North Carolina senior tight end Zack Pianalto knows where coach Butch Davis is coming from -- literally.
They share family roots in Springdale, Ark., where Davis’ parents still live. In fact, Pianalto said his parents live within a 10-minute jog to the Davis house, and that connection was one of the factors that swayed Pianalto in his decision to decommit from Texas during his recruiting process.
Of course, Davis’ history of producing some of the nation’s top tight ends at Miami didn’t hurt either. This year, Pianalto has the chance to join that group. When he’s healthy -- and he should finally be 100 percent this season for the first time since his freshman year -- Pianalto can add more than just blocking to the Tar Heels’ scheme. In an offense that’s dependent upon the quick growth of young receivers, Pianalto has an opportunity to become a key part of the passing game along with receiver Greg Little. If Pianalto can double his production this season, expect to see UNC’s offense take a much needed leap.
“I think it’s pretty important,” Pianalto said of his pass-catching abilities. “I think me, Greg and T.J. [Yates] all have a great rapport together. T.J. can throw to me or Greg and feel very comfortable doing it. I had 33 catches last year through roughly seven full games. … If you look at that, it’s pretty plausible to think I could go out and get possibly get 50 catches this year, and Greg had 60-some, so if that number stays consistent, I think the offense will improve and get better with the two of us in there.
“But we do have great talent around Greg and me. The young receivers need to come along and they did last year. You’d like to see significant growth in their second year. Experience is one of the key things in winning in college football.”
Pianalto had a career-best 334 yards and a touchdown last year, but dislocated his foot against Connecticut, and in his first game back against Florida State, he suffered a mild concussion before returning the following week against Virginia Tech. He also broke his left leg during his sophomore season while scoring a touchdown against Georgia Tech.
When he plays, though, the Tar Heels tend to win. UNC is 13-5 over the past two seasons when Pianalto is on the field. He has become a favorite target for Yates on third down, and last year he set the school single-season record for receptions by a tight end (33) despite missing nearly four games with his foot injury.
In order for UNC to make a push for the Coastal Division crown, Pianalto will have to maintain his success, but it’s not the only part of the equation.
“It’s pretty simple,” Pianalto said. “We’re going to be as good as we take care of the ball. Turnovers is the biggest issue in winning any football game. If we go in there and have less turnovers than the other team, we’re pretty confident our defense will create some turnovers and we’ll win a lot of games and we’ll be productive.”