CHAPEL HILL – North Carolina’s offensive line boasts plenty of experience, what with veterans Jonathan Cooper, Cam Holland and James Hurst (who have started a combined 60 games). But new starter Brennan Williams is adding a big extra punch – quite literally.
The junior tackle from West Roxbury, Mass., earned his black belt in taekwondo when he was 14 years old. The control, focus and balance he learned from practicing martial arts makes him a force to be reckoned with in the trenches -- especially combined with his 6-feet-7, 315-pound frame.
“He’s so big – but he’ll be in the locker room, doing karate moves,’’ sophomore quarterback Bryn Renner said. “I’ll be like, ‘Whoa.’ It’s kind of intimidating.”
Now imagine being the defender trying to get by, around or through him.
Williams, who over the summer started taking taekwondo classes again, said he’s heard of other linemen around the country doing unconventional exercises for big guys, such as ballet or pilates, although he’s the only one on his line that he knows of that has practiced martial arts.
“It’s all about working little muscles that wouldn’t normally get worked on in the weight room,’’ he said.
He credits taekwondo for giving him better balance, plus one additional bonus: “As an offensive lineman, you’re always in a position to be punching people,’’ he said, referring to a blocking move. “ So my punch is kind of strong, based on that.”
CALMING BRYN, CUTTING BIEBER: Renner has always been known as an excitable guy. So what calmed him down before his first start last Saturday, and helped him to his record-setting, 22-for-23 performance against James Madison?
“This is the first game I didn’t listen to my ipod,’’ he said. “I kind of just wanted to be at peace, and I kind of got away from everybody. I get jacked up by music, and I just decided … to take a walk around the locker room, and I just calm myself down a little bit.”
What would he have listened to?
“I’m a Justin Bieber fan,’’ he said, grinning. “I know that’s kind of weird, but I love Justin Bieber before games.”
FAMILIAR FOE: Saturday’s game against Rutgers marks the return of a familiar coach to Kenan Stadium: Frank Cignetti, who served as UNC’s offensive coordinator in 2006 and was hired by the Scarlet Knights in that same capacity before this season.
“They’ve got weapons in the right spots,’’ UNC interim head coach Everett Withers said. “…When you build a two-back pro-style offense, and you’ve got wideouts, a good run game, a good tight end down the middle – that’s what’s you’re trying to build in an offense. And they have those pieces in place, so we’re going to have to be good in a lot of areas on defense this week.”
BRIEFLY: Saturday’s game has been designated as UNC’s Military Appreciation Day, meaning discounted tickets ($25) are available to current and former military personnel, as well as accompanying family members. Tickets can be purchased at tarheelblue.com, or by calling 1-800-722-4335.