Do you look back at your redshirt freshman season as a wasted year?
I would say as far as mentally, yes. We did a lot of physical stuff. We were in the weight room; we were hitting it every day. As far as mentally, I didn’t learn anything about offenses or defenses or anything. It wasn’t until Coach Shoop got here; he pretty much taught me everything I know about football.
You were playing well your sophomore year, the team was winning and -- bam -- you go down with an injury in week three…
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We were rolling on offense with Brandon Tate, Brooks Foster, Hakeem Nicks and all those guys. The defense was playing well, but we were really playing well on offense then I broke my leg. That was extremely frustrating because the offense was at such a high point at that time, and I was so comfortable. That was probably the most frustrating for me because it came at the worst time.
When you see a bad pass from last season, such as the late interception against Virginia Tech, does it even seem like you out there to you?
No. Even when we’re going over film from last year’s stuff, I try not to even look at those, because at so many points last season, I was like, ‘What the hell was I doing?’ I wasn’t in the right mindset. I was forcing stuff, trying to make plays that weren’t there, and trying to combat for some of the struggles we were having offensively, and that just made everything worse.
Was that a product of it being easier with veteran receivers before last season?
It was a struggle. You can never put blame on a certain person but it definitely led to difficulties we had on offense. At certain points we were rolling with three freshman receivers who had never played before, then Zack got hurt and Ryan (Taylor) was hurt, so we were struggling offensively… A lot of it was my fault, I can’t put it on everybody else. I didn’t play well.
Did you feel at all betrayed by the harsh treatment you received last season from some fans?
Yeah, but that’s kind of how fans are. All they care about are results on the field, understandably. … It’s just part of the territory. If you can’t take what comes your way being the quarterback, you shouldn’t play the position.
There’s been a source of frustration for you each year you’ve been here. Each has been unique, and then entering your senior year, and it’s supposed to be a great season and then all of this NCAA stuff hits. Teammates say you have been a constant, a leader and have persevered. Do you feel like you’ve been the face of the program, the guy called on to let the world know all is well within the team, the guys able to play?
It’s kind of hard to know how to react to stuff like that because we didn’t know what players were getting on the bus before games. We didn’t know anything. The coaches didn’t know anything and the players didn’t know anything other than the actual players that were involved. But since we didn’t know what was going on, we couldn’t control any of it. That’s the kind of mindset we took. We just decided that no matter who was on the depth chart, we were all going to be prepared, no excuses.
Did Coach Davis tell you he needed someone to be a face of the program to represent what you’re all about that won’t confuse reporters. Would you say you are the spokesman of the team?
"If you can’t take what comes your way being the quarterback, you shouldn’t play the position."
It wasn’t drawn up by Coach Davis, it’s something that sort of happened. Being a quarterback, I’ve always been with the media after games, regardless, I kind of get a good sense of what’s going on and am pretty good at expressing what everybody thinks around here without saying the wrong things.
And some of the guys who don’t have as much experience with the media have come to me some of the time, and want to know how to handle certain things. I just tell them and I think it helps. Someone has to do this, and I wish the circumstances were different, still, I don’t mind it.
Have your teammates asked about what the media is asking about?
Yeah, they ask, especially the guys that were involved, because they weren’t allowed to speak to the media. They’ve asked what has been said.
So, let's say you have a day with no football, what do you do?
I am always thinking about football during the season. I might try to relax some, but I am too driven by football. Mondays are days off, well a half day off. But I come in and watch film from 6 to 9 in the morning, take notes on the next opponent and give them to Coach Shoop. Then class, but no lifting or meetings on Mondays, so in the afternoon I usually go to the driving range, catch a movie or sit on the couch. But I have a hard time doing nothing.
Do you have many friends who are regular students?
I had a lot of regular students as friends, but not so much anymore because most of my original class has graduated.
Do other students on campus treat you like a regular guy, or are you treated differently because you are a football player and a quarterback at that?
I think people treat me like a regular guy. I hate to be treated any different than anyone else just because I play football. I don’t get that. And I wouldn’t be friends with someone if they did see me as the UNC quarterback first and T.J. Yates second. And when I am out, I don’t really care much for attention. Someone may recognize me at the mall or something, I understand it and appreciate it, but I don’t seek it.
"We just decided that no matter who was on the depth chart, we were all going to be prepared, no excuses."
I know you can play hoops, what happened in high school with Furman and some other schools?
Furman was really interested in me and I had some offers by some other Southern Conference schools. If I didn’t have football, I would have played basketball. I love basketball. But, it’s tough being a 6-4 shooting guard in high school basketball, they’re a dime a dozen. I felt my future was in football.
How surprising was it when you were offered by a school like Carolina to play football?
Coach (Tommy) Thigpen was at one of our games to watch a defensive player from another team and I went off that night, I threw something like five touchdown passes that game. They called me the next day and said they were going to come see me to meet in person. Coach Thigpen, and I remember it like it was yesterday, walked in our office; he didn’t even say anything to me, he just looked at how tall I was and said, ‘Alright, we’ll take him.’ I was like, 'What?!'
Do you feel any gratitude toward Coach Bunting and the former staff for bringing you here?
I do. I am grateful for the opportunity.
Have you talked to Coach Bunting since he left?
I ran into him after a game earlier this season. We shook hands and he said some nice things.
When did you first play football?
I first played football in the second grade and I have played it ever since. I was always taller than everyone and my coaches always liked that.
I played baseball a little, but it got in the way of summer basketball. And my entire family is from Indiana, so we all really love basketball and it won out.
So you have real hoops roots. IU or Purdue?
My parents went to Purdue, so I’m a huge Boilermakers fan.
Who would you root for in Purdue played Carolina in basketball?
Embracing Shoop after win at FSU
Man, I don’t know. That’s tough. I love both teams, both programs. I am a huge (former Purdue coach) Gene Keady fan. I would probably root for Carolina.
Have you heard anything about possibly being invited to an NFL camp or being drafted?
I think I’ll have a good chance. I think the amount of offense I know, and Coach Shoop tells me I’m one of the smartest guys he’s ever coached at either level. I think my knowledge of football and defenses, and being able to see it will help me out as far as mentally. We already run basically an NFL offense, and I asked Coach Shoop how long it would take for me to pick up an NFL offense and he said, “About three days.”
What happens after football? Can you see yourself coaching?
I can see myself coaching. I could have an opportunity as a grad assistant or something probably if I pursued it, but there’s more I want to try to do in football before getting into coaching.
Andrew Jones covers the ACC for FoxSports.com & has contributed to Inside Carolina for 15 years.