On his way out of the press room, North Carolina football head coach Mack Brown stopped to clap Cedric Gray on the shoulder.
The junior linebacker had a team-high eight tackles and an interception in Saturday’s 41-10 victory over Virginia Tech. All afternoon, Gray had spearheaded a suffocating defensive performance unlike anything seen in previous games, holding Virginia Tech to just 273 yards and keeping the Hokies scoreless in the second half.
But despite Gray's dominant performance on the field, Brown took time to acknowledge a different shift in the linebacker's game.
“You’ve graduated from cheerleader to linebacker,” he joked.
Four weeks ago, Gray intercepted a play-action pass against Appalachian State, and then — to Brown’s ire — proceeded to celebrate zealously with fans.
But on Saturday, when the linebacker picked off Virginia Tech's Grant Wells to give the Tar Heels strong field position before adding another score, Gray promptly returned to the bench before he could warrant another glare from his head coach.
“I can’t stand immaturity,” Brown said. “Don’t run over and be a cheerleader, that’s not your job. Do your job.”
It’s a simple yet effective mentality shift that was evident in UNC’s defense on every snap — do your job and don’t get comfortable.
With the game essentially over in the fourth quarter, both teams benched their starters, allowing UNC first-year linebacker Randy "Deuce" Caldwell to shine with an 8-yard sack. Caldwell tromped over the fallen quarterback, then sprang into a crane pose — only to be quickly rebuked by his teammates.