The competition begins in two months at spring practice and Heinz told Inside Carolina on Wednesday that he's been given the "green light" by UNC team doctors to return to action at full speed.
"My back is close to 100 percent and I am eager to get back onto the field," Heinz said. "I feel that I am ready to start working out again and take the starting QB spot."
Heinz entered preseason practice last August second on the depth chart (or "1B" as the coaches ranked him) behind senior Matt Baker to start the 2005 season. After a record-setting high school career at N. Florida Christian Academy in Tallahaseee, he redshirted in 2003 and took just a few snaps without attempting a pass in a 2004 losing effort at Florida State.
But he had been experiencing back pain throughout last summer, and on Aug. 24, he underwent surgery to repair two herniated discs.
"We hoped this could wait until the end of the season, but he was in too much pain to continue. I'm disappointed for Roger and our team," John Bunting said the day of Heinz's operation.
"The doctors were able to clear up my two herniated discs 17 weeks ago, but were not able to reverse the arthritis forming in my back or the degenerative disc problem," Heinz said.
Thus, many have wondered if Heinz would ever play football again. Now it appears he'll at least get a shot.
Due to the unpredictability surrounding back injuries in general--and perhaps the fact Heinz's older brother Matt's college football career at Florida State had been cut short by a similar problem--many area fans and analysts appear to be overlooking Heinz when it comes to handicapping next year's race for the No. 1 spot.
"All of the negative speculation I have read regarding my return makes me excited to come back and prove wrong any doubters," Heinz said. "I want the fans to know that I have been in this position before. In high school I had my right and left shoulders reconstructed, dislocated fingers on my throwing hand, sprains, etc... And I never let anything get me down.
"Coming back from this back surgery will be no different than anything in the past."
Not including three quarterbacks verbally committed to enroll in 2006, Nebraska transfer Joe Dailey, who will be a junior, sophomore Joey Bozich and redshirt freshmen Cameron Sexton and Bobby Rome are all in the mix for Baker's vacated spot.
Despite the fact Heinz earned Baker's backup spot prior to last season, many have speculated Dailey and Sexton will be the two vying for the top of the depth chart this year. But Sexton is also recovering from injury – a broken ankle suffered last spring. Meanwhile Dailey, who started a full season at Nebraska only to fall to fourth on the Cornhuskers' two-deep the following spring, has something to prove.
Although most of Heinz' experience has come in practice, he remains one of the veteran signal callers on the club.
"I have been a mentor to Cameron Sexton and Bobby Rome regarding football and school work," Heinz said. "There were many occasions this past season where I helped teach protections to Cam and Bobby."
Heinz believes it's his turn. And, as always, he is upbeat about his chances to not only return from injury, but fulfill his goal of being the Tar Heels' starting quarterback.