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Published Fri, Apr 01, 2011 05:14 AM
Modified Fri, Apr 01, 2011 06:21 AM

Tar Heels back together again to show their stuff

PHOTOS BY Robert Willett - rwillett@newsobserver.com
Former UNC defensive tackle Marvin Austin runs through a blocking drill during Pro Timing Day.
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- Staff Writer
Tags: sports | college | football | UNC pro day | NCAA probe

CHAPEL HILL -- North Carolina's football stars gathered on the same field for one last time on Thursday.

UNC's star-crossed group of NFL hopefuls, which hadn't been together in its entirety since August, put on a show for almost 100 NFL scouts and coaches.

"It was good to get the whole crew back together for one last hurrah," quarterback T.J. Yates said.

The vanquished, injured and unheralded, all the Tar Heels were there for pro day which drew NFL coaches Mike Tomlin (Pittsburgh), Lovie Smith (Chicago) and Ron Rivera (Carolina) for an event that was equal parts audition, reunion and three-ring circus.

At the center of attention were Marvin Austin, Greg Little and Robert Quinn, the three players in the middle of the NCAA investigation that cost the Tar Heels 14 players for at least one game and seven for the entire season. The NCAA investigated improper agent benefits and academic misconduct, beginning last summer.

Austin, who was dismissed from the team by the school in October and missed the entire season for his role in the agent/benefit portion of the investigation, bragged the Tar Heels could have played for a national title if all of the 19 players at pro day were eligible and healthy.

"You can see the number of scouts out there," said Austin, a second-team All-ACC defensive tackle in 2009. "We had the players to do it."

Little, who was ruled permanently ineligible by the NCAA for his role, said he felt "guilty" about what happened and how it derailed UNC's season.

"Who wouldn't?" the wide receiver said. "Who would not feel guilty about destroying a national championship, so to speak. Destroying an ACC title. Destroying a legacy that was going to be built here forever."

Quinn, an All-ACC defensive end in 2009 who was ruled permanently ineligible by the NCAA, is expected to be the first of as many as 12 UNC players taken in the NFL draft, which starts April 28.

Quinn, projected as a top-10 pick, did not disappoint on Thursday, running a 4.59 in the 40-yard dash, given his 6-foot-4, 264-pound frame.

Austin and Quinn lined up together for a set of position drills, just like old times, and television cameras and scouts caught a glimpse of what never was in 2010.

"It felt good," Quinn said of the position drills with Austin. "To see that drive in his eyes, we were really trying to just push each other, and compete with each other."

Despite the turmoil and personnel losses, the Tar Heels won eight games for the third straight year and won their first bowl game since 2001.

It was Yates, running back Johnny White, tight ends Zack Pianalto and Ryan Taylor, offensive linemen Mike Ingersoll and Alan Pelc, and linebackers Quan Sturdivant and Bruce Carter who held the program together in the wake of the investigation.

White, Pianalto and Carter didn't make it through the season because of injuries. Carter and safety Deunta Williams did not participate Thursday because they're still rehabilitating injuries from the season.

Pianalto and White had their chance to shine Thursday, with Yates throwing passes to them, and running backs Shaun Draughn and Anthony Elzy, and Taylor.

For Taylor, who caught 36 passes last year, there was a sense of urgency. He wasn't one of the 12 UNC players who went to the NFL combine in February.

"I needed the chance to show what I could do," Taylor said.

Yates, who became UNC's first 3,000-yard passer and finished his career with 37 school records, threw 112 passes in 20 minutes on Thursday. He's expected to be the first UNC quarterback drafted since Ronald Curry (2002), who played receiver in the NFL.

"You never know with quarterbacks," said Yates, who's projected to go near the end of the seven-round event. "It's tough to predict on draft day."

The NFL lockout has added another level of uncertainty to the usual draft proceedings. Pianalto described the process as "weird."

"With the lockout, there isn't a lot of information out there, even between the teams and agents," Pianalto said. "It's such a crapshoot."

There was more certainty to the day and the reunion of all the players UNC expected to have last season. They were finally together for one day, even if it was too late to change the past.

jp.giglio@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8938

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Multimedia

Images

  • Former UNC defensive end Robert Quinn talks with the Seattle Seahawks' Derrick Jensen following his workout at Navy Field in Chapel Hill.
    Robert Willett - rwillett@newsobserver.com
  • UNC coach Butch Davis, center, watches some of his players go through drills during Pro Timing Day at Navy Field in Chapel Hill.
    rwillett@newsobserver.com

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