In addition to the emotions that will already be swirling for Saturday's game against NC State, North Carolina has the added motivation of it being senior day, and this is an important group of 17 seniors (16 scholarship) to recognize.
In 2007, the Tar Heels were 4-8 with most of those players logging significant minutes as freshmen. UNC improved to back-to-back 8-5 seasons in 2008 and 2009, including consecutive Meineke Car Care Bowl appearances. Over the last four years, Carolina has won 26 games, the most since UNC won 31 from 1996-99.
The senior class has a wealth of experience, including four players with 40 or more starts, led by safety Deunta Williams (44). Offensively, quarterback T.J. Yates has started 41 games, the most at that position in school history.
Even though the Coastal Division and ACC titles are no longer possibilities, those within the program say they'll never forget the determination it took just to become bowl eligible this year despite the distractions and suspensions from the academic and NCAA investigations.
"It was a goal, but more importantly, guys are playing off pride and their commitment to this team," Williams said. "You're talking about guys who are saying they're not going to miss practice because they need to practice because they're going to play in the game. It's inspiring to see what this team has gone through. I told news reporters after the Florida State game -- I don't care what happens, what the score is, what our final record is. I'll never be able to replace memories of bad things with this team."
"Just being on this team is something that I'll always remember for the rest of my life, this year right here, because of the adversity we had to go through and the things that we did to come up out of the adversity," said Williams. "I've never been part of a team that's fought as hard as we fought this year. We scrapped and clawed and did anything possible to get wins. I've never seen a team with so many players go down, and so many players can't play, walk-ons stepping in and starting at some points in time. It was one of the first times I've ever been around it."
And on Saturday in Kenan Stadium, it will be one of his last.