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Star-News (Wilmington, NC)
CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina's football team is practicing where it will play this season, an unusual situation in college football.
With an indoor practice facility under construction and thus the previous practice site unavailable, the Tar Heels are holding workouts in Kenan Stadium.
For coach Larry Fedora and his staff, it has become a logistical jigsaw puzzle because of the limitations.
"You're squeezed for space," Fedora said when practice sessions began this week. "You really have to know where you are in a drill."
By early next week, Fedora said he wants practices to be seamless in regard to the set-up. He said within five days he hopes everyone involved is "comfortable with the logistics of how we practice on this field."
Most college teams have at least a couple of fields available for workouts, with players spread across those in different groupings for many drills.
The Tar Heels are taking the situation in stride.
"If anything, you should want to practice in the stadium," linebacker Andre Smith said. "Imagine all the fans around, get used to the atmosphere you're going to be in. Personally, I love it."
Senior receiver Austin Proehl said it shouldn't matter where the team practices.
"No excuse, it's grass," he said.
The Tar Heels had practiced for years (perhaps about 70) on Navy Fields, located across the street from Boshamer Stadium (baseball field).
The renovation for the new practice set-up is part of a $100 million facilities upgrade that will include new soccer and lacrosse venues. For football, an indoor facility will be accompanied by two outdoor fields.
At Kenan Stadium, shrubbery and asphalt that surrounded some of the field were removed in order to create more practice space. Artificial turf has been placed around the grass surface, essentially on the sidelines to alleviate some wear and tear.
Still, there will be heavy-lifting involved in moving some practice equipment (blocking sleds, for instance) away prior to games.
There are various markings on the grass for practices, with some set up for drills to be run across the width of the field (making two mini-fields).
The weekly plan for the stadium turf is still in the works. One possibility is resodding following each of the seven home games.
A certain convenience comes with practice at the stadium. Instead of walking from the team's football center up the stadium stairs, across Stadium Drive and between a couple of residence halls, the Tar Heels simple head out onto the stadium.
"I love the shorter walk," tight end Brandon Fritts said.
Additional familiarity could be a bonus, too.
"It's pretty cool," Fritts said. "Come Saturdays, there will be no surprises. The stands will be filled."
For Fedora, the headaches of dealing with these arrangements in 2017 can be offset by what's to come.
"The reward of what we'll have at the end of it will be well worth what we're going through right now," he said.
North Carolina coach Larry Fedora oversees the team's practice at Kenan Stadium. [The Associated Press]
Here s the former North Carolina football practice facility in early June at the beginning of the dismantling for a construction project. [Bob Sutton / Times-News]
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