Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Heels Ready to Dig in UNC Hopes to Prove It's a Big-Time Program

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Heels Ready to Dig in UNC Hopes to Prove It's a Big-Time Program

Article excerpt

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Mack Brown is fighting to keep his North

Carolina football team from being suffocated by the expectations

that hang thick overhead.

It's a difficult task considering the rarified air the No. 7

Tar Heels breathe coming into the 1997 season. Only once in the

program's 106-year history has a North Carolina team finished a

season with a higher ranking.

Expectations have escalated since the Tar Heels' 10-2 finish

last season, capped by a Gator Bowl win over West Virginia. With

17 returning starters, half of the national preseason

publications predict North Carolina will end Florida State's

five-year reign as Atlantic Coast Conference champion. One,

Football News, picked UNC the No. 1 team in the land.

"The expectations are flattering," quarterback Chris Keldorf

said. "It's nice to know people out there think we can compete

for the ACC and national championships."

Brown came up with a simple phrase to help his team cope with

such expectations:

"Enjoy the journey and quit worrying about the destination."

"We fought to get to this position," Brown said. "Why not enjoy

it."

There are reminders all around Chapel Hill that North Carolina

football is no longer just something for fans to pass the time

before the start of the basketball season.

Football is the talk at nearly all of the popular student night

spots along Franklin Street. Carolina fans snapped up all 34,000

season tickets in May, the earliest sellout in program history.

Kenan Stadium has been expanded to 60,000 seats, and its

spanking new $47 million west end zone football center is

nothing short of awe-inspiring.

"If there was ever any question about the commitment to

football here, it has been answered," Brown said after leading a

tour through the 36,000-square-foot facility.

All-America center Jeff Saturday has noticed a heightened

interest in Carolina football, even when he's at home in Tucker,

Ga., just outside Atlanta.

"People are behind you more," Saturday said. "When I go home

and go out wearing football stuff, people come up to me and pat

me on the back. …

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