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Wednesday, October 13, 2010
UNC closer to closure

By Heather Dinich

About 10 days before North Carolina kicked off its season opener against LSU in the Georgia Dome, UNC coach Butch Davis told his players that the team they had on Sept. 4 could be the one they finished the season with, so get used to it.

That team was without 13 players, including seven starters on defense.

This team -- the one that is riding a three-game winning streak into Virginia, where it hasn’t won since 1981 -- is missing a total of seven players to the ongoing NCAA investigation.

The Tar Heels have since welcomed back two starters in the secondary in Deunta Williams and Da’Norris Searcy, and have learned that defensive tackle Marvin Austin, defensive end Robert Quinn, and receiver Greg Little are no longer with the team. While the two-pronged NCAA investigation into possible academic misconduct and improper contact with agents continues, there does seem to be a sense of closure now that the Tar Heels are sure they won’t have three of their best players from 2009.

Johnny White
Running back Johnny White has flourished since becoming a starter.
“I think that (athletic director Dick) Baddour on Monday alluded to the fact that as painful as this was, as disappointing as this was, it does move us closer to closure,” Davis said. “A lot of the speculation on a lot of the kids who have been involved in some of this review, a lot of it has already been resolved. Certainly a lot of kids are already back playing, and some, the outcome of whether or not they’re going to play or not play has already been resolved. With these three kids, it does move us considerably closer. I don’t know a particular time frame, but I know Mr. Baddour is optimistic we are getting close to final decisions on all the players who have been affected by this. Hopefully that will happen pretty soon.”

At this point, though, the Tar Heels have managed to live -- and win -- with the players they have. In fact, some of UNC’s backups who have been elevated to starting roles -- like tailback Johnny White -- have proven to be as good if not better than some other starters throughout the rest of the conference. UNC has used 14 first-time starters this year, but at the midpoint of the season, they’re rookies no more.

The loss of Little has been compensate for with the help of tight end Zack Pianalto, White’s ability to catch out of the backfield, and Erik Highsmith and Jheranie Boyd. White has also carried the offense in the absence of running back Ryan Houston. Defensively, the Tar Heels have filled the gaps Austin and Quinn left behind with help from Quinton Coples and Tydreke Powell. Matt Merletti became an impact player at free safety, which featured four new starters against LSU.

“I am very proud the way our coaches and players have fought through the adversity, the way that they’re playing,” Davis said.

He should be. While the investigation isn’t over, either is the season, and North Carolina still has something to play for with the team it has.