Before the internet became mainstream in the mid-1990s, one of the best places to talk about sports and learn about the latest recruiting news was Jeff’s Campus Confectionery, the Franklin Street newsstand known for its Handmade Coca-Colas and its back shelves with women’s magazines. On most days during the height of the football scouting campaign from December through early February, you can drop by Jeff’s for a drink at the fountain and the final bits of Bob Osterneck, a rabid Tar Heel fan known for his generosity to the Rams Club and its Durham home. with an inground pool in the shape of a Tar Heel footprint.
“Jordy, you should see this traffic jam we had last weekend!” Osterneck chirped during the early days of the Mack Brown plan to the owner, Jordy Mousmoules. “This town is going to be rock next fall if we have this kid!”
Sadly, Jeff closed in November 1997 after a landlord doubling the rent. It was also the month Brown coached his last game at Chapel Hill before moving to Texas, leaving a schedule that has seen eight consecutive winning seasons; two consecutive finishes in the Top 10; a 25-5 rating at Kenan Stadium over five years; five consecutive seasons of big rivals in Duke State, NC State and Wake Forest; and Brown with 69 career wins to tie him atop the school record.
Today, Jeff and Osterneck are long gone and sports fans devour their information on handhelds, and those devices crackle with digital images of Brown during his recall chapter at Chapel Hill and the players that ‘he reunited for his third season. Nostalgia aside, Brown with 84 wins rose to number one all-time winning streak among Tar Heel coaches and picked up where he left off a quarter of a century ago.
Strategist Sam howell in his No.7 jersey are all over the Twittersphere, All-America preseason rosters and Heisman Trophy contender rosters. The Tar Heels are ranked No.10 in their opener Friday night at Virginia Tech and are the favorites to win the CCA Coastal Division title. Carolina’s recruiting victories over the past two years are starting to pay off on defense, with the previously ultra-thin inside and secondary line positions now filled with fast, strong and savvy players.
Media experts across the country are joining.
“The ACC is a draw for me,” says Kirk Herbstreit of ESPN. “I think North Carolina is on the verge of competing with Clemson because of the work that Mack Brown did in recruiting. “
Adds Ari Wasserman in Athleticism: “The rise of North Carolina is a problem for Clemson. That’s the way college football works. Reigns change, schedules go up and schedules fall. If North Carolina finishes the job and wins the ACC, the Tigers could really start to feel it.… The Tar Heels are involved with prospects who would never have considered them five years ago. That’s how things change with the right head coach. “
Facts, indeed. Carolina football for two decades has been on a rollercoaster ride, with brief glimpses of the Promised Land under Butch Davis a dozen years ago and Larry Fedora in 2015-16. But Davis’ regime ended for reasons other than football, and as prolific as the offenses led by Marquise Williams and Mitch Trubisky were under Fedora, the Tar Heels have struggled to defend themselves since that 2010 unit that was filled with Bruce Carter, Quinton Coples, Kevin Reddick and Da’Norris Searcy.
Long-suffering Tar Heel fans finally have some stuff to hold on to. Brown’s first season upon his return to Chapel Hill in 2019 was the Hors d’oeuvres – a kaleidoscope offense led by a freshman quarterback, nail rodent against Clemson, a home stadium teeming with fans and energy and a dominant bowl victory. Year two was the course of the salad – eight wins amid the uncertainty and drama of Covid, new offensive fireworks, sprouting seeds on defense, and total Miami annihilation on the road.
Now, maybe, the main course. The Tar Heels have Howell graying veteran status, the largest and most experienced offensive line in school history, an array of potential defensemen and a trio of returning kickers. Many are used to playing the ‘yes but’ game and watching the departure of four talented productive players on offense, but Brown is comfortable comparing those backward and wide receiver positions to what he inherited. two years ago. “We had talented guys, but nobody had stepped up and emerged,” Brown said. “I’m looking at these bands now and I see a lot of potential.”
Could this team match or surpass the Tar Heel football crests of the post-war 1940s justice era, Bill Dooley’s ACC title teams of the early 1970s and 1977, the team Dick Crum’s 1980 ACC title or Brown’s 1996-97 teams that were only marred by Florida State being at the top of college football at the time?
Who knows? But it will be a pleasure to find out.
“This year at Kenan Stadium is going to be absolutely electric,” said sporting director Bubba cunningham said. “There couldn’t be a better time to be a Tar Heel. We’re so lucky that Coach Brown has decided to give up a comfortable job on TV and come back here. He has an amazing staff, and they are recruiting. Like nothing ever happened. “
Three years of productive recruiting has replenished the defensive list. Of particular note is the hoarding of elite defensive linemen and top players, the fruits of recruiting over the past two years, notably Des Evans, Kedrick Bingley Jones, Myles Murphy, Clyde Pinder Jr., Kaimon rucker, Jahvaree Ritzie and Keeshawn Money.
“We have more players now than when we got here, especially the first seven”, defensive coordinator Jay bateman said. “The front seven pieces are more physically aligned with what you need to compete.”
Add linebacker coach Tommy thigpen: “The biggest difference now and the last couple of years is just the girth and size on the line. We look like a top team. We’re long and athletic up front. It’s one of the most Outline D that I’ve ever been associated with It’s amazing how small the gaps are with their size and girth, how much congestion they create. We have big players on the big ones. That makes our job. linebacker is much easier when those gaps are small. “
Brown is also adamant that this team is generating field position, points and momentum in the kicking game better than it has in two years. Grayson atkins with field objectives, Ben kiernan with punters and Jonathan kim with kickoffs they bring experience and consistency, and the Tar Heels expect to have a roster comprehensive enough to provide the kind of defenseman / linebacker / receiver types needed to cover the kicks. and open the way for return specialists. With a new system in 2020, no spring practice, and a handful of freshmen populating the kicking game, Carolina made punt errors against Florida State and Virginia that haunted them during close defeats.
“I think last year was the first of my years as special teams coordinator, we didn’t block a punt,” said special teams coordinator Jovan DeWitt. “Blocked pitches are massive changes in position on the court. I think everyone now understands how we approach it, how we attack and how we use our staff.”
“The kicks are coming back and the punts blocked – we haven’t gotten anything in two years,” Brown adds. “We haven’t won a special team game. It’s a problem that we are committed to solving.”
The guesswork and pontifications end at 6 p.m. Friday at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg when Carolina and Virginia Tech face off in front of a nationwide audience on ESPN. It’s not a friendly place for the Tar Heels since the Hokies joined the ACC in 2004, with Carolina taking two wins and six losers. But Carolina has never played Lane with as many training compliments and three-phase balls as she has now.
“We have a window of opportunity right now to be really good,” Brown said. “We’ve been good before and not so good. We’ve been good, average, sometimes bad. Right now it’s fun and it’s exciting. The people we’re recruiting against are nationally. We’re C It’s a fight, it’s a good fight, it’s a fun fight.
Now if we could just drop those hellish phones and go back to Jeff’s on Franklin Street for a fuss and a syrupy coke.
Chapel Hill based writer Lee Pace (Caroline ’79) has written “Extra Points” since 1990, authored “Football in a Forest” and has been on the Tar Heel Sports Network broadcast team since 2004 Write to him at leepace7 @ gmail.com.