CHAPEL HILL — The strange saga of Jared Cohen’s North Carolina football career has come to an end.
Coach Larry Fedora announced Monday that the junior offensive guard, who left the Tar Heels in 2015 and transferred to Virginia, only to return to Chapel Hill as a walk-on for preseason camp this year, is no longer a member of the team.
His departure blindsided his teammates and coaches, who must now readjust their offensive line plans less than a week away from the Tar Heels’ season opening game against California.
“I hate it for the kid,” Fedora said at his first weekly press conference of the season. “I hope he gets his personal issues worked out. I wish him the best for the real world, because that’s what he’s going to be doing.”
Cohen, a 6-foot-4, 300-pound native of Owings Mills, Md., played in 13 games as a true freshman in 2014 — starting against East Carolina and Clemson in place of injured Landon Turner before leaving UNC the first time.
He had been one of the pleasant surprises of this year’s preseason camp, earning praise from both Fedora and offensive coordinator Chris Kapilovic, moving his way up to the first team at right guard as recently as early last week. But he didn’t come to practice on Thursday and by Friday afternoon he was again off the team.
Cohen’s most recent change of heart couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Tar Heels, who have also been without sophomore Tommy Hatton — the projected starter at right guard — for the past several weeks.
Fedora said that Hatton is “still with us and battling to get back out there,” but gave no indication of how long that might take.
Sophomore William Sweet, who had been working at tackle, is listed on the depth chart issued Monday as the starter at right guard for the California game. His top backup, graduate transfer Khaliel Rodgers, has only been back with the team for about a week after announcing his “retirement” from football during the first few days of camp.
The unsettled offensive line situation is of particular concern to Fedora given his team’s equally uncertain quarterback situation. Whoever starts under center — either graduate transfer Brandon Harris, freshman Chazz Surratt or sophomore Nathan Elliott — it will be his first start in a Tar Heel uniform.
“It’s not something you like, but it’s part of the game,” Fedora said of Cohen’s abrupt departure. “It’s the same way as if you’re preparing all camp for someone to be your starter and two days ago they go down and they’re not going to play in the first game.
“It’s the next man up. That’s the mentality you have to have in this game. You can’t fall apart because someone gets hurt, so the kids are conditioned that way.”