North Carolina football seeks normalcy, perspective in wake of Florence

September 17, 2018

Nearly a week ago to the day, North Carolina announced it was canceling its scheduled game last Saturday against Central Florida with Hurricane Florence projected to wreak havoc on the state.

After making landfall last Wednesday, those projections came true and the slow-moving Florence - now a tropical storm - is continuing to dump record-setting amounts of rain as it moves northeast, leading to widespread flooding across the state.

The storm has almost made its way completely out of North Carolina, but additional storms are on the radar and flooding could continue. North Carolinians have had to evacuate their homes, and are left with uncertainty as to whether or not they’ll have homes to return to when the waters recede.

“The worst is maybe not over. There’s still things to come,” North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora said.

After North Carolina made the decision last week to cancel its game with Central Florida, Fedora said he let the players go on Wednesday. Some of them returned home - none of his players went back east, he said - and some stayed on campus. But there were no practices or meetings, no face-to-face contact.

The team will reunite Monday - normally an off-day - to practice for the first time in nearly a week and prepare to play Pittsburgh on Saturday, but Fedora admits it’s difficult to return to business as usual.

“We’re more worried about what’s going on right now across the state and with the people affected by the hurricane, and that’s really where all our thoughts need to be,” Fedora said. “We do have to prepare for a football game this week against Pitt and we will do that, but there are a lot of people that are suffering.”

Chapel Hill isn’t immune, either.

Currently, the Friday Center in Chapel Hill is being used as a Red Cross shelter for Hurricane Florence refugees, and the tennis center (close to the Friday Center) may also be used as a shelter.

Fedora said he has been in communication with high school coaches from eastern North Carolina.

“We are trying to do everything possible. I talked to quite a few coaches this morning over on the eastern side of the state who have been directly hit, who are trying to figure out where their teams are. Their players are displaced,” Fedora said. “They’ve had contact with some and some they haven’t, so our thoughts and prayers go out to those people also. We’re willing to do anything that we can to help people in the state right now.”

North Carolina’s football equipment truck has already been used to transport supplies around the state. The entire city of Wilmington is too flooded to enter. Former Tar Heel linebacker Kevin Reddick is from New Bern, NC, which is one of the hardest-hit areas. Fedora said Riddick reached out and asked for help to get water and Gatorade donations that he can take to New Bern.

When Fedora meets with his team later in the day, they’ll talk about Pittsburgh and game-planning. But they’ll also talk about perspective.

“Some of the high school coaches that I talked to this morning, they left Wilmington and they can’t get back to Wilmington,” Fedora said. “Some of them still don’t know what kind of damage their was to their homes.”

The Tar Heels started the season 0-2, and Fedora said the break will allow some of their players to heal up. He and his staff did take advantage of the time as well, starting to scout Pittsburgh on Tuesday of last week instead of waiting until this week.

The only real question remaining is whether or not the Tar Heels will add a 12th game to its schedule. Fedora said athletic director Bubba Cunningham has been in contact with other schools about this already. North Carolina’s suspended players would have to sit out four games if a 12th is added (it would only be three if the schedule stays at 11), but Fedora says that’s worth it.

“We would prefer to have a 12th game,” Fedora said. “We were prepared for our guys to sit four, so it’s not like that would be something extra for us.”

For now, though, he’s just trying to get his team to get back to the grind of football while also keeping a sense of what’s important.

“Any time you have any type of destruction or tragedy like this, it’s always good to talk to the players about perspective,” Fedora said. “We’re playing a game that we all love. We’re blessed. We really were not affected very heavily by the storm, but there are a lot of people that are. I want our guys to really understand that and what that means.”

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