Jabari Price arrived in Chapel Hill a summer ago confident that at some point he would get a chance to show what he could do for the Tar Heels.
But he had no way of knowing then that 'some point' would be his very first collegiate game in the Georgia Dome against SEC power LSU.
"Last year, I have to admit, the LSU game, I wasn't even expecting to play with Kendric Burney and Charles Brown returning. And then the week before the game they tell me that Charles Brown and Kendric Burney can't play."
"That was just the shocker of my life---I just have to give it up to you," Price said.
Price had no choice but to get out there on the field and learn on the fly against the Tigers about the speed of the college game and the necessary things he would need to do to have success.
"When I got in there, the coaches had faith in me to make plays and continue to play. And they continued to play me throughout the season, and it turned out for the best," he said. "It was an eye-opener to get my feet wet for this year."
With Burney now off to the Carolina Panthers, Price finds himself in position to stand alongside Brown, who has returned after a yearlong suspension, as one of the starting cornerbacks for the Tar Heels.
"To have Charles Brown back, it's almost like last year. He brings back an experienced corner, and with that experienced corner you have someone to rely on to show you the ropes. It's real helpful," Price said.
"I know the feeling of being out here on Saturdays and stepping up and making plays for the team when they need them," he added. "I'm learning as the process is going, and I'm getting better day in and day out. I have to get going and get ahold of the flow."
Its been a minor adjustment for Price and the rest of the UNC secondary with Art Kaufman now serving as defensive coordinator, and Price says over the past two weeks he's gotten more familiar to what the linebackers have already seen out of Kaufman in terms of his energy and attention to detail.
"Coach Kaufman puts a lot of emphasis on hustling and effort. With Coach Kaufman I've got to bring my 'A' game, whether it's hustling, getting to the ball, or lining up right," Price said.
Price readily admits he takes personal the fact that some people aren't expecting much out of this UNC secondary with the losses of three graduated seniors who left behind a combined 10 years' starting experience.
"We really have taken that chip on our shoulder. I mean, a lot of people are questioning our secondary since we lost Da'Norris Searcy, Deunta Williams, and Kendric Burney," he said.
"We really have taken a chip on our shoulder this training camp and have put emphasis on that and we're trying to make a statement this year to set the tone for the team."
The guys who invented the UNC secondary nickname 'Rude Boys' are largely gone this summer from Carolina's practices, but their spirit endures through those who remain.
Deunta Williams, one of the originators of the phrase, let Price know that he has to keep going what they started.
While Williams and Burney aren't there to start the chants anymore, one can still hear the familiar 'Rude Boys---You Know!' when the secondary assembles for stretching and other points of daily practices.
"I talk to Deunta sometimes. He lets me know I have to keep the tradition going. This is a 'Rude Boys' thing, so with the young boys and the guys coming in after them, we've got to keep it going," Price said.
Goals for Price this summer as he gets ready for the regular season includes stepping up his game to challenge UNC's collection of wide receivers, while also improving his fundamentals and techniques.
"Technique-wise, I want to challenge a receiver on a daily basis. I don't want to be out there just to be having a jersey," he said. "You want to challenge the receiver every play, whether it's 'bump and run,' or a run or a pass (play). I just want to make a statement on my side of the ball."
Another goal for Price is developing more bulk.
It's somewhat difficult to gain weight during training camp when you're shedding pounds daily in practice, but Price is looking to enhance his physical development in the weight room over the next several months in order to get his body closer to some recent ACC cornerbacks who are now in the NFL.
"I'm trying to get to 200 (pounds). I saw a lot of the top corners, Marcus Gilchrist, a lot of the guys that went to the NFL weigh like 200, 205," he said. "Right now I'm 195, but I'm trying to get there."
Jackson won't be ready for the regular season as he overcomes a knee injury earlier in the year, but Smiley, Scott, and Dixon could all wind up potentially seeing playing time this fall on special teams and perhaps as one of Price's backups.
"The young guys, no matter where they're from, all four of them can play. They can play. They came and they're getting the new playbook pretty fast," Price said. "They've been thrown into the mix and they're doing pretty good from what I've seen."
Price and his Tar Heel cornerback mates are getting pushed hard in practice each day by some pretty impressive players in the UNC offense---guys like Dwight Jones who could very well be catching passes in the pros this time a year from now.
"I have to give it up to Dwight Jones. I mean, he's getting me better day in and day out," Price said. "At 6-5, you can't ask for more (competition). I play him hard but when I'm bringing my 'B' game, he (Jones) lets me know I've got to step it up at times."
"I think we've got one of the best receiving corps in the nation, to be honest," Price added.
Price had good things to say about his receiver teammates and running back Giovani Bernard for their play in Saturday's scrimmage.
"Saturday, I'd have to give it up to the offense. They came out and they made good plays. But as a defense, we can't allow that to happen," he said.
"Before he (Bernard) got hurt, he was running that thing hard," Price added.
"He's no joke. I mean, to miss a whole season and come back that strong---unexpected---but I can't wait to see him this year."
In his opinion, the secondary still has to improve its reads and following the movements of opposing wide receivers this summer in camp before they'll be ready to play the season.
"The bigger breakdowns would have to be reads, just reading the wide receivers' tempo and stuff like that," Price said. "I mean, we made good plays (in the scrimmage), but at the same time we gave up plays, and as a defense, we can't let that happen."