CARRBORO - The ability of University of North Carolina football to dominate the scene was fully evident last week, and even though they loomed over the other players present, the Tar Heels showed a lot of patience, if not outright caring.
Nine UNC players, most of them standouts on the 2012 team, met Monday afternoon with Culbreth Middle School's varsity players and coaches to offer some advice on how to achieve success.
In what has become almost an annual event for Culbreth, Cougar football head coach Jon Miller invited the Tar Heels to the middle school to have his players hear what it takes to be successful — on and off a playing field.
"These college players have all been through school, and they know what it's like," Miller said. "They tell the kids that these are the keys to get to where we're at now."
The group of Tar Heels included: kicker Casey Barth, running back Gio Bernard, safety Tre Boston, offensive lineman Jonathan Cooper, tight end Eric Ebron, linebacker Tommy Heffernen, cornerbacks Tim Scott and Terry Shankle, and wide receiver T.J. Thorpe.
"Having them here gives us an extra push to succeed, " said Cougar running back and safety Stephan Farrar said.
Carolina's players offered fewer football tips and more life lessons, and the Tar Heels clearly empathized with their younger counterparts.
Told that the Cougars were still undefeated at 4-0, the Tar Heels all smiled and offered fist bumps to the Cougars.
"Undefeated is undefeated, whatever level you're playing at," Cooper said.
Ashuwa Haithe, the smallest player on the Culbreth roster, drew individual fist bumps after Miller told the Tar Heels that the defensive back had gone mano-a-mano with the biggest player from Gravelly Hills — "three times as tall as he is" — and had taken his man down with picture-perfect form.
"You have a big heart," Boston said. "If you can do that, if you have a big heart, then the sky's the limit for you."
The beefy Tar Heels, with their game jerseys pulled over their street clothes, held sway standing in front of the Cougars, who were already dressed for football practice, compete with shoulder pads, as they jammed into the cafeteria's benches. They kept their eyes riveted on the talking Tar Heels, listening silently except when encouraged to ask questions.
"I learned it's very important to keep your grades up, because even great players can end up not being accepted into good schools if they don't have the grades," said Farrar. He had scored a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage in the Cougars' first four games, Miller noted.
Several of the tar Heels emphasized the need to study.
"You need to prioritize your time," Ebron said. "You have to know when to turn off the TV, turn off the video games and get to your schoolwork."
"You need to set goals," said Cooper. "If you set goals that are realistic, you'll continue to check them off your list, and you use that list to motivate you to do better. It will help you to see the progress you're making."
But all work and no play was not a good balance, Boston said.
"You have to keep the game fun and have some energy on the field," Boston said. "That's why you play: because it's fun. Games should be fun."
Bernard offered some of the day's most poignant advice.
"When you're young, there's so many thing you want to do," Bernard said. "But you've got to take advantage of the time you have now. Experience the moment you're in right now. Don’t take it for granted. Don't wish to be older before you are.
"I wish I had enjoyed my childhood more and not been in such a rush to be older."
"I wish someone had told me some of this when I was in seventh grade," Thorpe said.
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