UNCs Howard has injured teammate Hollins number … and his back

Howard, who usually wears No. 84, said he decided to switch to his teammates number as soon as he heard that Hollins would be done for the year

Jeremy Brevard—USA Today Sports
North Carolina Tar Heels wide receiver Bug Howard catches the game-tying touchdown during the fourth quarter against the Pittsburgh at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Carolina defeated Pitt 37-36.

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Mack Hollins, his right arm in a sling to protect his broken collarbone, patrolled the North Carolina sideline at Scott Stadium on Saturday, doing whatever he could to help lift his teammates up in their game against Virginia. On the field, one of those teammates was doing his best to return the favor. Fellow wide receiver Bug Howard honored Hollins by wearing his No. 13 in the game. It was a tribute that turned out to be far more than symbolic, as Howard caught seven passes for 109 yards and a touchdown on a play originally designed for Hollins. “I just wanted to honor my brother by coming out wearing his number, keeping it alive,” Howard said. “I can do with my play, but I just wanted to have his number on my back.” A second-team All-ACC selection last season, Hollins caught 81 passes for 1,667 yards and 20 touchdowns in his UNC career, which ended last week when he was injured while pulling down a pass against Miami. Howard, who usually wears No. 84, said he decided to switch to his teammate’s number as soon as he heard that Hollins would be done for the year. But he kept his plan secret until getting ready to take the field for pregame warmups Saturday. “We surprised him before in the locker room,” Howard said. “You kind of saw the soft side of Mack, which you don’t see a lot. He came up to me and said ‘I love you, bro. I appreciate it.’ I felt good to hear him say those words, because he doesn’t ever say things like that.” This isn’t the first time a UNC player has paid tribute to an injured teammate by wearing his number in a game. In 2013, also against Virginia, quarterback Marquise Williams wore Bryn Renner’s No. 2 after the senior starter suffered a season-ending injury. Like Howard, Williams also put on an inspired performance while leading the Tar Heels to a convincing 45-14 win. Howard said he will continue to wear No. 13 through the second half of the season before returning to his own number for his Senior Day game against N.C. State on Nov. 25. “It was his idea,” UNC coach Larry Fedora said. “He asked if he could do it and I told him he could. I don’t know if anyone else has talked about it. He wanted to honor Mack with his play and he did a great job of it. Bug’s been able to make those plays all year.” The highlight of Howard’s performance against the Cavaliers came late in the first half at the end of a trick play that Hollins would normally have run had he not been sidelined with his injury. It started with running back T.J. Logan taking a direct snap in the Wildcat formation, who handed off to motion man Ryan Switzer on what appeared to be a routine jet sweep. Only this time, Switzer flipped the ball to quarterback Mitch Trubisky, lined up as a wide receiver. Trubisky then heaved the ball downfield, where Howard outjumped UVa’s Juan Thornhill in the end zone for a 40-yard touchdown. “I have been waiting on them to call it,” said of the play, which has been installed and at the ready for the past 2-3 weeks. “Bug made a heck of a grab going up in the air and using all 6-5, 40-inch vertical to go up and get it.” Even though the double-reverse pass was designed to exploit the original No. 13’s ability to get open downfield, it’s not as if the man currently wearing the number was unfamiliar with the trick play. “We have multiple guys working that position in all those situations,” Fedora said. “It wasn’t like he only got one rep at practice, because he’s been repping it for a couple of weeks. Bug’s worked outside and inside on it, so he didn’t have any problems with the transition.” Howard’s catch gave the Tar Heels a 14-7 lead they would never relinquish. But according to the senior wide receiver, the touchdown meant more the numbers it helped put on the scoreboard. “If felt good to execute the play, come to the sideline and fist-bump him first,” Howard said of Hollins, “to let him know it was for him.”