How much will you and the seniors who went to the Peach Bowl stress to the rest of the team that now it's not just about getting to a bowl but get there and win it?
It's about all throughout the season, and, of course, post season. We've never and I've never worked as hard for a fun experience. Back in 2001, we busted our butts when everybody left campus for Christmas and we were the only people on campus. It was a ghost town, an absolute ghost town. We were out there, up at six o'clock in the morning, and we were there until three o'clock in the afternoon. It was two-a-days, and you know what--some of us, we didn't like it.
We were like, 'This is supposed to be a fun experience,' but what we were doing was securing our win then and there with our preparation. We didn't understand what Coach Bunting was trying to do, but when we got down there to Atlanta we understood. And when we saw the scoreboard afterwards, going up against a good team like Auburn, we understood that all of our hard efforts paid off.
Will you tell them what it was like?
We have to share our stories. We have to tell them what a bowl experience is like. We have to educate them before we even start going on to our bowl game experience. And we have to let them know that everything we do is going to be paid off, and it will be so much fun, wherever we go.
It looked like the offensive line came out and tried to take the game out of everybody else's hands. What was the goal on the first drive?
The goal? Wow! Our goal was to run the ball straight down their [throats]. We knew that we had two fresh running backs, Ronnie McGill and Chad Scott, and that's what we were going to do. We were going to pound the ball at them all day long. It even helped us out that much greater--we had a couple of stops towards the end, but we knew that we had to run some time off the clock and that's what we did.
Whose idea was it to spray paint the Victory Bell?
James Spurling, he owns Eastgate BP up 15-501. I'm giving him great publicity right now. He's one of our #1 fans. He came out there with a huge bag full of Carolina blue [paint]. Before I got down to the bell--I was running down there with a limp ankle--they had already spray painted it Carolina blue. I had my can ready, but I was like, 'It's already blue,' so I just 'tss-tss' just a little bit so I could say I got my two cents in.
Did any of the Duke guys have anything interesting to say to you about your 'Losing to Duke is like getting beat up by a girl' comments this week?
Interesting? Oh, they said it with their pads today. They were angry--they were very angry. I will have to look at film to make sure that wasn't the cause of my ankle injury. I wasn't sure if somebody fell on the back of my ankle or whether it was actually intended. But, yeah, they were after me all day long--and I kept my head on a swivel.
Did any of your teammates say anything?
They said that they had my back and I had confidence in them. They said they had my back.
What was the reaction to Coach Bunting's contract extension in the locker room?
You had to have heard it. It was an uproar with everybody. We owe it to that man. He bleeds Carolina blue and we have no bigger fan than Coach Bunting and we truly owe him. We love him.
When did you feel that this team was beginning to get hot for this stretch run?
I guess right after the Miami game. That's when we got hot.
Did you do something special before that game?
It was a big-time opportunity for us, especially us seniors. You've got Miami at home your senior year, and they are a top five team, so that was big.
When you came out with the injury was there any doubt in your mind that you be back?
Not at all.
I noticed on the play where Ronnie McGill had the option to pass that you threw a block that sprang him and you did it with your right shoulder after the injury. It looked like you didn't hesitate.
I was going to go all-out for my team, regardless. Last time I was here, I pretty much put my whole career on the line with my thumb. That's the kind of player I am. I'm all about winning and whatever it takes.
Did you think it was hurt worse than it was originally?
Did you come back and get X-rays or anything?
We just went in there, checked the motion, and made sure it was nothing serious.
Did you get a shot or anything?
Nah, just pain killers.
How did it happen?
I don't know exactly how it happened. I just lowered my shoulder and came up and it was hurt.
Was it that third and--?
Third and 28, something like that.
But didn't you come back in after that? Is that when you felt it?
I felt it on the sideline, but after I got back in and threw the pass to Duante Fields, that's when I knew it was pretty serious.
With the win, bowl eligibility, and Coach Bunting's extension, do you feel a sense of relief?
Nah, it's not relief. Everybody inside this program knew that we had the capability of winning games and going to a bowl, so it's not a relief.
So what are your feelings?
I just feel good that I can play another game. That's the main thing.
So why did you have to spray paint the bell on the field?
We felt like those guys disrespected us last year. When they got the bell, they took the bell to our logo on the 50 yard line and started stomping on our logo. We wanted to get a little redemption.
You got the win, became bowl eligible, and did what some of the naysayers said you couldn't do. What does that mean to you and your career?
It's great. You always want to finish your career going to a bowl game. The best thing about it is that nobody gave us a shot. Everybody had us predicted to win one or maybe two games, so that's the best thing about it.
What allowed you to get pressure on their quarterback today?
We brought in our spinner package when we knew they were going to come with three wide. They can only stay back there so long. Our coverage is great in the back and we have some quick guys up front that get some pressure, make him step up, and then we have somebody standing right there. We have quick guys to catch him. We put the pressure on him, made him throw the ball on the ground a few times or throw over their heads. Duke is a physical team. They cam out ready to play. Some things happened on special teams, and we had to respond to that.
What is the spinner package?
It's a package, like nickel personnel. You put defensive backs, and then we put a few people in different positions. It's not base personnel like goes against one tight end and two backs and two wide receivers. It's just a name.
What were you thinking at halftime having played sort of up and down and dominated in some statistics, but you really didn't have a commanding lead?
We came in here and said that we want the bell and the state championship. We wanted those things. We have a shirt that says, 'Take It Back.' Coach Connors gave it to us. We had two of the three [against in-state rivals], and we knew we had to come out in the second half and battle. We played a little flat, I guess, in the first half at times in different aspects. We came out in the second half and put it all together. We said we weren't going to be denied what we've been working towards this whole year.
