At Charlotte Catholic, Nick Starcevic earned a reputation as a rugged blocker and a ball carrier that could always get you the short yards needed for a first down or touchdown.
“Nick doesn’t mind running head long into you,” UNC running backs coach Andre’ Powell said. “He’ll strike you good.”
Starcevic played in 10 games as a freshman, mostly backing up senior Rikki Cook. But when his number was called, true to his nature Starcevic delivered. His only carry of the year was a one-yard touchdown plunge in a losing effort at Louisville.
Starcevic has bigger and better plans for his college future, but those suffered a setback after undergoing an emergency appendectomy in late February. Starcevic returned to practice last Saturday, and by Wednesday afternoon he was pounding open holes at full speed during scrimmages.
“I just woke up one Monday morning before breakfast and it was hurting,” he said. “By lunch time, it was unbearable. I was very upset about it. I mean it hurt, but it hurt worse not being able to practice.
“The last couple of days – with the reps I’ve been getting – I’ve been trying to go 100 percent. It feels good to be sore after practice again and start getting back after it.”
Now as spring football winds down, Starcevic finds himself atop the depth chart at fullback. It makes sense, because though just a rising sophomore, he has more experience at the position than anyone else on the team.
“I knew I was coming into a good situation on a team with only one scholarship fullback when I came in, but I’m not really looking at it that way,” Starcevic said.
Yet his innate toughness and fierce competitiveness aside, Starcevic needed this spring to help him prepare for what will be a vastly increased role in 2006.
“It doesn’t look like he lost any of his aggressiveness,” Powell said. “But missing all the practice he missed really hurt him as far as technique.”
Powell said at times Starcevic still gets himself out of position to the point that it becomes hard for him to make plays. So the days he missed has hurt him in that regard.
“That’s where Nick is lacking,” he said. “It’s not a matter of courage, but he plays out of control sometimes.”
With Starcevic out, and redshirt freshman Kennedy Tinsley having recently been moved to linebacker, the door of opportunity swung wide open for others to get snaps at the position.
Younger players E.J. Wilson, Bobby Rome and Michael Briggs got reps. But although each has had bright moments, “they didn’t grasp it the way a fullback needs to grasp it,” Powell said. So tight end Richard Quinn got some work in at H-Back, which did please Powell.
But the emergence of former quarterback Joey Bozich as a demon on punt coverage caught the eyes of the coaches.
“Low and behold. Shocking to me, we moved Joey Bozich to fullback,” Powell said. “He is awesome. He’s deranged. I had no idea he was 240 pounds now.
"The other day we had him on six live reps… On five of them, he totally destroyed the guy and dished out two concussions. He’s unbelievable.”
Despite Bozich having not played defense since his junior year in high school nor lined up as a running back since the sixth grade, early returns rate the move a good one.
“Last year when we started summer camp, we had Bozich penciled in as our personal protector,” John Bunting said. “And when Roger Heinz went down, Joey became our backup quarterback almost by default. So we wanted Joey to start helping us out on special teams regardless.
“Now, we think he can help us at fullback, and I’m excited about what I’ve seen in a short period of time.”