More than a hundred Tar Heel Lettermen were registered for the annual Morris Mason Golf Tournament Friday at UNC Finley Golf Course. And despite a steady rain and cool temperatures, most of them persevered and made it through 18 holes. From there it was on to a dinner Friday night and scrimmage Saturday morning.
“We are honored you are here tonight,” Tar Heel coach Larry Fedora told the Lettermen after dinner in the Blue Zone. “I know it can be hard to get back, you have so many things going on in your lives. But you know the feeling when you step back on this campus and every time you do, you have a great time and those memories start flowing. That’s what it’s all about, and you have a tremendous time. We talk to our players about how they are creating memories that will last a lifetime. That’s a tremendous thing.
“We want you to know you don’t have to wait for an invitation to a Lettermen’s Golf Tournament. You guys are always welcome to come here. We want you on our campus, to come through our offices, to see and be seen. The more opportunities our players have to meet our Lettermen, the better off we are.”
Fedora drew a round of rueful chuckles from the Lettermen who dated back to the Jim Hickey era and on through recent graduates when he talked about spring practice today is limited to 15 practices total and only three can be in full pads with full contact.
That left the guys from the Dooley era shaking their heads remembering six-hour scrimmages and 30 practices each spring.
“Think about what you learned from the game of football,” Fedora said. “You would not be where you are today if you had not done what you did. You wouldn’t be the man you are if you had not gone through those trials and tribulations and hard work to be that guy. This is the greatest game on earth, it’s the greatest game in the world.”
Fedora introduced his staff and had offensive coordinator Seth Littrell and first-year linebackers coach John Papuchis address the Lettermen. Papuchis stood in for defensive coordinator Gene Chizik, who has been dealing with a family situation back in Auburn, Ala., where his wife and three children still live.
“One of our biggest weaknesses last year was inexperience and youth,” Littrell said. “Now it’s becoming one of our strengths. We have 10 returning starters and 99 percent of our offense coming back. Our goal was to get bigger and stronger and make sure we master our fundamentals and assignments. The biggest thing is going out and playing more physical. We’ve had a great off-season of conditioning. Lou Hernandez does a great job. He took a guy like Brandon Fritts, a freshmen receiver who came in at 210 pounds last year, and he’s now at 245 and will play tight end for us. There have been transformations across the board.”
Papuchis said that every player on defense is starting from a clean slate.
“Sometimes what people need in life in general or in athletics is a new opportunity,” he said. “We did not know any of our players and they did not know us. We did not know what they’ve done in the past and don’t care. We have a saying, ‘Inch by inch.’ If they will give us everything they have in the weight room, the meeting room and on the practice field, we’ll get better, inch by inch. We are making progress.
“We will be physical, we’ll be tough and we’ll be accountable. Those things I promise you.”The Tar Heels are halfway through spring ball and will practice twice this week, break for Easter holiday and then practice four times the next week, concluding spring ball with a scrimmage in Charlotte on April 11 at Rocky River High.