August 31, 2014

UNC 56, Liberty 29: Stories that didn't make the story

An emotional Ethan Farmer, a freshman sobbing, Jackson Boyer seeing his first action amid a tumultuous time ... these are stories behind the story of the Tar Heels’ victory against Liberty.

North Carolina beat Liberty on Saturday night, and I wrote a lot of words about it. Words you can read right here. As always, though, there are many, many other words I could have written, and stories about the game that didn't make the final story.

So I'd like to introduce a new segment here on the blog: Stories that didn't make the story. This will be a collection of notes and quotes and anecdotes that didn't find their way into print, or online, until now.


Ethan Farmer didn't know when he might receive word, or what the word might be. Days before the start of the season, his eligibility was in question and the fate of his final season in the hands of the NCAA because of undisclosed eligibility issue.

Farmer, a redshirt senior defensive tackle, came out of class on Wednesday and Larry Fedora, the Tar Heels coach, greeted him with the news. At first when he saw Fedora, Farmer didn't know what to think.

Was he cleared? Was he ineligible? Would he be able to play this season?

“It was a surprise from coach Fedora,” Farmer said on Saturday after UNC's victory against Liberty. “After my class, I was getting to walk back to and he surprised me, right after. (Fedora said) Hey, you ready to play? And it just brought tears to my eyes, because I knew how hard I'd worked.”

Farmer is UNC's most experienced defensive tackle. He started on Saturday and finished with four tackles.

Afterward, he tried to put into words what this had been like. The waiting. The wondering. Now all of it was in the past.

“The only thing I can really say is I'm blessed,” he said. “It's a dream come true for me.”


Fedora didn't say who it was, but he described a powerful moment on Saturday – a moment when a freshman was overcome before his first college game. Fedora and the team arrived on buses, walked off of them and walked through a crowd of blue and white.

The Victory Walk, UNC calls it. Happens every home game. Then the players find themselves inside the Kenan Football Center. The end of the Victory Walk. Happens every home game.

What if you’ve never done this before, though? What if it’s your first home game, and you’ve been thinking about that walk, and being inside that building, for a long time, your first college game a couple hours away?

The team made its way through the crowd and into the building and then, Fedora said, he saw noticed him. A freshman standing in the hall “sobbing.”

“I mean, he's a true freshman, and he's just overwhelmed with excitement,” Fedora said. “Now, you think well this is a college football player. He's an 18-year-old kid. And he's fixing to play in his first game. And we all think it's no big deal.

“But to them, it's huge. Huge. I mean, so getting out there and being wide-eyed and you think, well yeah, you've had 29 practices. You'll be all right. Well, it doesn't always work that way.”

Eight first-year players played on Saturday night: S Allen Artis, OL Jared Cohen, LB Cayson Collins, RB Elijah Hood, DL Tyler Powell, WR Austin Proehl, OT Bentley Spain and LB Tyrell Tomlin. Six more redshirt freshmen played: WR Jackson Boyer, DE Dajaun Drennon, WR Jordan Fieulleteau, OG Brad Henson, DT Nazair Jones.

We can make some conclusions, then: The eight first-year guys who played will continue to play this season. The freshmen who didn't play are that much closer to redshirting.


It has to be a strange time for Jackson Boyer these days. Boyer, a non-scholarship receiver from Chapel Hill, is at the center of a controversy that emerged last week, when Yahoo! Sports reported that UNC was investigating some kind of incident between Boyer and and his teamamtes that, allegedly, left Boyer with a concussion.

It happened at the Aloft Hotel, where the team stayed during the preseason. And it happened on Aug. 4, according to what Boyer's brother, Cole, posted on Twitter. Though there are lots of stories about what happened, on both sides, the details remain unclear. Boyer hasn't spoken on the record. Neither have other players who were involved.

Last week, amid a storm of speculation, Fedora suspended four players: Des Lawrence, Donnie Miles, M.J. Stewart and Brian Walker. Lawrence and Walker are UNC's starting cornerbacks. Stewart and Miles are backups in the secondary. They're all counted on to play significant roles.

None of the four suspended players were on the sideline on Saturday. Boyer was, though, dressed out and ready to play.

He walked off the team bus and exchanged high fives and smiles with people who called his name. Some of them shouted, “Come on, Boyer!” and, “Let's go, Boyer!” Before the Yahoo! story broke, few might have known Boyer's name. But now is name is out there. Even casual UNC fans know who he is, and they know him, probably, more for what came out last week than anything.

During the game on Saturday night, Boyer seemed engaged on the sideline. Teammates talked to him. He participated in meetings with the rest of UNC's receivers. He participated in the big huddles with the rest of the offense before UNC started a drive. Then, in fourth quarter, he played for the first time.

I asked to speak with Boyer after the game. I didn't expect UNC to make him available, and UNC didn't. Fedora was asked whether this had been a distraction – the suspensions, the drama that surrounded the team last week.

“I did not address it,” Fedora said. “Didn't even talk about it today. We were beyond that. Now it was all about us coming together, picking each other up.”


--UNC's backfield is supposed to be stacked, right? There's T.J. Logan and Hood, who were two of the best prospects in the state during their senior seasons of high school. There's Romar Morris and Khris Francis. Lots of depth. Lots of talent.

Yet Charles Brunson, who joined the team as a walk-on before the 2012 season, led UNC in rushing against Liberty (nine carries, 54 yards). Fedora said, basically, that he was waiting for someone to get hot and no one did.

--I'm doing a separate story on the quarterback situation, so a lot more on that later. Worth mentioning here, though, that Marquise Williams said he learned two weeks ago that he'd be the starter. We kind of had to interrogate this out of Williams. He said, at first, that he didn't learn until Saturday that he'd start.

His smile gave it away. So I asked, “When did you really find out?”

He tried to say Saturday, again. Sure, I said.

Finally, the truth: “Honest (answer), I found out like about two weeks ago, to be honest with you guys,” Williams said. “I just had to keep it under cover. We're doing what the coaches love to do, keep things under cover and have some fun with it. It had you guys guessing, didn't it?”

--I did a bad thing. I went on Twitter and vented over the emails I've received on my description of the attendance last night as “relatively sparse.” A couple things here: I was referring to the crowd midway through the third quarter. And, second, I spent a whole two words in the story on this.

And, sorry folks, but the side facing the press box looked about half full to me midway through the third. I've been told the other side of the stands, the one that isn't really visible from the press box, was fuller.

Either way, what I wrote wasn't meant to be an indictment on the fan support. It was a quick description, and an observation that when UNC began playing its best, the stands relatively sparse. It was meant to show that some who’d been there weren’t around to see UNC play its best.

Andrew Carter is the UNC athletics beat reporter for The News & Observer and Charlotte Observer. Follow him on Twitter at @_andrewcarter .

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