Special Teams: 'Teams' Special
“We know what kind of core group we have at wide receiver and we’ve all put in a lot of work,” senior Wallace Wright said. “(Strength) Coach [Jeff] Connors said we were one of the hardest working groups this summer. We know what we need to do coming in.”
It’s a colorful mix at the top with six speedsters and big-time possession receivers that could easily start on a multitude of teams not blessed with such depth. UNC also has a full stable of underclassmen with star potential biding their time waiting in the wings.
“That is an advantage to this offense - having so many talented receivers,” quarterback Matt Baker said. “There are so many options, and everywhere you look there is experience and talent.”
The cupboard was left well-stocked for the Tar Heels and new wide receivers coach Dave Brock, who says he feels no pressure from the expectations of his group of players and embraces the competition it fuels in practice.
“As a program you have expectations; and as individuals, you better have expectations,” Brock said. “The depth/competition is what creates greatness – what in the end is going to be a great unit.
“I feel very good about where we are. I don’t think we’re near where we need to be, but we’re pointed in that direction and we’re moving pretty quick.”
Jarwarski Pollock, an all-conference candidate, needs just 19 receptions to surpass Na Brown as the Tar Heels most prolific pass catcher. He’s currently fourth on the list with 147 for 1,617 yards. The partial qualifier made the most of every opportunity at Carolina and gets the most out of his size by sacrificing a 5-foot-8, 170-pound frame with quick hitters across the middle.
Jesse Holley was the least ballyhooed of the three wideouts UNC signed in 2003, but has blossomed into one of the team’s vocal leaders. He’s also added about 10 pounds of muscle at the start of this season, again demonstrating his desire to be the best and overcome adversity.
Last year he played in every game and took over as the starting “Z” receiver, finishing second on the team with 30 catches for 456 yards and two touchdowns.
But mainly Holley has shown an knack for making the big play, including an incredible drive extending sideline catch against N.C. State, a tackle just before the half against Miami that likely saved an interception return for a touchdown and a 45-yard game-winning touchdown catch at Wake Forest.
“I’m like a big tsunami wave, and I’m just going to ride this out until I’m just a small wave on the sand,” the outspoken Holley said. “I just wanted to come in and do the best I could do and contribute to this team as soon as possible. It’s been a great ride for me.”
All Derrele Mitchell has done at Carolina is get better every year. He’s also caught 53 passes for 732 yards in his career. Despite a crucial drop, he had his best game ever versus Boston College in last season’s Continental Tire Bowl setting career-highs with seven receptions and 116 yards receiving.
Like Holley, Mitchell gives UNC an intimidating receiver with outstanding athletic ability.
Mike Mason has proven his mettle all over the field and is probably the most utilized member of the team, catching passes, gunning on punt coverage and returning kickoffs. He also may be the fastest on the team.
His numbers dropped a little last year following his impressive freshman campaign, but not much. In actuality, Mason is one of the Tar Heels’ most consistent receivers with a career average of 14.3 yards per catch.
“Mike Mason had a very productive year last season,” Brock said.
Oh yeah, who can forget his stunning grab in the first quarter against the Hurricanes, which jump started perhaps UNC’s biggest football victory in over 50 years.
Not done yet. Wright could have gotten a scholarship at almost any Division I-AA school as a freshman, but instead decided to accept a walk-on invitation at UNC. He’s already the team’s most productive bringing back kickoffs with 881 career return yards, although he has yet to cross the goal line except as a receiver. His most notable touchdown receptions came late last year against Virginia Tech and Boston College.
“I always felt like I would contribute,” Wright said. “I just took a chance by walking on and it’s worked out for me.”
“He may have been overlooked by the media, but he’s more than appreciated by this coaching staff,” Brock added about Wright.
And then there’s redshirt freshman Brooks Foster, who will get his share of looks this season; sophomore Del Roberts, who played in seven games last season before breaking his collarbone against Miami; true freshman Brandon Tate has already gotten John Bunting’s attention in practice with some heady play, newcomer Kenton Thornton already looks physically like an NFL receiver and Tony Engram was a highly sought after recruit from Georgia in 2004.
“We want to see what Del Roberts can do and Brooks Foster is loaded with ability – he’s just got to get reps,” Brock said.
Michael Norton and Andrew Wasserman are the walk-ons, with Wasserman apparently set to take over for injured Roger Heinz as the holder on field goal and extra point attempts.
“I know we have a chance to be the best, and that remains to be seen,” Bunting said.