- Matt Fortuna, ESPN Staff Writer
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As he approaches what is possibly the final month of his North Carolina career, Kareem Martin is not thinking about his long-term future. The defensive end is focused on extending his season with the Tar Heels. He hopes to build off his two-sack performance from last Saturday's victory over Boston College and help UNC make a late run to a bowl game, something the Tar Heels were unable to do last year.
ESPN.com caught up with Martin this week to chat about his season as the 2-5 Tar Heels get ready to head to rival NC State.
Obviously it wasn't the easiest month for you guys going into this past weekend against Boston College, but to see everything come together and channel all of your frustrations into that game and come up away with the win you guys did, what kind of payoff was that for you guys?
Kareem Martin: It was a big payoff, because we had been working hard playing every game. To finally get the win against Boston College, it really just shows how much hard work pays off and hopefully we can take that momentum once we take the field again.
What's been working for you specifically? You've had sacks in three straight games now. Do you feel different? Are you seeing things differently?
KM: A little bit of everything. More film study and just getting back to fundamentals. During the season, a lot of times, you lose a lot of your techniques that you work on in training camp because you're not working on them as much as you were in camp. I tried to focus on that and get my technique back, just tried to get that back and just extra film study.
What's the NC State rivalry mean to you?
KM: It means a lot. Last year it was a really great feeling being able to get a win against them, and every time we play them we know they're giving their best shot; they're getting our best. No matter what's going on in that season, I feel like those games mean so much around the Triangle and around the state and that everybody wants to play on our schedule.
This is probably the most stability you've had from a staff standpoint in your time here. How much easier has that made it on you?
KM: It helps out a whole lot. I had time to learn the full defense, seeing the things I can do and the players and skills we have that comes with the staff being in its second year with the defense. I know a lot more than what I did last year and I know what freedoms and what risks I should take. Having [defensive line] coach [Keith] Gilmore come in this year, he's really just developing my game and teaching different things to elevate my game.
I know fans and media can look ahead at the schedule and see things maybe start to open up for you guys. It was a very front-loaded schedule. From your perspective, how do you approach this final month? You obviously want to go bowling and have a thin margin of error, but do you look ahead at the opponents and say, If we can win four of these next five or whatever it may be, we're going to be where we want to be at the end of the year?
KM: You can't look ahead. Once you start looking ahead, that's when the team that week can beat you. What we talk about is being 1-0 every week, and our focus is going against NC State. By doing that, playing the game that's on our schedule, it'll keep guys focused and not looking at: 'Who do we play two weeks from now? That looks like a game we can win.' But once you focus on this one game, that's when everything else will fall into place.
Has it kind of dawned on you yet that these are going to be your final games in a North Carolina uniform? What are your overall thoughts as you see your name pop up on all these different draft boards and what not?
KM: Yeah, I'm definitely starting to feel it. Luckily the back-half of our schedule has a lot of home games, so we're coming back here and playing at home a lot, so that's definitely a positive. And hopefully we'll get a bowl game and a great season so I can end my UNC career here on a positive note. As far as the draft boards and things like that, I can't look ahead to that because that's not the goal right now. The goal is to win every week and continue to perform, and if I continue the way I have been, everything will fall into place.
1dDavid M. Hale
2dDavid M. Hale