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DeCock: Culture shock for ACC newcomers

By Luke DeCock - staff columnist
ldecock@newsobserver.com
Luke has worked for The News & Observer since 2000. He covered the Carolina Hurricanes and the NHL before becoming a sports columnist in August 2008. A native of Evanston, Ill., he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania.
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GREENSBORO Macky MacPherson, born and raised in Syracuse, proud grandson of a famous coach, as orange as an Orangeman can get, would admit to some quintessential culture shock upon his first trip to North Carolina.

Representing one of the ACC’s two newest members at the league’s annual football kickoff Sunday, the Syracuse offensive lineman recounted a few of his more jarring moments so far.

“Oh, you know, holding the door open and some lady calls you ‘Sweetie,’ that’s not something you get up north, you know what I’m saying?” MacPherson said. “Sweet tea, also. I like my tea unsweet. I guess that’s some sort of mortal sin down here.”

Yes, those common cries accompanied the arrival of Pittsburgh and Syracuse just as they accompany the arrival of transplants from Pittsburgh and Syracuse and other points north. While the official introduction of the two schools as full ACC members happened earlier this month in New York, this was the handshake line, the first real event where players and coaches from schools new and old would mingle.

For Syracuse defensive tackle Jay Bromley, his eye-opening moment was seeing his school’s helmet alongside those of its new peers, Florida State and Miami and Clemson and the rest of the ACC.

“Tradition, you know? Down south, football is law,” Bromley said. “Everything is about tradition. That’s the thing I see when I look at these schools and I see these banners. It goes back a long time with these schools. And I respect that.”

The geographic center of the ACC – the footprint, if you will, to borrow commissioner John Swofford’s favorite phrase – has shifted north, with Notre Dame aboard in every sport other than football and Louisville arriving next year. (Notre Dame’s famous helmet was nowhere in evidence. And not coincidentally, it took Swofford 31 minutes to utter the word “Maryland” in his state-of-the-conference Q-and-A on Sunday. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.)

The transition has been so long in the making that whatever surprise there was two years ago when the ACC moved to add the two former Big East teams long ago passed. Now, among the newcomers there’s only excitement at the new challenge, not to mention relief at safely escaping the disintegrating Big East.

“I was surprised, but at the same time, I was excited to know we got new competition coming in, new teams that we never got the opportunity to play before, I’m amped about it,” Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald said. “I’m ready for it.”

For the Boston College contingent, it was a welcome change after being the ACC’s northernmost outpost since joining in 2005. They’ve been stuck at the wrong table in the lunchroom for years, with their unusual accents and cold-weather gear, but they finally have some company in the conference.

“That’s very exciting,” said Eagles linebacker Steele Divitto, a New Jersey native. “We had a great, long-lasting rivalry with Syracuse. That was awesome, back in the Big East days. To have that back is great. We played them my freshman year and it was a smashmouth game. Pittsburgh, too.”

Like Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech eight years ago, the two new schools bring their own identities, their own traditions, their own legends, running backs like Jim Brown and Tony Dorsett, quarterbacks like Dan Marino and Greg Paulus … strike that … Donovan McNabb.

There’s going to be an adjustment. It’s going to be a change. Sunday was merely the beginning.

“It’s like when it’s your birthday and someone asks, ‘How do you feel?’ ” MacPherson said. “You don’t feel any different, but it’s different. We’re going to go out there and compete and when the season starts, then we’ll really understand what’s going on.”

DeCock: ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947
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