July 31, 2011

Kids are all right

This has been an emotional and painful week for much of UNC athletics, particularly all those involved with the football program and those who support it so passionately.

Many within the fanbase are angry (an understatement) with Chancellor Holden Thorp for firing Butch Davis and for doing it a week before the opening of the 2011 training camp.

The disgust is easily understandable. For the first time since Mack Brown, the school finally had a football coach who was capable of building a solid winner. The kids loved (still do) him, respected him and played hard for him. Recruits fell in love with him during the recruiting process.

He also assembled a group of coaches that obviously made recruits feel comfortable.

But what is done is done, as far as Davis' tenure at Carolina. Like it or not, this is how life works. At some point, one has to move ahead.

To boycott the games is to punish the players, who have already been hammered too much. These young men work a rigorous 12-month schedule in order to play 12 regular-season games.

The Tar Heels displayed their resiliency a year ago, overcoming the loss of so many starters to earn a trip to the Music City Bowl and win a game that typified the season.

There is no way this could ever have happened without the players accepting what the coaching staff asked of them and sticking together no matter what hit on any given day.

"To get back, missing all those guys, to an 8-5 record," offensive guard Jonathan Cooper said, "it made me feel pretty good about our team."

The worst thing fans can do now is repay those kids, who have once again put in a long, difficult off-season, by not coming to the games. The players need you to genuinely support them with a full, enthusiastic stadium on game days.

"The kids in this locker room deserve our fans to be behind them," recruiting coordinator and tight ends coach Allen Mogridge said. "The kids in this locker room, they deserve it. I pray that our fans will support these young people and this coaching staff and this head coach and this university moving forward."

If the fans do come and cheer these kids, magical results are possible. Davis and his staff recruited well. There is a lot of talent on campus.

Last season is a testimony to that, given how many starters missed games or even the season, including the three who were selected in the first two rounds of the 2011 National Football League draft.

Davis may be gone, but he left the roster filled with far more talent than the one he inherited in November of 2006.

The truth is the program needed to have a thorough examination after all that was revealed in the investigation. In doing so, however, the administration overreacted and made plenty of mistakes. But as infuriating as that may be, the fans should resist the urge to stay home on game day.

The players here today either served their punishment for their academic improprieties or they never committed any.

"It's brought us closer together as a unit," Cooper said. "It got to a point where it was an us-against-the-world mentality. It was like nobody believed in us but us.

"The resiliency to bounce back from all these obstacles made it seem like any other obstacle was nothing, having to play without such high-caliber players."

This is still college sports, not the National Football League. There is an unwritten pact between a fanbase and its team. If the team works hard and plays hard, then the fans owe it to the kids to support them by attending games and cheering.

Carolina's players have done their part. They have prepared rigorously for the season; they bought into the program no matter what has come along.

UNC's football fans should do the same, regardless of any angry feelings toward Thorp or the Board of Trustees.

This really is about the players who wear that Carolina-blue uniform and put their minds and bodies on the line every time they walk out on the field.

Mogridge is correct. These kids are all right. They deserve your support.



 

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