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November 29, 2012CHAPEL HILL --- Adversity was not an unusual word to the 2012 North Carolina Tar Heels football team. It is something head coach Larry Fedora has talked about since he came on staff in December 2011.
However, with hardship comes opportunity and Fedora is well aware of this.
He had a chance to take a team that had been beaten down and create a whole new dynamic of Tar Heel football full of energy and passion.
With the trust of the team, the support of the fans, and the strength of the entire Tar Heel nation, Fedora did just that.
"Not just in the game of football but in the game of life, you're going to have adversity all the time. I don't want to break their (the players') spirit, but I told them, 'Guys, life is full of adversity. That's all it is. And it's how you react to it. What you do to overcome it. That's what determines what type of man you really are,'" Fedora said after Saturday's 45-38 win over Maryland.
"I'm confident these guys have learned lessons this year and understand what it takes to overcome it. And you never give up. No matter how bad it gets, you never give up and you'll be fine."
There is something to be said about Fedora's direction over the Tar Heels and what the team accomplished despite months of NCAA investigations and sanctions plaguing the team, and finally this spring's ruling that UNC sit out a bowl game in 2012 and be barred from playing in the ACC Championship Game even if they won the Coastal Division, which they ultimately tied for this fall with Miami and Georgia Tech.
Almost a year after the announcement that Fedora would be the head coach of the Tar Heels, the team finished out strong with the season-ending triumphs over Virginia in Charlottesville, and then in Kenan Stadium in Saturday's finale over the Terrapins.
The Maryland win sealed the UNC season at 8-4 overall and 5-3 in ACC play.
"I think (the season results) shows that we're headed in the right direction," Fedora said after Saturday's triumph. "I think we're created a lot of excitement in the program, in the state, in the surrounding area."
"I think people understand that the Tar Heels are for real and that we're going to be back and we're going to be something that's going to be reckoned with."
During his first season as UNC's head coach, Fedora led the Tar Heels to its best winning percentage (.667) since 1997 and the most ACC wins since 2004.
These eight wins put Fedora tied with Raymond 'Bear' Wolf (1936) and John Bunting (2001) for most wins won during a coach's first season.
"I'm very proud of them (the UNC players)," Fedora added. "I can't say enough about these 17 seniors about what they mean to this program, this team, this University, to the entire Tar Heel nation, because they persevered."
Fedora's past reputation for highly prolific offenses and aggressive defenses carried over to his performance
with the Tar Heels this season.
With a veteran offensive line that proved to be the backbone of the team, the Tar Heels finished out breaking several school records.
UNC averaged 40.6 points a game this year and finished with 487 total points scored.
The scoring average ranked behind only Clemson and Florida State in the ACC, and both statistics are the most in school history.
Carolina also set a school record for most passing yards in a season with 3,501 yards, ranking fourth in the ACC behind only Clemson, N.C. State, and Miami.
The Tar Heel defense went into its final game at fourth in the nation in tackles for losses per game at 8.1 and registered eight tackles for loss against Maryland. The progress of the defensive line is something Fedora says he will continue to work on in the future.
The 17 seniors honored at Saturday's game provided a remarkable impact to the team throughout the season.
Fedora expressed how proud he was of their achievements and how much they mean to the Tar Heel nation. He honored them as being a group of leaders in all aspects this season.
"These guys have made major contributions to this football team all year. We'll miss a lot of them. There's no doubt about it. We'll miss their leadership. But the exciting thing about it is there will be a whole new group of guys who will step up and they'll fall into those roles and they'll take over the football team, because it becomes their team."
Though the season came to a quick end this year for the Tar Heels, its first non-bowl year since Butch Davis's first season of 2007, there is still much to be said about the achievements of the team.
Ending the season as the ACC Costal Division champions, Fedora and the Tar Heels plan to take that momentum into the offseason in preparation for next year.
"It (winning your last game) gives you a lot of momentum going into the offseason and it gets guys hungry," Fedora said. "It gives us a lot of momentum going into the off-season and into recruiting and into next year."
The passion, perseverance and overall success during Fedora's first year with UNC, along with some of the more thrilling moments like Giovani Bernard's punt return against N.C. State, the big wins over Virginia Tech and Miami, as well as the strong finish in November without a doubt overshadows this team's bowl ineligibility.
If anything, it proves their ability to accept the mistakes of the past, learn from adversity, and achieve when given the opportunity.