Super Freak

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Most football players would be satisfied with consecutive 40-yard dash times south of 4.3, but not Zach Brown. The sophomore weakside linebacker is determined to perfect his technique across the board, including dropping his 40 time to a time-traveling 4.21.

If you've somehow missed the offseason tales of Brown's 4.26 40 during North Carolina's strength and conditioning testing period, be sure to click here to get the full details. But the comedy surrounding the event ratcheted up a notch on Wednesday morning, when the penciled-in starter indicated that he's expecting to shave hundredths of seconds off that posted mark.

"I've known I was always fast, but I wasn't that fast," Brown said following the early practice of UNC's first two-a-day session. "But I know I can get faster. So I told Coach [Jeff Connors], ‘I'm trying to get down to a 4.21,' and he said, ‘That's possible – all you've got to do is straighten up these mechanics a little bit.' I was leaning a little bit too far forward when I was running, and he said to lean back a little bit more and I can hit a 4.21"

It appeared as though starting quarterback T.J. Yates was exaggerating at the ACC Football Kickoff several weeks ago when he mentioned that Brown was off-balance during one of the runs, but in this ever-growing comic book rendering, that too was confirmed on Wednesday.

"The first one I started, I tripped – almost stumbled out – and then I kept going and just picked it up," Brown said. "At the time, after the spring game, I had messed up my hamstring and I didn't know if I was going to run it that day or not, depending on how my hamstring felt… Then with the second one, I veered off to the left like two yards and then came back and kept going. Then everybody said, ‘Well, you weren't even in a straight line.' And I said, ‘I finished in a straight line, and that's all that matters.'"

So for those keeping score at home, Brown checks in at 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds with a 4.26 40 and a max bench press north of 400. Take your time with those statistics – rinse and repeat, if necessary.

But for Brown, who will join his teammates in full pads on Thursday after missing the first two days of practice while attending his sister's wedding, the 2009 season is about transforming that speed and strength into production on Saturday afternoons this fall. Playing primarily on special teams as a true freshman in '08, Brown totaled just six tackles, but he insists the exposure to the college game was crucial in his development.

"The speed of the game helped me out a lot, because I knew what I had to do," Brown said. "So I had my mind set when the winter came that I would hit the weight room hard and watch film because I wanted to know what the quarterback was thinking when the sets come up."

He's open about leaning heavily on current starting middle linebacker Quan Sturdivant, who was a roommate in '08 and UNC's starter on the weakside, as well as departed standout Mark Paschal.

"Paschal helped me out with respect to what he was doing, too," Brown said. "So I'd call him sometimes and be like, ‘Hey, what do you do on this play right here?', because I like to know what the [middle linebacker] is thinking. I ask Quan the same thing."

It's one thing to be able to chase down a running back from behind, or run through an offensive lineman to get to the quarterback. But Brown's efforts in the film room have created an even more effective outlet for his immense physical traits, decreasing the need to think while increasing reaction time.

It helps that Brown doesn't feel he overshadows his teammates with his athletic ability – he's just another weapon in Butch Davis's defensive arsenal.

"We've got so much talent, and we've got depth," Brown said. "So if someone gets hurt or injured or tired, they can come out and know that they've got faith in their backup that they can do the job. We're dominant and we're relentless – everyone runs to the ball. Our defensive line is also running to the ball and they're doing some amazing things where we say, ‘Wow, they're in great shape. They're ready to play a game now.'"

While Brown's measurables may construct an atmospheric ceiling for his potential, the Columbia, Md. sophomore is determined to prove this fall that those physical attributes are utilized on the field to their fullest extent.

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