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April 15, 2011Dwight Jones, the former five-star recruit out of Burlington's Cummings High School, was almost an afterthought when UNC opened up training camp in August 2010.
A former state champion in both basketball and football in high school, Jones came perilously close to never even making it to Chapel Hill.
But after finally qualifying prior to the 2008 season, Jones made little to no impact for the Tar Heels for two years.
With Greg Little, Jheranie Boyd, and Erik Highsmith all seemingly ahead of him going into last year's training camp, it looks as though Jones might end up never capitalizing on all that potential scouts saw out of him in his high school days.
But then came opportunity.
With Little out of the mix all season and with Boyd hampered at different points in the season by an injury, Jones got his chance to become Carolina's go-to option in the passing game and he more than capitalized.
"A lot of people had to grow up fast, including freshmen and sophomores. I had to grow up fast," said Jones. "Last year, it was a blessing in disguise. Guys had to step up and mature a lot to play."
Jones easily led the Tar Heels in receptions (62)---besting his next-closest teammate by 26 receptions---and his 946 receiving yards nearly tripled the next-closest player on the Tar Heel roster.
"I think he has a lot more confidence. Just that season last year, just what he did. He has a lot more confidence to take the game over," said quarterback Bryn Renner.
While some UNC players want to forget about last season because of all the turmoil, Jones says he's trying to forget about last season to stay hungry and motivated for 2011.
"It helps me a lot (what happened last year), but last year is the past. I don't think about last year," he said. "I've still got a lot more work to do. I want to come out and improve from what I did last year."
"I've got to prove myself to the coaches all over again," Jones added. "I'm just working out there every day like it's my first day out on the field."
As the lone rising senior in Carolina's crop of receivers, Jones had to step up this spring from a leadership standpoint, and not just let his actions on the field speak for themselves.
"They (the UNC coaches) just tell me every day that I've got to be a leader. The young guys are going to follow me, so everything I do the young guys are going to pick up on," Jones said. "And so I've just got to go out there and work every day."
Jones gave a closer look at how Carolina's offense shaped up over the months of March and April.
Although UNC lost top running back Ryan Houston in the Spring Game to an injury, the Tar Heels put together a potent, balanced offensive attack on the field.
"I feel that it (the offense) will be balanced," Jones said. "We've got the O-line coming back---that's a big boon--- so I feel it will open the game up more for the passing. I feel like me and Erik Highsmith, we open up the game for the run. I feel it will be balanced."
Jones was pleased with the way he progressed this spring with Renner, the team's immediate future at the quarterback position.
"I'm comfortable (with Renner). Me and Bryn have always had a cool relationship. But we're still developing our chemistry," Jones said.
"We've got a little chemistry. We've got to get better chemistry on our deep balls, but we'll get it though."
"Obviously I worked the ball to him a lot (in the Spring Game) and he made a ton of plays for me. He made a great catch over the middle a couple of times. He's just a warrior," added Renner.
"It's just awesome getting the ball to him because I have so much confidence in what he can do."
"He comes in focused every day," said Jones of Renner. "He knows that last year, all the things we went through, that helped us a lot."
Jones insists that nothing about the offense will change now that Renner is at the helm.
Although surely offensive coordinator John Shoop will throw in some wrinkles here and there in an effort to cash in on some of Renner's specific strengths, the basic premise of the UNC offense is going to stay the same.
"It doesn't change. We still have the same plays and everything. The only thing different is just Bryn. He's just got to develop into his own quarterback, but we're not going to run any different plays or anything," Jones said.
"Like I said before, we've still got the same plays and the same offensive coordinator. It's just a new quarterback, but nothing else is going to change."
Jones, like several of his UNC teammates, isn't taking a modest approach with expectations.
With only one more year to dazzle the Tar Heel faithful before hopefully moving on to the National Football League, Jones is looking to have a monster season in a few months.
"From this year's team they (the fans) can expect a lot of excitement," Jones said.
"We're just going to go out there and get wins and try to win an ACC championship. The fans, they can just expect for the Heels to have a great season. My goals are just to win the ACC championship."
"I feel like my work ethic, it speaks for itself. So I just want to go out there and help my team win as many games as possible and win the ACC," he added.
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