Tar Heels' losses this season, stopping the run was a major issue. In the pair of losses, UNC's defense allowed a staggering combined 451 yards on the ground. On improving for Saturday’s 12 p.m. clash against Wake Forest, Rucker said the team is working on its communication in order to stop the run game. To see real improvement, he said the team needs to communicate even more.
“You cannot get in trouble for talking too much on the field,” Rucker said.
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