ACC Kickoff notebook: It’s ‘Bo Time’ for UNC star Howell

UNC and Duke, along with the rest of the Coastal Division, gathered in Charlotte to discuss the upcoming college football season

UNC quarterback Sam Howell avoids a tackle by Texas A&M's Brian George during the Orange Bowl last January (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier, File)

CHARLOTTE — Sam Howell waited until he was finished with his official media obligations at the ACC’s Football Kickoff event to make the announcement. But on his Instagram account Wednesday, the North Carolina quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate revealed that he has entered into a partnership with Bojangles.

“It’s Bo Time,” he wrote on the post.

With the endorsement, Howell is one of the growing number of college athletes taking advantage of the NCAA’s new relaxed rules that allow players to profit from their name, image and likeness. 

Only, it doesn’t appear as though Howell plans on pocketing all or most of his newfound windfall. According to the Instagram post, the Tar Heels star plans to work closely with the fast food chicken chain in promoting “charity events to community fundraising.”

Howell has previously announced an association with TABLE NC, a charitable organization dedicated to delivering meals to underprivileged families in Chapel Hill and other areas around the state.

Chances are there might be chicken, biscuits and dirty rice on the menu this fall.

“I just want to do something where I can give back to the community and make an impact on someone’s life,” Howell said. “We have this phenomenal platform, this incredible opportunity and I just want to make a difference in the world and TABLE was a great organization to partner with. 

“They do such a good job feeding kids that are underprivileged kids that don’t have the opportunity to eat three meals a day. So, it’s just a great opportunity for me, and they’ve been so helpful. So, I’m super excited for that partnership.”

While UNC and Duke were among the teams featured at the ACC’s annual preseason preview event on Wednesday, NC State, Wake Forest and the rest of the Atlantic Division will take center stage on Thursday.

Tokyo drift … almost

Like most sports fans, Gunnar Holmberg will be watching the Olympics once they begin on Friday. His interest in the Games would have been much more personal had his sister made it to Tokyo to represent the United States in the heptathlon.

Maddie Holmberg Nickal came close.

She qualified for a spot at the Olympic Trials in Eugene, Oregon, last month. Even though she fell short of a top-three finish that would have earned her a spot on the team, finishing seventh in the grueling multidiscipline competition contested amid extreme heat, she still has the respect of her younger brother.

“Maddie is a stud,” Gunnar said. “We’ve all been track runners. I ran track up until high school. She’s always been fast. We go against each other. I think nowadays she might get me. So I’ll give that crown to Maddie.”

Athletic ability is something that comes naturally to the Holmberg siblings. Their uncle Rob Holmberg played linebacker for Penn State and the Oakland Raiders, and their great uncle George Blanda played 26 seasons as an NFL quarterback and kicker.

“Growing up, I think that’s really what gave my love to college football, to football in general,” Holmberg said. “Always hearing the stories about my uncle who played at Penn State, was a linebacker under Joe Paterno. I’m always learning from him, kind of wanting to see what that experience is like. It’s really cool to learn from. He knows a lot about football, if I have questions I can reach out to him. Definitely a good guy to have in my corner.”

Swofford honored

New ACC commissioner Jim Phillips announced that starting this year, the trophy presented to the MVP of the league’s football championship game will now be called the John Swofford Award, named in honor of the former commissioner who retired earlier this year.

“For more than five decades he served the ACC in many different roles, including the last 24 as commissioner,” Phillips said. “His transformational leadership has meant so much to this league and he really is the gold standard of commissioners.

“There is a tremendous appreciation in this league and nationally for what John Swofford has meant to college athletics and as a friend to so many of us. John and (his wife) Nora represent everything that’s right in college athletics and in this world. John knows that I’ll never let him get too far away from the ACC, and he’s just a phone call away for me.”


Tomon Fox hasn’t been a member of the North Carolina football team forever.

It only seems like it.

The star outside linebacker, who is one sack short of matching Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor on the school’s all-time list, played his first game with the Tar Heels as a true freshman all the way back in 2016.

Six years, an injury redshirt and a COVID exemption later, he’s poised to finish his career on a high note. He was one of three players representing UNC at the ACC’s Football Kickoff media event on Wednesday.

It’s not exactly the career trajectory he anticipated as an all-state performer from Lawrenceville, Ga. But as looked back at where the program has been and how far it has come during his lengthy tenure in Chapel Hill, he’s proud of everything he and his teammates — both past and present — have accomplished.

“When I first came in here, I didn’t expect I was going to play against Georgia and that was crazy,” Fox said of his debut performance in the 2016 season opener in Atlanta. “Then the fact that I’m still here (six) years after that, it’s also wild.

“But I feel like I’ve used each year to grow and better myself. Being the old man on the team, it’s fun because everyone thinks of me as their older brother. So I’m just here to help everyone get better.”

Fox might be an honorary big brother for most of his Tar Heels teammates. For at least one of them, though, he actually is an older sibling.

Defensive end Tomari Fox is a junior who started all 12 games last season.

As much of a roller-coaster ride as Tomon’s career has been, going from the extreme low of a 5-18 record from 2017-18 to the high of last year’s Orange Bowl appearance, he said it was all worth it for the opportunity to play alongside Tomari.

“We’re three years apart, so I wasn’t able to play high school ball with him because he was on the JV team and I was on the varsity,” Tomon said. “I wish I was able to do that. When he came to UNC, that made everything better because we love to compete with each other.”