Greensboro, NC — UNC’s Aug. 29 opener against South Carolina is more important than the average game on the schedule, at least in defensive end Kareem Martin’s mind.
“It’s definitely going to set the course for our season,” Martin said. “If we win this game, it could just propel us to a national spotlight and bring up the brand of UNC football to where we know it should be. It’s more than just one win or loss riding on this game.”
Opening against a big-time opponent has Martin thinking back to his freshman year, when the Tar Heels began their season in the Georgia Dome against LSU. UNC was missing seven defensive starters as a result of the investigations into academic fraud and improper contact with agents (which would eventually cost the Tar Heels their bowl eligibility in 2012), but, despite the patchwork depth chart, LSU narrowly escaped with a 30-24 win. Martin, then a true freshman, registered a sack in the fourth quarter.
“Playing against LSU in the Georgia Dome, it doesn’t get much bigger than that,” Martin said.
That experience has him and the other veterans ready to take on the Gamecocks. So does the defense’s experience going against UNC’s no-huddle offense in practice.
“It’s like a conditioning drill every period going against those guys, getting plays off every 10 seconds,” Martin said. “In a game, you’ve got teams getting off every 20 seconds. I feel like it helps us in the game because the game is like a break for us in a sense.”
Does that mean playing South Carolina will be a break?
“I don’t think they can go as fast as our offense, so, yes.”
Manning time for Renner, Boone: North Carolina’s Bryn Renner and Duke’s Anthony Boone recently worked as camp counselors at the Manning Passing Academy, which ran July 11-14 in Thibodaux, La.
“To have conversations with Peyton and Eli about how to be a better quarterback, it’s priceless,” Renner said. “Those four days are a lot of fun, to be around your peers. Everybody’s good in the pocket. It’s an absolutely unbelievable opportunity.”
It was Renner’s third trip to the camp, and he drew widespread praise from analysts like the NFL Network’s Mike Mayock. Boone, stepping into the starting role at Duke, made his first appearance. He is, however, familiar with the Mannings, who have both worked out at Duke with David Cutcliffe in previous summers.
“When they come through (Duke), they’re real serious and they’re work-minded,” Boone said. “Seeing them out in Louisiana, they were really fun to be around. They’re bouncing around laughing, making jokes. That camp overall was a great experience, I had a great time.”
Duke wants to keep pressing: Duke ended a 17-year bowl drought last season and won more games (six) than any other Blue Devils squad since 1994. Despite that, Boone said he wasn’t pleased with how last year went.
“Last year was a lot of fun, but for the most part, I’d say a lot of us were not very happy with last year,” he said. “We were 6-2, and then we lost six straight games. That was honestly a lack of drive to keep winning games. We got that sixth win, we knew we had a bowl game, we beat Carolina, got the (Victory) Bell back, and it was kind of like we exhaled instead of kept pressing forward.”
Both the successes and failings of last season have motivated the Blue Devils throughout offseason workouts, Boone said. Players have put in extra workouts Saturday nights and on Sundays, in addition to regularly scheduled sessions.
Boone, who takes over under center for Sean Renfree (now with the Atlanta Falcons), is more extroverted than his predecessor. He plans to take his fire and energy and use it to motivate the whole team.
“Me stepping into that, I’m ready to repeat last year,” he said, “But make it better.”
Wolfpack scores 2 on ESPN’s top 25 list: N.C. State showed up twice in ESPN’s countdown of the top 25 games of the 2012 season. The Wolfpack’s win over Florida State and loss to Miami made the list.
ESPN replayed both games last week in the run-up to the ACC media gathering in Greensboro. The ACC has put more thought into N.C. State’s 2012 season than N.C. State has, senior receiver Rashard Smith said.
“We can’t dwell on what happened in the past because we have a new staff and we have to embrace what they are coaching us,” Smith said Sunday.
The Wolfpack finished 7-6 last season, which cost coach Tom O’Brien his job. Dave Doeren was hired from Northern Illinois in December to replace O’Brien and the new staff’s focus has been looking forward to the 2013 season.
“They don’t bring it up at all really,” Smith said. “They try their best to stay away from last season because it’s a new beginning.”
The Wolfpack will have to start over with a new coach and new quarterback. Little is expected of Doeren’s first team, which returns four starters on offense and five on defense.
The low expectations don’t bother senior cornerback Dontae Johnson.
“It’s a fresh start and an opportunity to prove some people wrong,” Johnson said.
Luke DeCock and Joe Giglio contributed