Whose idea was it to bring the spray paint?
I don't know who brought the spray paint. That's what it looked like before it left last year, and that is what it will look like, hopefully, for years to come.
What do you think about Coach Bunting's extension?
We believe in him. He is a tough nosed coach and he loves us and he's going to try to get the most out of us. He's been through a lot. We've heard the people saying he should get fired and different things. He hasn't tucked his tail and run and he's stood up to that pressure. He took it like a true man and I'm excited about that."
What are your thoughts about winning back the Victory Bell?
It didn't belong to them anyway. It belongs to us, so we wanted to make sure that everybody knew that it belongs to us. It's not coming back here. It won't come back to Durham any more.
It felt great. The way things have been going this season, we've had the highest high's and the lowest low's. We haven't won games back-to-back all season. We were just trying to get in here, work these guys, and go out on top for our seniors and get to a bowl game.
How does it feel to have another month of football practice, instead of going straight to basketball?
It's great. I feel bad that the guys lost last night, and know Coach Williams is going to tear them up when they get to Maui. He'll probably find a local high school gym or something around there and they will be doing defensive slides all day. They will lose all their tourist time and get a chance to chill. They will be doing defensive slides. So I get the chance to be here and rest up a little bit--no defensive slides--and go play a bowl game.
Did you have a scary moment when Darian Durant scrambled for yardage went out with the injury?
We always tell Darian to get down, but he is a fighter so he is going to go in there in a big game, lower his shoulder, and lower the boom on somebody. He did, and he came up a little limp on his shoulder.
But Matt Baker, we work with him everyday in practice. Durant gets half the snaps, Baker gets half the snaps. He's well prepared and ready to go. I knew [Durant] would come back. It wasn't that severe. He was throwing a little bit on the sidelines, went in and got a little treatment and came back. Matt Baker held the fort down in the meantime.
Whose idea was it to paint the Victory Bell on the spot?
I don't know, but it was a good one. I don't know whose idea it was. We wanted to paint it on the spot. We left some Carolina blue remnants on the field so when they come out on the field for their last little practice or whatever they do, they will see it and know that the bell was here and will no longer be here anymore.
Which was the most important accomplishment, getting the Bell, getting bowl eligible, getting Coach Bunting two extra years?
Getting the bell back, first and foremost--getting the bell back would mean a victory. And with the victory you get a bowl. And with wins, coaches get extensions. They all go hand-in-hand.
Getting the Bell back in its rightful hands. We had an are tapped off where the Bell was. It's been spacious. We need that bell back in that area.
What has been the key to this team's resiliency since the Utah game?
Coach told us that if anyone was going to hold their head down, they could go ahead and leave the team. We wanted to go out there and be sound. We put that game behind us and we've seen that we are a really really good team. We had to get over that hump and learn how to finish. We weren't finishing games (but) we know now.
What did you think about the UNC fans here in Wallace Wade Stadium today?
We had more fans than they had! Our fans have been great all year long. They've come out to every home game. They've should tremendous support all over. Those guys get two thumbs up, a pat on the back, kiss on the cheek, everything. Those guys have been great, just great. They've been in the games for four quarters. They have really wanted to be that twelfth man for us. I want to say thank you to all the fans of the Tar Heels.
What did you think about the fan support today?
It makes you more comfortable. You fans are supporting you. It makes you feel like you have a home field advantage.
How is the ankle? The ankle is fine. It feels like it was before I got injured.
What do you think about winning back the Victory Bell?
(Laughing) It was a good feeling. We even had spray paint ready. I didn't know about it. I saw them running down the sideline with Carolina blue spray paint and when we won, it was a great feeling to go get our bell and repaint it.
What do you think about Bunting's extension?
It's good because he's done real well this year. He has a chance to be the coach of the year. No body expected us to do that good in the conference and we showed everybody. He just proved that he is a good coach.
Did he ever say anything about his status as coach?
He told us not to worry about it. He told us to play the game that we've been playing and let everything fall where it may. We have a lot of things we have to worry about. Playing the teams and worrying about what they are doing. So you keep it (Bunting's status) in the back of your mind but you don't really think about the coaching situation.
What was your reaction to the extention?
No one saw that coming. We didn't know what he was about to tell us. I was hoping he was going to tell us what bowl we were going to (laughter). But Coach Bunting's done a good job this year and he's kept the players focused and kept us thinking about what we have to think about.
How did you turn the season around?
Guys really focused. A lot more focused than we were in the beginning of the season. At the beginning, players were just playing lackadaisical. Now, everybody knew we had a good team and we knew if we played hard, we could make it to a bowl game."
When did you have the confidence that you could be a good team?
The [NC] State game. That helped the defense out more than the offense because everybody had been talking that the defense couldn't stop anybody. Then they made that goal line stand and that gave them confidence. As far as the offense, we had been moving the ball, but they came in ranked #1 in the nation in total defense and we were able to put up points and drive the ball down the field. That gave us confidence saying we could move the ball on anybody.
What has it been like for you not to be able to play for a while, sitting out with the injury?
It's hard. When I first gone into a game, I have a lot to think about because I haven't played in a while and how I am going to react to the speed and get back used to it. Sitting on the sideline watching to actually getting in there is hard. It's totally different than watching. Every time I first come in, I'm a little shaky because I'm not really sure what to expect. I don't know if they are going to blitz because I'm in the game and I haven't been in there in a while. After being out there, it feels a whole lot better than sitting on the sideline.