Suddenly a Big Man on Campus, Tar Heels dealing with distractions

Things clearly arent business as usual this week around the Kenan Center, which is anything but an ideal situation for coach Larry Fedora as he prepares his team for another ACC Coastal Division showdown against Virginia Tech

Melina Vastola—USA TODAY Sports
North Carolina Tarheels players celebrate after the win against the Florida State Seminoles at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee

CHAPEL HILL — The North Carolina football team returned home to hero’s welcome, complete with a performance by its marching band, following its win at Florida State on Saturday. By Sunday morning, quarterback Mitch Trubisky was being mentioned by several national media outlets as a darkhorse Heisman Trophy candidate and the Tar Heels were back in the college football polls at No. 17 in the nation. Then on Monday, placekicker Nick Weiler, whose 54-yard field goal as time expired provided the winning margin, was being followed around by an ESPN camera crew for a segment called “Big Man on Campus.” Things clearly aren’t business as usual this week around the Kenan Center, which is anything but an ideal situation for coach Larry Fedora as he prepares his team for another ACC Coastal Division showdown against Virginia Tech. “Some of them will do a good job with it and some of them won’t, because they’re kids,” Fedora said of the added attention his team has gotten since the most significant win of his five-year tenure at UNC. “We’re constantly talking to them about things like that, all the pitfalls that can happen.” No one has become more aware of the potential distractions that Saturday’s man of the hour Weiler. The senior kicker became an instant celebrity because of his wild celebration, in which he sprinted down the sideline taunting FSU and its fans by doing the tomahawk chop as he was chased by joyous teammates following his winning kick. “My social media blew up,” Weiler said. “… I’ve gotten a lot of negative and positive feedback from the celebration. Florida State fans haven’t been the nicest to me on social media. But I’ve also had a lot of positive feedback from Florida fans. They said I’m always welcome in Gainesville now.” The attention, both positive and negative, can be overwhelming, which is why Fedora’s advice to his players is to simply tune it all out. “We talk about things like that,” the coach said. “If you’re going accept all the pats on your back, then you’ve got to take all the knives in the back, too. It’s easier for them if they kind of put blinders on and don’t pay any attention to any of it.” The Tar Heels (4-1, 2-0 ACC) are going to need all the focus they can muster against a Virginia Tech team that is off to an equally impressive start under new coach Justin Fuente. The Hokies are 3-1 and are ranked 25th nationally with an offense that averages 40.8 points per game and a defense that has allowed only five touchdowns all season. If there’s one thing UNC has going for it amid the added attention and pats on the back its players have been getting since their triumphant return from Tallahassee, it’s that many of them learned how to handle such adulation during their run to the 2015 Coastal Division championship. “There’s quite a few guys on our team that have experience with what happened last year,” Fedora said. “All of that carries over to this year.” As one of the team’s leaders, Trubisky is taking responsibility for keeping his teammates focused on what they still have to accomplish, rather than looking back at what they’ve already done. He said the task won’t be as difficult as it might seem because of the way the Tar Heels have won the past two games. They had to overcome a litany of self-inflicted mistakes against both FSU and the previous week against Pittsburgh before pulling out both victories with dramatic last-minute comebacks. “Anybody can beat anybody on any given Saturday,” Trubisky said. “We’ve had two crazy games the last two weeks. We’ve got to put that behind us because we’ve got another big one in Kenan this weekend. We have to have a great week of practice, turn out the rankings, tune out everything else and go back to work because Virginia Tech’s not going to be waiting around for us.”