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UNC quarterback competition nearing its conclusion

By Andrew Carter
acarter@newsobserver.com
North Carolina Preview Football
Gerry Broome - AP
North Carolina quarterbacks Marquise Williams, left, who played at Mallard Creek, and Mitch Trubisky may not find out who will start for another several days.

CHAPEL HILL The competition is nearing its end, and at some point during the next week or so coach Larry Fedora will finalize his decision on the starting quarterback at North Carolina. Fedora might have made up his mind already, in fact, but if he has he’s not telling.

He’s content to let the speculation continue – content to let the suspense build, apparently. Since the start of the preseason, Marquise Williams, a junior from Charlotte (Mallard Creek), and Mitch Trubisky, a freshman from Ohio, have been competing for the starting quarterback position.

UNC has had two full scrimmages since then and about three weeks of practices. Yet Fedora on Monday quickly dismissed the notion that he was closer to a decision – or even that a decision is close.

Asked if he had a preferred time line in mind for when he makes up his mind, Fedora didn’t miss a beat.

“Yeah,” he said after practice, his tone serious. “I got to have something done I know by the 30th.”

He was referring to the date of UNC’s first game of the season, which is at home against Liberty. Fedora has indicated that he might not make a decision on the starter until just before the Liberty game, though he finally acknowledged it would come sooner.

He plans, though, to keep that decision a mystery. At least that sounds like his intention, anyway.

“We’ll make a decision before the 30th,” Fedora said. “I mean, you guys won’t know it. But we will make a decision before the 30th. We’ll start as we get into the game-planning, we’ll have a plan what we’re going to do and how we’re going to implement it and those guys will be aware of it.

“It won’t be like we walk out there on the 30th and I flip a coin and throw one of them out there.”

Fedora’s decision could be days away or more than a week away. He hasn’t described his plan, and Williams and Trubisky said they didn’t have an expectation of when they’d find out.

They have split work with the first team throughout the preseason, rotating days as the starter. Trubisky worked with the first team Monday, which means Williams likely would Tuesday.

“This team has gotten so used to them going back and forth that sometimes I don’t think the other guys on the team know who’s in there,” quarterbacks coach Keith Heckendorf said.

Among UNC’s coaches, Heckendorf has likely spent the most time working with Williams and Trubisky. He has picked up on their habits and styles, and he has developed a sense of how the rest of the team has responded to both players.

One advantage for the offense, Heckendorf said, is that Williams and Trubisky share no shortage of similarities. They have a similar set of skills and attributes, and a similar way of calling plays at the line of scrimmage.

“You don’t notice a difference in snap count or cadence or things of that nature,” Heckendorf said. “That could cause some teams problems if you have one guy that does it one way and another guy that does it a completely different way.”

Most of UNC’s practices are closed – media members are allowed to watch the first 30 minutes of two practices per week – and all of the scrimmages have been closed. It’s difficult, then, to evaluate the competition between Williams and Trubisky, and identify the areas in which they’ve excelled or struggled.

Williams, though, beamed when he spoke of Saturday’s scrimmage. He didn’t commit a turnover, he said, and he described in glowing terms his performance this preseason. Asked if he felt he’d done enough to earn the starting job, he didn’t hesitate.

“I have to believe in myself,” said Williams, who started six games last season and led UNC to a 5-1 finish. “I believe in myself, and I’ve been doing a wonderful job and I’ve made some big improvements. And as a quarterback, you want to be that first quarterback to go out with the team against Liberty. I just can’t say, ‘Hey, I’ll let him take it.’ 

Both quarterbacks have spoken often of how the competition has strengthened their relationship instead of harmed it. That, Heckendorf said, has been among the most rewarding parts of the preseason for the coaching staff.

In the coming days, though, the competition will end and one player’s hope of starting in the first game will be over. So, too, will the wait.

“We’re ready for this to be over,” Trubisky said. “I mean, I’ve talked to coach Fedora and I have 100 percent faith in him, and whatever he decides it’s going to be what’s best for this team. And you never know what’s going to happen. There’s injuries, there’s certain situations.

“So all the quarterbacks have to be ready.”

Carter: 919-829-8944; Twitter: @_andrewcarter
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