North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams gave starting quarterback T.J. Yates one of his ultimate compliments during the coach’s Monday evening radio show: “I'd take T.J. Yates … as a foxhole buddy, because when it was chaos, that young man used his brain and he's tough enough to stand in there make throws,’’ Williams said in the audio clip, which was provided by the school. “And I just love him to death.”
In his autobiography, published before last season, Williams describes a “foxhole buddy” as one in his close-knit group of friends “that will be together until the end of time.” Yates, a senior, earned Williams’ praise after last week’s Music City Bowl, where the player was able, amid chaos, to snap the ball with a second left on the clock (the time was put back on after hands were shaken and the play was reviewed).
Williams called it one of the greatest plays he has ever seen, and it allowed a game-tying field goal to force overtime. UNC ultimately beat Tennessee 30-27 in double OT.
Williams said he watched the highlights of the game on ESPN, and was amazed at Yates’ composure. Here’s the transcript from Williams’ radio show:
“[The bowl game] just justified one thing that I really believe – and I don’t know the young man hardly at all : T.J. Yates is one of my favorite student-athletes to ever play at the University of North Carolina. One of the things is, that last year I was really hurt, I was really disturbed, I was really disappointed with the thing where they show his picture in the Smith Center [on the video boards] and the crowd didn’t give him a great reception. That’s not the Carolina way. The Carolina way is you put your arm around our guys. If you want to boo, boo the [heck] out of those other guys, OK. But the Carolina way is to put your arms around our guys.
"And I love the fact that he went through so much adversity , and you know what he did? He just worked. … And [freshman quarterback] Bryn Renner, everybody is saying [at the beginning of the season], ‘Let’s get T.J. out of the way.’ I think Bryn Renner is going to be a big-time quarterback for us, I really believe that, but this kid [Yates] has put up with a lot of junk, put up with a lot of negative talk, put up with a lot of discontent and has taken a great deal of blame – somewhat like Larry Drew, which is not deserved.
“One of the greatest plays that I have ever seen is him taking that snap and grounding the ball. Because do you know what that took? That took some intestinal fortitude to say, ‘Hey, I don’t know what the crap is going on’ – which if anybody says they did, they’re lying, because it looked bad, the whole bit, but there was confusion and there was chaos. But that youngster had enough sense to take the snap, ground the ball and give us a second. Now the referee and the guy upstairs had to review it , but how many times have you heard Coach [Dean] Smith use the word ‘savvy’? My gosh. When all things are in an uproar around you, someone’s got to have some savvy to make a play and that young man saved that bowl game.
“You might say it’s crazy for me to say that’s one of my favorite plays ever, but it was. He got the ball and snapped it, and the center had to snap it, too, so it’s a two-way street. But to ground the [football] there with one second left to save the game has given us so many more positive feelings about the bowl game and about the season. He broke some records, and all of the junk that young man had to put up with -- I’m going to write him a letter. It probably will mean something to him, it might not mean a great deal and that’s okay, but I just love the fact that he took all of the abuse and all he did was say, ‘OK, I’m just going to work at it.’
“From the LSU game on, that kid, in my opinion, should have been the first-team all-conference quarterback. I think he played better than anybody else and put us in position to make something [happen].... It’s not just the savvy that he played with, but the toughness.
“…The greatest compliment I can give somebody is that I would take you as a foxhole buddy. I'd take T.J. Yates … as a foxhole buddy, because when it was chaos, that young man used his brain and he's tough enough to stand in there make throws. And I just love him to death.”