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September 4, 2011Following North Carolina's 42-10 blowout win over James Madison Saturday afternoon in Chapel Hill, there was a common theme listening to UNC's players and head coach Everett Withers.
Butch Davis was anything but forgotten.
Quite to the contrary, the recently-fired former UNC coach was very much at the forefront of their minds.
"We all know Coach Davis, and we all have deep love for him, and we all just wanted to play for him today," said quarterback Bryn Renner, whose 22-for-23 introduction as a Tar Heel starting signal-caller won't soon be forgotten.
"He was the guy that really built this program, and we thank him every day," added running back Giovani Bernard, who scored his first two collegiate touchdowns against the Dukes. "He helped me out through my ACL injury. We just can't thank him enough for everything he's done for this program."
"Coach Davis is in our spirit," said senior defensive end Quinton Coples. "He basically recruited all of us and got the program going in the right direction and things of that nature, so he's always going to be in our hearts, and spirit-wise he was there. He might not be here physically but he's here spiritually, and he's here within us."
As it turned out, Davis was at Kenan Stadium Saturday not only inside the minds and hearts of the Tar Heel players, but also physically in one of the boxes inside the newly-completed Blue Zone---the stadium enhancement that stands as one of the signatures of the four-year Davis Era at UNC.
He was spotted by reporters in the press box during the game, and Withers and players confirmed afterwards that they knew he was coming.
"We were informed that he was going to be here," said Coples. "It was kind of hard for me, because I really didn't think he would, because of the situation. We have a lot of people supporting us, but I just didn't feel like it was a good position. But I commend him for coming here. That shows a lot of pride and a lot of heart. He really bled this program, and I really appreciate all the help he gave me and this team."
"Coach Withers said he (Coach Davis) was going to be here. He said he was going to be in the stands, so that victory was for Coach Davis," said senior wide receiver Dwight Jones, who had another 100-plus yard receiving outing in the win.
"He really got us motivated that he was going to be in the stands.(It was) awesome. He (Coach Davis) texted me before the game, which was really big. It really meant a lot to me just knowing he was in the stands," added Renner.
"My love for Coach Davis and the things he did for this program, we're not going to forget. This whole season we're going to play like that, and I think it showed today."
"I actually didn't see him at the game today, but I would have hoped he would be here today, because he helped build this football team. And for him today would be an honor for me," Withers said. "The old coach, it's hard to keep away from a good ball game."
"I think that (Davis coming to the game) definitely showed that he was dedicated to this program. He bled this program and he put his heart and soul into it, and regardless of what the situation may be, he's not going to not be a part of this program. You know what I'm saying?" added Coples.
Withers has been in semi-regular contact with Coach Davis since the news came of Davis's termination, and earlier this past week Davis called Withers to talk before the first regular season in-week team meeting.
"He (Davis) continues to help us. He gives Coach Withers advice, too," said Coples.
"I'll tell you guys this. On Tuesday at about 1:30 Coach Davis called me. And I know why he called me at 1:30, because at 2:10 we a start special teams meeting. It probably hit him the first time that he was not going to be sitting in that special teams meeting. It hit me," Withers said.
"So I told the kids on Thursday, 'We're going to paint this (Saturday's game) ball up and give it to him. I don't know when I'm planning on doing it, but I just know we're going to pack one up and give it to him."
Needless to say, the players were thrilled with the idea of going out and playing well enough to win so they could give Coach Davis a game ball.
"The game ball went to Coach Davis. So that was our whole goal, to get this victory and to give the game ball to Coach Davis. He wasn't in the locker room, but our whole goal was to beat JMU, and then we could give a game ball to Coach Davis," said Jones.
"We're definitely going to show our appreciation. We're going to send him a ball and let him know that we do appreciate everything we did for us," added Coples.
"We all got recruited by Coach Davis, which was awesome. Having him there and knowing that he was there and his son with everything that went on, we're going to give him this ball, and he's going to like it. I hope he likes it," said Renner.
"The one thing I do remember Coach Withers saying at the hotel, he said that the game ball, we usually give a game ball to a player, and this game ball is going to be painted up for Coach Davis, and I think that's the best thing right now," added Bernard.
While Saturday's win was special for the Tar Heel players in that they could give something back to man that meant so much to them, it was also important for themselves from the standpoint of finally getting out and playing the game they love.
"I feel like the games give you a chance to get away from it," said Coples. "When you keep practicing it just keeps coming back to you. But games like these throughout the season will just help us get away from everything and just play football."
The fact that Carolina played so well against James Madison certainly wasn't hindered by their motivation to play well for Coach Davis, but it also can be credited to the talent on this team and their desire to stay together and not allow outside influences to derail them.
Certainly that's something Davis would be very proud of.
"We always knew this season was going to be how we played, whether or not we had Coach Davis," said senior running back Ryan Houston. "Our offense was going to be dominant because of the O-Line and great receiver in Dwight."
"Coach Davis's departure, it was sad news for us, but Coach Withers has stepped up and just told us we have to move on, but Coach Davis was a great coach, and we miss him. And today that victory was for him," said Jones.
"We're still a team, and we still have a lot of pride. We have a great fan base. I think a lot of people had worries about what we could do, but we showed that we're capable of still winning games and that we're going to win games," said Coples. "No matter what comes, if we just keep playing hard we're going to win games."