CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina junior Aaron Stahl wants to have a winning season, get a bowl game and compete for an ACC Championship
But he had an extra reason to become a self-described “football freak” over the last six months: the memory of his brother Andrew, who died in a car accident earlier this year.
“He was only 25, four years old than me,’’ said Stahl, who had a tattoo inked over his heart of a cross and his brother’s name. “He was my best friend.
“And he provided a lot of motivation for me, too, because he used to tell me all the time how he loved to watch me play. Now he has a front row seat.”
What Andrew will see from the heavens this season is a lineman who switched from left guard to center during the offseason and who has played so well during training camp that he’s earned the starting slot. Now, he’s more determined than ever to communicate, to protect, to win.
“We love what he can do,’’ head coach Butch Davis said early in training camp. “He’s fast, he’s athletic, he can pull, he’s smart, he’s aggressive and he’s a good communicator inside.”
Stahl played center in high school, so the transition to snapper last spring wasn’t all that difficult — although this time around he had to get used to having bigger, faster guys immediately breathing down his face.
But he’s determined.
UNC gave up 37 sacks last season, and only one tailback finished the year with a 100-yard game. With so much experience on the line — seniors Bryon Bishop and Calvin Darity will likely start as guards, while senior Garrett Reynolds and Kyle Jolly will start at the tackles — Stahl believes his line’s performance can improve. And will.
After a tough offseason, that’s the “football freak’s” focus.
“[Andrew] would want to see me do well … would want to see this team do well,’’ he said.