Turner's Take: The Immeasurables
It’s all about the numbers. “How many times can you bench press 225 pounds? How fast can your run 40 yards? How quickly can you touch that line, then that line, then that line again, then run through that line?” Numbers. To an NFL hopeful, those numbers, next to a name on a sheet of paper can mean the difference in a professional football contract and, well, something else. It doesn’t seem fair, but it’s the way it is.
Carolina fans know about the leadership that Kevin Reddick brings a linebacker corps, and how Erik Highsmith can move the chains. They know not to punt it to Gio. But how do the players put that across to the scouts and NFL decision-makers?
“Game tape, really,” Bernard said at Navy Fields yesterday. “That’s the biggest thing. When you’re out here, you’re doing the quickness stuff, but for the most part, your big job interview is really the game tape, and hopefully I did a good job of that. Hopefully coaches see that I can play the game of football.”
For better or for worse, those numbers are the great equalizer. Given two similar prospects, it’s likely that an NFL team is going to lean toward the one that is just a hair faster, or stronger. But they don’t tell the whole story. They don’t tell the story of Sylvester Williams, who was working on a factory line, manufacturing radiators, before deciding he wanted to play football. Williams went to junior college and then came to Carolina to make his dream come true. The guy that worked on the factory line knew he didn’t want to be there, so he took the steps toward a better life. “The guy that worked in that factory is the same guy that’s here,” Williams said. “I was a hard worker. I gave it everything I had, and I’ll do the same thing here. That factory showed me a point in my life that I never want to be at again.”
Sometimes those intangibles do come across. Jonathan Cooper said he’d heard raves for his leadership qualities, something that Tar Heel fans know well. Cooper could have jumped to the NFL last year, but he elected to return to school to be a part of the foundation that Larry Fedora and his coaching staff wanted to build in Chapel Hill. “Coop was one of those first guys, when he made the decision to come back last year, that bought in to what we were going to do as an offense and as a team,” Fedora said. “He made sure the other guys bought in, so that was the first time that I got to see him be a leader, and then he just developed as the year went on.”
Erik Highsmith inherited the #88 jersey from Hakeem Nicks, one of the greatest receivers in Tar Heel history. Shifting to the new offense as a senior, Highsmith made his mark. He’s got the third-most receptions in school history, is seventh on the career receiving yards list, and has the sixth most receiving touchdowns at Carolina. Highsmith understands that NFL teams will weigh those numbers he put up on pro day. “It’s a business, and unfortunately that’s what they draft off of: numbers and character. It’s 90 percent character, 10 percent athletic ability now in the NFL, so I just try to do both,” he said. “Try to do well athletically and try to have good character.”
His fellow receiver Jheranie Boyd showed brilliance early in his career but dealt with an injury in 2012. Tuesday, Boyd set the bar high, literally - he showed off a vertical jump better than any device could measure - and hopes that a team will recognize the work he’s put in. “I feel like I’m a tiger, or a lion in a cage just ready to get out, and I’m going to work hard.”
Kevin Reddick had added motivation on Tuesday: his daughter Kamalani was watching from the sidelines. “All day long,” he said. “That’s it. I do it for the love of the game and I do it for that little girl over there.” Tar Heel fans know that Reddick has the ability to come in and provide leadership right away to a team in need. Carolina needed a leader on defense, and Reddick stepped to the forefront upon his arrival on campus. “Whatever it’s going to take to win, to help my team, or whatever organization takes me, that’s what I’m going to do,” he said. “I’m going to try to be as smart as that quarterback on the other side of the ball.”
These Tar Heels have shown that they can adapt: all played in different schemes from one year to the next, and most played for three different head coaches. The seniors have displayed their team pride and determination: each could have transferred and played right away when the Tar Heels’ one-year bowl ban was announced, but chose to stick it out and continue to play in Carolina blue. As they take the next step in their careers, they continue to be proud Tar Heels.
“These guys are going to help any team be better,” Fedora said. They’re going to be good quality citizens on their team, they’re not going to have to worry about them off the field, and they’re going to help them win.”
He would know.Turner Walston is the managing editor of Tar Heel Monthly.
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