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Ahead of his seventh season, UNC's Corey Gaynor 'still got that same dog in him'

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Graduate student offensive lineman Corey Gaynor (65) celebrates after a touchdown at the game versus Florida A&M at Kenan Stadium on Aug. 27, 2022. The Heels beat Florida A&M 56-24.

After six seasons, Corey Gaynor has seen it all.

The graduate center of the North Carolina football team would be the first to acknowledge how long he's been playing. Gaynor began his collegiate career in 2017 at Miami (back when, for context, UNC quarterback Drake Maye was just 14 years old) and started just one game. After redshirting his sophomore year, he consistently started for the Hurricanes for the following two seasons.

However, his 2021 season at Miami ended abruptly after he suffered a knee injury that required surgery three games into the season. Wanting to make the most of his final years of eligibility, Gaynor transferred to North Carolina.

Heading into his seventh season of college football, Gaynor's philosophy remains the same as it did during his high school days in Florida — being a role model for his teammates.

For a UNC football team that's looking to improve the consistency of its offensive line this season, Gaynor's presence both on the field and in the locker room will play a pivotal role in achieving that goal.

"They say that greatness leaves footprints," Gaynor said. "[I'm] not saying I'm great, but I'm chasing it."

'Still got that same dog in him'

Willis May, Gaynor's coach at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, recalls his days mentoring the center almost a decade ago. May said Gaynor always practiced the way he played, and never merely went through the motions.

Gaynor's work ethic was infectious, cementing his place as a role model for younger teammates.

“He just wanted to see everybody succeed,” May said. “He would do a good job of trying to make the younger guys better and teach them the concepts and the skills that we were using.”

May still keeps in touch with Gaynor, texting him — often just a simple 'good game' — after big performances. 

“He’s a lot smarter about the game [now],” May said. “He understands the game a whole lot more. He’s physical. He’s still got that same dog in him.”

'From good to great'

Last season, Gaynor started all 14 games for the Tar Heels as a team captain, earning an All-ACC honorable mention. Instead of declaring for the NFL Draft, he opted to return to Chapel Hill for one last ride.

As the most experienced player in the locker room, Gaynor knows the importance of continuing to push both himself and his teammates to their full potential.

"Every day we gotta wake up with an edge and focus on our technique that we're being coached," Gaynor said. "We gotta get more physical."

Then he added, with a smile, "I mean, I heard that back 40 years ago when I first started playing football."

Using his years of wisdom to lead the offensive line of one of the ACC's top-scoring teams is a responsibility Gaynor embraces. It's what he's used to.

And no one has higher expectations for Gaynor than himself.

“I just want to take that next step,” Gaynor said. “At this point in my career, I want to go from good to great. I want to be a great offensive lineman. I want to be the best center in the ACC.”

'Pass on my knowledge'

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Individual performance isn't Gaynor's only priority heading into his final season. The center has emphasized guiding his younger teammates — players that will someday have a larger role.

UNC offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey is the latest coach of Gaynor's to witness his leadership ability. He sees the same traits that May did years ago — a willingness to clock in extra work and pay special attention to detail.

“I know he’s a veteran, he’s played a lot,” Lindsey said. “His presence is felt every day."

For a top-20 offense that ranked 66th in the nation rushing yards, Lindsey knows there's untapped potential in expanding the run game. But improving the Tar Heels' ground opportunities starts with the offensive line.

And that starts with Gaynor.

“I’m here to serve," Gaynor said. "A lot of people think [there are] different reasons why you may play football and come back when you’re as old as I am. I want to pass on my knowledge. I wanna make sure that my teammates, my younger guys are getting every resource possible out of me.”

@mdmaynard74

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com