But while Massenburg has been working with the first-string defensive line for the past week, he is not quite ready to proclaim himself the starting right end opposite of E.J. Wilson for the Aug. 30th season opener against McNeese State.
“It’s kind of a toss up, because we’ve got so many young guys that can contribute, and we’ve also got some returning guys that can help out,” said Massenburg, who posted four tackles and one tackle for loss in eight games of action last fall. “So it’s not safe to say that anybody has a spot, but hopefully I can stay in that No. 1 spot.”
Fellow red-shirt sophomore Greg Elleby started training camp with the first unit at right end, after securing the spot with strong play in the spring – something that Massenburg was unable to do while recovering from surgery on his right wrist.
The Roanoke Rapids, N.C. product – who secured that high school’s first ACC scholarship offer since 1988 – fractured his wrist on senior right tackle Garrett Reynold’s helmet during the Wake Forest game preparations last fall. After allowing the break to heal during the remainder of the season, Massenburg fractured it again during 1-on-1’s in the offseason, resulting in the decision to go ahead with surgery prior to spring ball.
“The wrist is coming along,” said Massenburg, who also fractured his left wrist in high school. “It still bothers me a little bit, but it’s coming along. I’ve been doing a lot of rehab on it to try to get it back up to where it was. It gives me a little ache and pain here and there, but I think it will be okay.”
Wilson confirmed to Inside Carolina last week that he was still holding down the strongside defensive end spot, despite speculation that suggested otherwise. The premise behind the rumors made sense – how many 305-pound rush ends are there in college football?
“A lot of teams that have the same terminology usually have a smaller guy coming off the edge for backside plays,” Massenburg said, laughing. “But I don’t know – that’s just where they put me. We do have [230-pound] Darius Powell, so I’m pretty sure we’ll swap every now and then… I’m sure there will come a time when I’ll make some plays from the backside. We’ll see how that goes.”
With three years of eligibility remaining, it’s easy to assume that Massenburg is just another youngster on the Tar Heels’ roster, but that train of thought would be incorrect.
A member of North Carolina’s 2005 recruiting class, the defensive end turned 21 on June 19th – a full 13 days before the aforementioned Reynolds reached his 21st birthday.
Massenburg – who attended Hargrave Military Academy following his high school graduation – makes a point to help any of the younger players on the field or in the classroom, saying that since he had help as a true freshman, he’s more than willing to return the favor. But he’s more inclined to lead with his actions than he is to lead with his words.
“I’m the guy that stands in the back and pushes the team forward,” Massenburg said. “It’s a team effort, so I think we’re all leaders in some kind of way.”
North Carolina’s defensive line has received a tremendous amount of preseason hype, and if the Tar Heels have legitimate hopes of crashing the ACC party in Tampa, the front four will have to live up to their billing. One thing is for sure, though – there may not be a bigger defensive line in the country when Massenburg, Wilson (280) and defensive tackles Marvin Austin (305) and Cam Thomas (330) take the field together.