As we prepare for the 2021-22 school year, a special time is upon us — athletic season. Although classes begin on Aug. 18 for students, UNC athletic teams have been preparing for the fall athletics season for months.
Here’s what the editorial board is most looking forward to as the Tar Heels take the field.
A New Twist this Year
Beginning July 1, the NCAA allowed athletes to profit off of their name, image and likeness (NIL). Since then, companies have flocked to sign UNC athletes to represent their brand. Sam Howell signed on with Bojangles, Jimmy's Famous Seafood landed Armando Bacot and Dawson Garcia, and TK Hockey USA signed the face of collegiate women's field hockey — Erin Matson.
Carolina Athletics also became the first university to launch a group licensing program for active athletes under the new NIL policy. The program will usher opportunities for UNC athletes to benefit from, using the University's trademarks and logos.
The program will split UNC athletes into pods of three or more in the same sport, or with six or more across multiple athletic teams. The program opens up unique opportunities for athletes to profit off UNC apparel. So, in theory, UNC fans could purchase a Bacot or Sam Howell jersey, with players receiving a percentage of those sales.
We’ll have to wait and see which players profit off of the NIL and how it impacts recruiting this upcoming year.
A Heisman Hopeful and Top 10 UNC Football
As the clock ticked down to double zeros in the Tar Heels' Orange Bowl defeat by Texas A&M, all eyes quickly turned to the 2021 season. The buzz is palpable. Quarterback Sam Howell enters the season primed as one of the Heisman frontrunners. The team returns eighteen starters, including ten on a defensive unit that was much improved at last season’s conclusion, and features young, exciting stars like Defensive Back Tony Grimes and Linebacker Desmond Evans to pair with established veterans Linebacker Jeremiah Gemmel and Defensive Lineman Raymond Vohasek. The hype won’t only surround the individual stars of the team, but the team's overall potential.
The team enters the season ranked in the top 10, their highest preseason ranking since 1997. One consistency between the 1997 and 2021 teams is in the leadership at the top: Head Coach Mack Brown. While the early predictions have the Tar Heels as the top team in the Atlantic Coast Conference posed to challenge Clemson, Brown is making sure his squad won’t be looking too far ahead.
“What we've told them is, quit talking about it and do it,” Brown said. “And that's your work every day. So they understand that we're not talking about anything except the first three games anyway. That is our season right now.”
Hubert’s First Year at the Helm
For the first time since 2003, it won’t be Roy Williams manning the Dean E. Smith Center sidelines. After former assistant Hubert Davis was named head coach in April, he quickly got to work assembling a squad that can make a deep run in March.
The returns of Bacot and Caleb Love, along with the additions of transfers Brady Manek (10.8 ppg at Oklahoma) and Dawson Garcia (13.0 ppg at Marquette) have generated offseason excitement. The squad is ranked as a preseason top-15 team. The team will take on top contenders from last season like Michigan, Purdue and UCLA in its non-conference slate, so look for the Tar Heels to be battle-tested early heading into ACC play.
Continued Dominance for the Women
While men’s basketball and football receive the most buzz from fans, it's been the women’s teams who have dominated recent success from UNC athletics. UNC Women’s Field Hockey will be looking to defend their three-peat behind the talent of two-time national player of the year, Erin Matson.
Women’s Lacrosse looks to avenge a Final Four loss after spending most of the season ranked number 1 in the nation. They return five of their top six scorers, including four-time All-American Jamie Ortega, who is already Carolina’s career leader in goals.
Hall of Fame coach Anson Dorrance also returns multiple players who will look to avenge a Final Four loss of their own. They welcome two preseason top 20 teams, Washington and Arkansas, to Chapel Hill to begin the season. All eyes, however, will be on the October 21 date with the defending champs, Florida State.
With an array of talent in Chapel Hill, the excitement for athletics is as high as it’s ever been. So the answer to the opening question is no, there’s no place we’d rather be on planet earth than Chapel Hill.
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