Senior Day in Chapel Hill was everything it should have been. Due to a one-year bowl ban, our matchup against Maryland was our last game of the 2012 season. That means it was the last chance for our seniors to play in Kenan Stadium, and their last opportunity to leave their legacy on the Carolina program. Looking ahead at the game, it seemed like they had a very good chance to go out on top. We faced a Maryland team with a depth chart so depleted by injury that they were forced to start a linebacker at quarterback. Additionally, the Terrapins entered the game with a 4-7 record on the year, which meant that even with a win, they had no hope of gaining bowl eligibility. On the other hand, we were playing with aspirations of achieving our top goal from day one: to be ACC Coastal Division Champions. With everything taken into consideration, it seemed like all the cards were in our favor to seize the victory. However, nothing is ever given in the game of football.
When we went back into the locker room after the first half of play, we were down 21-28. We were one half away from letting one of the worst teams in the ACC crush our goal of becoming Coastal Division Champions. Like so many times before, adversity had found a way to infiltrate our locker room. But fortunately for us, we were a team led by our seniors; seniors who went through an NCAA investigation; seniors who persevered through transitions to three different head coaches; seniors who marched through the storm that has been Carolina football for the last four years. Fortunately for us, we were a team led by a group of seniors who knew how to deal with adversity.
As halftime came to a close, we ran back out of the tunnel into a stadium whose crowd was ebbed by Thanksgiving break and cold weather. Like a microcosm of their careers, our seniors were faced with a challenge, and had no one to help them overcome it besides themselves, and their team. For one last time, they had to pick themselves up out of dirt and fight to take what was theirs.
It should come as no surprise that we dominated the second half of the game. There was a zero percent chance that Maryland was going to steal something from us that our seniors had come so far to achieve.
Even though we did not have the opportunity to play the next week in the ACC Championship Game, we won our division. Quietly, but surely, our seniors brought Carolina its first divisional championship since the conference was split, and its first share of any football championship since 1980. A shot heard nowhere around the world.
The 2012 Carolina football season was by no means perfect. When history looks back at this team, it may not be in the top five, ten, or even twenty best to have played football at UNC. The team lost four games; three of which to teams at, or below the .500 mark, two of those being in-state rivals. The team was ineligible for postseason play, a factor that pushed most of its games to only regional television coverage. The team was not a topic of discussion by national media, and its accomplishments were hardly recognized by anyone. Nonetheless, I know without a fathom of a doubt that this team was the turning point for Carolina football. Our seniors led a transformation in attitude, approach, and work ethic that will take our program to the next level in the coming years. When history looks back at this team, it may not see one of the best teams to ever play; but I do believe it will see the team that unassumingly changed it all.
Reflecting on the 2012 football season, I already know that I have made memories that will be with me until I die. In the last year, I have worked harder than I have ever worked, and laughed harder than I have ever laughed—all at the side of some wonderful teammates. The people on this team were absolutely incredible; I imagine I will be friends with most of them for the rest of my life. I am going to miss the seniors a lot, they were great leaders and are even better people. What they went through in their time at UNC is nothing short of amazing, and I am convinced that their resolute perseverance has changed the culture of Carolina Football.
It is always a great day to be a Tar Heel, even if our football team is not on the rise. However, you’ve gotta admit that the day is just a little bit greater knowing that we are.
Until next time,