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July 9, 2012As summer camp draws closer, a few questions stand out as far as top priorities for first-year Coach Larry Fedora, his staff and their new team.
There will be plenty of priorities on the field, but the most important of all is not about schematics, blocking, tackling, running, tossing or receiving.
The No. 1 concern of this coaching staff has to be building relationships with these players, to win their hearts, minds and loyalty. The sooner, the better, too.
"These coaches have done a great job of building relationships with these guys," Fedora said. "It's a little bit harder for me because there are 100 I have to deal with. But that takes time. You don't build relationships overnight. These guys will understand we truly care about them, not only as football players but as people."
Here is the reality. No one is going to tell us some players are dragging their feet, waiting to see if the system will work or reminiscing about Butch Davis or some former assistant.
When Davis first arrived, the team as a whole bought in quicker than normal. The kids wanted to win so badly, and Davis could cast quite a spell with young men.
You have to give Fedora his due from what we have seen so far. His enthusiasm and spirit for the kids and the game seem genuine. But as he says, there will be more than 100 people on that practice field, and they cannot all be happy. There will be those who feel they should be playing, others who do not care for something: their position coach, the scheme, the lack of passes they receive.
Being teen-agers or in their early 20s, the lack of maturity is going to affect others as well.
Now before you scream I'm being negative, I would argue I'm being realistic. What so many fans do not want to see or fail to remember is athletic teams consistent of human beings.
These people have egos, particularly after all the recruiting and praise coaches from different schools have heaped on them for the past two or three years.
One former Carolina assistant once told me it takes a whole year to de-recruit most of these kids and bring them back to earth.
Of course, one helpful tool in this pursuit is the program has talent and competition. And for the new players, almost all of them, if not all, will look around and for the first time in their life be on a team that is full of players just as big or bigger, just as fast or faster, just as good or better.
One of the reasons the program improved so quickly under Davis is he quickly loaded it with excellent talent and the kids had compete for playing time.
Fedora is going to do the same thing. If there is one thing I would bet the farm on, it is that Fedora is going to recruit well, and his recruiting will only get better the further the program gets from the horror of the last two years.
The next priority is to continue to teach this group how to practice faster, play faster and do so with concentration and within the schemes. The quicker this can be accomplished, the sooner the Tar Heels will be a genuine force.
"One goal coming out of [spring] ball was we had to have a good understanding of our base, offensive, defense and special teams, the fundamentals," Fedora said. "We did that. I think our guys understand the base concepts.
"Two was to learn how to practice the new Carolina Way, the way we need to with energy and passion and enthusiasm throughout a practice," Fedora said. "We're not there yet. Our work capacity is not where it needs to be. You have to be in better condition to be able to do that."
Even the recruits who were able to watch some practices in the spring were somewhat shocked and awed when they discovered the true meaning of fast in Fedora vocabulary.
The Tar Heels picked up the pace in practice under Davis, but now it is warp speed, as in the speed the old Star Trek spaceship used to move.
"The pace is crazy," said freshman quarterback Kanler Coker, who had a chance to watch spring practice. "It's just super fast."
The good news is the returning players at least had a chance to experience where Fedora and the coaches are driving them.
"Being tired is really a mental thing," returning 1,000-yard rusher Giovani Bernard said. "The new tempo in this offense brings out a lot about you. As spring went on, we got more and more comfortable with the offense and with the conditioning."
From what appeared to be the overall attitude in the spring, summer camp should be a continuation of what these kids and coaches accomplished in the spring.