Mack Hollins grabs attention at UNCs Photo Day with sssspecial visitors

Michael Switzer for Inside Carolina—Michael Switzer for Inside Carolina

CHAPEL HILL — In the chaos of UNC football’s photo day, Mack Hollins and Bug Howard left the Kenan Stadium field and slipped into the home team’s tunnel.A few minutes later, they reemerged into the sunlight carrying a large cardboard box labeled “Frozen meat- rush delivery.” Hollins gently placed the box down in the end zone and opened the flaps. Howard reached in and pulled out a white cloth bag obviously heavy with some kind of contorted object. Working quickly, he deftly uncovered a thick brown and dark green ball python that began wrapping itself around his right wrist as he was freed from the bag.”He’s not the crazy one. That,” Howard said, turning and pointing toward Hollins, “is the crazy one.”At the same time the python was coiling around Howard, a bright yellow sunglow boa with light orange spots was wriggling its way out of the box and was scooped up by Hollins.It was unofficially bring-your-pets-to-work day and Hollins and the wide receivers were the only ones celebrating.”Gotta have a snake to know a snake,” Hollins shouted, proudly displaying the two-year-old sunglow boa named Nykiti. Whole lot of nope today— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) August 6, 2016
His older brother had a snake growing up, and since Hollins wanted a pet but wasn’t thrilled with the idea of cleaning up after a dog, it only made sense for him to get two snakes of his own.”They don’t mess up my carpet,” he said. “They don’t chew up the pillows … I don’t have to feed them every day. It’s kind convenient in situations like this where I’m at camp for two weeks straight or three weeks straight at a hotel and I’m not able to get back to the house. The snakes are going to be fine sitting there. I’ve always liked them. They’re interested to watch. It was better than the fish I used to have that got fed every day.”He doesn’t have to feed his pair of slithery friends every day, but when he does, it’s a popular event for the Tar Heels. His teammates come over for feeding days, gathering to watch Nykiti and the four-and-a-half year old ball python, called Slice, Kendrick, Gavin or Cersei depending on the day and the person, feast on frozen rats. Hollins used to splurge for live rats, but that got pricey. When his roommate vetoed a rat breeding project, Hollins turned to frozen meals.On one shelf of his freezer Hollins has the normal supply of ice cream. On the one below it? A bag of rats.”I had to go frozen,” he said. “My freezer has 50 or 60 in it. I bought individually wrapped ones, but right now they’re just all in there.”Thanks to a friend who dropped them off outside Kenan Stadium before photos began, the snakes got a rare field trip out of the house Saturday afternoon. But most of the time, they stay in their warm tank at Hollins’ place when he’s out playing football.”They need the heat when they’re sitting around,” Hollins said. “The ball python got out before. And 72 degrees to them is as if your body temp is 72. When they get outside, they can barely move after five minutes of crawling around. So I don’t bring them around hotels or anything. No snakes on the plane, unfortunately for Samuel L.”The two snakes aren’t venomous, but that doesn’t mean they’re totally harmless. Linebacker Andre Smith is a big fan of snakes, but he won’t go near Hollins’.”Uh-uh,” Smith said. “He said it bit him. I’m not messing with that.”It — being Nykiti — has bit him twice, actually. But, as Hollins admits, both times were his fault.”Once on my arm and once on my leg,” said Hollins, describing the pain like a bee sting. “There was one time I was walking with her, and I hit her with my leg and it was like a reflex. I didn’t even feel it, I just saw her head.”Nykiti and the ball python behaved Saturday afternoon, playing their part as props in the wide receivers group photo. After all, the wideouts are the self-described ‘Freaks’ of the team, and Hollins, well he’s their leader. What's a FREAK PHOTO without snakes. #freaksqad #UNCFREAKS #uncphotoday @insidecarolina #switz— Michael Switzer (@switzdesign4u) August 6, 2016
“The guys are always trying to say I’m weird and something like that,” Hollins said. “My dad grew up with animals. He had a monkey, and his dad had a lion. I’ve had dogs growing up, turtles. I’ve always like animals. I don’t know if that’s weird. The other animals are where people think it’s weird. I’m always acting a fool at practice, I think that might have to do with me being weird.”Hollins, who’s suspended for the first half the season-opener against Georgia for targeting against Baylor, has always been the loud one on the team, the most audible one on the field or sideline at any given practice. He’ll always be the loudest, but with the graduation of vocal leaders Marquise Williams and Landon Turner, Hollins’ words will do more than just energize the team this season.”I guess it kind of just slowly got put on my shoulders as Quise as Landon and all those guys kind of faded out,” said Hollins, who hauled in eight touchdowns and averaged nearly 25 yards per reception last season. “I’ve always been the louder guy and had fun at practice making noise. It’s always something I’ve been able to do. Now having it put on me, it’s not really any different.”I’m acting the same, but there is a bit more responsibility, where what I say to guys has more influence on, if I yell at a guy, he’ll take it more than two years ago if I yelled at a guy or corrected a guy. That type of thing. It’s a little bit more responsibility but I feel like I’ve been in the same role for a while.”Hollins’ personality hasn’t changed since he arrived at UNC as a walk-on prior to the 2012 season, but his profile has risen dramatically since he began earning more playing time as a wide receiver in 2014. After a season as a special teams captain in 2013, Hollins broke out with 635 receiving yards in 2014 and earned an All-ACC honorable mention nod. He made a name for himself with unbelievable catches on deeply thrown balls. He continued to turn heads with more of those catches last season and averaged 53 yards per game.He’s poised to continue improving this season with junior quarterback Mitch Trubisky under center.No matter if he’s on the sidelines, in the game or even posing with his snakes, there’s no doubt that Hollins is going to have a loud, attention-grabbing senior season.