Tar Heels making long trek for opener

Quarterback Nathan Elliott started the final three games of last season for North Carolina.Photo Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Coach Larry Fedora finds himself in a unique position as his North Carolina team looks to Saturday’s game at California.

This will be the first time in a coaching career that stretches back to his graduate assistant debut at Austin College in 1986 that he will take a team across three time zones for a regular-season game.

Ive never done it at the beginning of the season or the middle of the season, he said.

If I had to pick I would choose for it at the beginning of the season and the end of the season. A five-and-a-half hour flight, 11 hours in the air, is not something I would want to deal with in the middle of the season.

Fedora has asked others for input on how to deal with the trip.

Ive sought a lot of counseling coaches, sleep specialists, you name it, Ive talk to a lot of different people, yes, he said.

Travel logistics are not the only issue for the Tar Heels for the opener or the first few weeks of the season, for that matter, as 13 players are facing suspensions that vary from one to four games for their involvement in the selling of school-provided shoes, a violation of NCAA rules.

Among the players who will miss the trip to Cal is quarterback Chazz Surratt, who started seven games last year and figured to compete with Nathan Elliott for the starting job.

Because some of the players played the same position, the Tar Heels have been allowed to stagger the suspensions, and 11 will miss the opener.

The suspensions were announced in early August, which gave Fedora and his staff time to get ready for them. It wasnt a big surprise, he said.

We knew what was going to happen, when guys were going to be out, so we started putting together a plan then, he said. And we were able to work the plan pretty well through camp. We got out of that first scrimmage and starting adjusting reps with guys, and I think it has been good.

Well see on Saturday if it was a good plan or not.

NOTES

QB Nathan Elliott started the last three games of 2017 and with Chazz Surratt suspended for four games, pretty much won the starting job for the opener by default. Elliott led the Tar Heels to a win at Pittsburgh in his first start and got a win over Western Carolina his second before the loss to North Carolina State in the regular-season finale.

WR Anthony Ratliff is a potential big-play guy for the Tar Heels. He had 895 yards on kick returns and 630 receiving last year with six receiving touchdowns, two passing, and two on kick returns. His goal this season? Just be unstoppable, he said.

Junior LG Nick Polino had a strong camp, which could be critical with the Tar Heels having to rebuild their offensive line. Polino has three starts the last two years. Hes not going to make mental mistakes Fedora said. Hes going to be able to communicate with guys. Hes going to be able to teach younger guys.

The Tar Heels lost their only meeting with California, opening the 2017 season with a 35-30 loss to the Bears in Chapel Hill.

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