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Mack Brown, Sam Howell Wipe Off The Hype At ACC Football Kickoff

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CHARLOTTE It feels like fall 1997 in Chapel Hill.

A Mack Brown-led North Carolina soccer team came out of a 1996 season with 10 wins, including a win in the Gator Bowl, and the Tar Heels ranked No. 7 in the preseason polls. UNC would have one of the best seasons in program history, finishing with an 11-1 record.

Now, 24 years later, the Tar Heels are coming off an 8-4 season and an Orange Bowl appearance, and the hype surrounding the program is a lot like head coach Mack Brown’s first stint attracting Carolina Blue.

There’s a real star quarterback behind the center in Sam Howell. Graduate transfer running back Ty Chandler will fill in the gaps left by NFL draftees Javonte Williams and Michael Carter, and he will run through holes opened by an offensive line returning all five starters.

Meanwhile, the defense returns to all but one of the starters, with players like sophomores Desmond Evans and Tony Grimes gaining more off-season experience and veteran linebackers Tomon Fox and Jeremiah Gemmel heading the unit.

I think the most important thing I’ve learned after 32 years is that nothing is ever guaranteed, Brown said during Wednesday’s 2021 ACC Football Kickoff at the Westin Hotel in Charlotte. About the time you think something is going to happen in sport, it doesn’t.

You have to give your best every day, you don’t have a day off, you don’t have a minute off We’re circled on every board for everyone we beat last year, and we understand that, so it’s time for us to grow up and play like we were going to talk.

Last season featured some examples of what Brown meant by not guaranteeing anything for the Tar Heels. In October, the UNC’s No. 5 went to Tallahassee to take on a struggling state of Florida and came out on what appeared to be a surefire win with a 31-28 loss. The same thing happened again when Virginia got mad at UNC on Halloween.

But even in those losses, UNC’s highly regarded quarterback shone. Recently added to the watch lists for the Davey OBrien Award given to the nation’s best quarterback and the Maxwell Award for best all-around player, Howell is also considered a contender to win the Heisman Trophy. However, he doesn’t pay too much attention to all the praise.

I don’t get too caught up in what other people say,’ Howell said. “I’m just worried about what I think of myself, what the people close to me say. That’s the same mentality of my team. We’ve had a lot of hype. The main thing we try to tell our guys is that if people say they’re going to win 10, 12 games, it’s not going to just happen.

However, the defense should be talked about as much as Howell. After losing just one starter in linebacker Chazz Surratt to the draft, this young but talented defense has the potential to become one of the best in the ACC, and possibly even the NCAA. The defense added one of the best prospects in the country in defensive lineman Keeshawn Silver, as well as five other four-star prospects in their 2021 recruiting class, to an already solid unit.

We expect to be a more dangerous defense this year,” Fox said. “We’ve only lost one player, but we’ve gotten a lot more leaders in the team. We also have a lot more depth in terms of the young guys. She and Keeshawn, they’ve been pushing hard through the spring ball, through summer practice. I feel they will help us a lot in terms of depth on the D-line, keeping some older guys fresh.

None of this hype, whether it’s about the team, Howell or the defense, will mean anything unless UNC lives up to it on the field. The first test will take place on September 3 when the Tar Heels open the season in a Friday night game against Virginia Tech in the perilous environment of Lane Stadium in Blacksburg.

Brown echoed this, telling the media to curb the hype. Rather than focus on a mid-season game, he said the focus should be on the season opener against the Virginia Tech Hokies.

We’ve been hyped, we’ve been cuddled, sugar has been thrown on us, we’ve all enjoyed it, we like it,” Brown said. “Let’s clean it up and get back to the facts.

This season seems to be doing everything it can to make it to 1997, but before UNC football fans jump on the hype train, Mack Brown wants his Tar Heels to win a few games first.

@noahmnroe

@DTHsports | [email protected]

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