UNC's Rome is burning

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

North Carolina senior Bobby Rome remembered his first spring game as a UNC fullback in 2007 when he "missed a block really, really bad."

Rome, who came to UNC as a quarterback, made his way to the sideline where he caught the wrath of coach Butch Davis -- an imposing figure even when he's smiling.

"Coach Davis is screaming at me, 'Be a man, son! Be a man!'" Rome said. "He was like, 'Son, you've got so much potential you could be one of the best to play the position and yet you don't want to apply yourself.'"

The message still resonates with him.

Rome, who passed for 1,726 yards and 16 touchdowns as a senior at Granby High in Virginia, has traded in his dreams of becoming the next Michael Vick for the new goal of blocking for a 1,000-yard UNC rusher. He has bulked up and become a bruising fullback who has the potential to be one of the best in the ACC this fall. He caught eight passes for 65 yards last year, but his most memorable moment to fans was probably his 44-yard halfback pass to Brooks Foster against Maryland.

"He's a hard worker," said quarterback T.J. Yates. "He's done everything he can to get on the field. He's a big guy, he's strong, he's very, very passionate about the game. He'll do absolutely anything to get on the field and get the ball. Whenever he does he always makes a play. He's always working hard, he's always out there whenever he can. There's not much for fullbacks to do at [organized training activities] but whenever he's out there, he'll do as much as he can. He's always grabbing a quarterback to have him throw routes, or working on handoffs or blocking stuff with the backs."

Rome always remembers where he came from -- "the 757." It's the Norfolk, Va., area code that was shared by Ronald Curry and Michael Vick, too. Rome had dreams of following in their footsteps, as he was a four-year starter at quarterback in high school and one of the area's all-time leading passers.

"We had some pretty big names at quarterback, and I was one of the all-time leading passers, so coming here, I kind of figured I could make the move, come right in and play," Rome said. "As time went on, I [saw] I could actually help the team in another position. I just wanted to take advantage of my athletic abilities so I decided to make the move to tailback."

Butch Davis arrived with other plans, and Rome was made a fullback. It was a move he said he had to "grow to love" but is now comfortable with.

"At first I started off really slow, knowing I haven't blocked anybody before in my life," said Rome, who played in all 13 games last year and started five. "Going against 250-pound linebackers was just something crazy to adjust to. I had to bulk up a little, get stronger in the weight room. It made me tougher in the end."

Yates wasn't kidding, though -- Rome will do whatever he can to get on the field, especially if it means throwing the ball. In 2007 he threw a 50-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Tate.

"Every year I go to coach Shoop, and it's like, We've got to put something in,'" he said, laughing. "You've got to let me throw the ball at least once. It worked out. I'm 2-for-2, one touchdown pass. I thought I could've had one last year, but the receiver fell down."

Rome has a specific goal for himself this fall, and it's to block for a 1,000-yard rusher. That could be possible with Shaun Draughn in the backfield. Draughn's 866 rushing yards last year was the highest rushing total for a Tar Heel since Jonathan Linton had 1,004 yards in 1997.

Rome would like to change that.

"We haven't had one in a long time here and I want to be the fullback that led the way for a 1,000-yard back," he said. "I feel like I've got the ability to be the best fullback in the country and I want to show everybody that, also. ... I just want to take my game to a whole other level."

Credit Davis for that inspiration.