See Also -- Opponent Spotlight: Brian Leonard
The statistical void left by departed defensive ends Ryan Neill and Val Barnaby is staggering -- 34.5 tackles for loss and 20 sacks. Meekins, a senior defensive tackle, has been given the reins the lead the line.
Meekins joined the football program as an undersized walk-on in 2003, thought to be too small to anchor a defensive line. A football and wrestling star at Westwood (N.J.) High School, he arrived on a wrestling scholarship and made the NCAA championships in his first year wrestling for the Scarlet Knights.
While seeing some game action on the gridiron and appearing on the depth chart in his first two seasons, his impact was minimal. That all changed in 2005.
Meekins is coming off of a breakout junior campaign that included 63 tackles, 15 TFL, nine sacks, nine quarterback hurries and team defensive MVP honors. In the regular season finale against Cincinnati, he was named Big East Defensive Player of the Week after recording 10 tackles, four sacks and two hurries.
He enters 2006 on the Outland Trophy Watch List for the nation's top interior lineman and on the Rotary Lombardi Award Watch List for the nation's top overall lineman.
At 6-0, 275-pounds, he's still considered undersized by scouts' standards and isn't the prototypical lane stuffing defensive tackle. Rather, Meekins has used his compact frame, strength and quickness to become a dominant interior pass rusher.
North Carolina head coach John Bunting knows his Tar Heel offense must be aware of Meekins at all times.
"He's a player who's made a lot of plays for them," Bunting said. "Any time you have an aggressive and athletic player like him, you've got to account for him; you've got to know what we can do to neutralize him as best as possible. Whether it be run or pass, our protection schemes are not going to change, but we've got to be aware [of him]."
Having been named a team captain, Meekins is embracing the leadership role and is ready and eager to take charge, while maintaining the work ethic and humble approach that put him in this position.
"Although I like to lead by example, I am going to be more vocal this year as well," he told the local media. "I take being named one of three captains of this squad very, very, seriously, and I am going to do everything I can to get our defense playing well. That is my job this year …
"I have to continue to work hard, never forget what got me here and what's going to keep me here and continue to work so that I can go to where I need to be because I'm nowhere near there right now."