There is anticipation and excitement on every college campus when training camp starts because that day marks the countdown to the season opener over the Labor Day weekend. For fans, it's a heads up to clean their grills, purchase new coolers and make their tailgating plans. For players, it's the start of a grueling 4-week practice period.
North Carolina will practice 28 times before its opener against Elon, including three two-a-days. The Tar Heels will endure a stretch of eight practices in six days leading up to the start of classes on Aug. 21.
Fedora has made it clear that his staff will need every one of those practices to get his first squad in Chapel Hill after introducing the new schemes during a three-week window in the spring.
"We've only had 15 practices and we're still trying to figure out who the players are and where they need to be and where they are going to fit into the offense," Fedora said at the Pigskin Preview in July, adding, "We'll figure all of those things out and hopefully they'll overcome the coaching and we'll have a little success."
The players have been off-limits to the coaching staff during the summer months, leaving strength and conditioning coach Lou Hernandez and his staff as the only conduits of relaying Fedora's firm message of accountability.
That approach has worked, according to senior linebacker Kevin Reddick. Missing summer workouts was common during the previous regime, but that wasn't the case this summer.
"The coaches put fear in you, and that's a good thing when your coaches put fear in you and your players put fear in you, not wanting to miss a workout or whatever because of the consequences," Reddick said. "It's a good thing for the fear, but it's another good thing that you want to be there, not only do you not want to miss because of consequences, but I know we're tired of going 7-5, 8-5 -- whatever the records have been."
That fear will likely carry over into the first day of training camp. The introductory shock to the system in the spring allowed for patience, but those days are over. There's no more time for gradual adjustment as Elon will take the Kenan Stadium field in 29 days.
The NCAA-mandated five-day acclimation period comes to a close on Tuesday after two days in helmets and two days in shoulder pads, but those safety devices won't protect the players from the high-octane pace of play that will be ratcheted up from the last practice session.
The storylines will be plentiful, as always. Veterans will emerge as leaders, while true freshmen will draw rave reviews for flashes of potential. The true litmus test of August, however, is the team's ability to narrow the gap between what the coaches want and what the players can deliver.
If the adjustment period proceeds efficiently and effectively, then the opportunity will be available for North Carolina to impress in Fedora's initial season. If the divide takes longer than expected to conquer, then September (and later months) could provide significant challenges.
Fedora addressed his training camp roster of 105 (that number will grow to 119 once classes begin) at 7:30pm on Thursday after a long day of weigh-ins and meetings. Lights out and bed check at the Aloft Hotel in Chapel Hill came at 11pm.
Shortly before 10am on Friday, the 2012 season will officially begin.
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