CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — Eric Ebron has the strength to block up front for North Carolina, the speed to sprint by defenders after the catch and the versatility to be an all-over-the-field threat. It's why coach Larry Fedora is pushing his tight end for a big season in the Tar Heels' no-huddle offense.
The 6-foot-4 junior set a program record for catches and yards receiving for a tight end last year. Now Fedora wants his preseason all-Atlantic Coast Conference pick aiming for more — a dozen touchdowns, in fact — in a season that begins with Thursday's trip to No. 6 South Carolina.
"How many tight ends in college football ever score 12 touchdowns?" Ebron said. "So in order to be different, you have to set goals that are different. To me, that's a goal that rarely anyone has accomplished and it'll separate me from others."
Ebron started 11 games and finished with 40 catches for 625 yards and four touchdowns in 2012. He was the team's fourth-leading receiver as a first-time starter in a no-huddle spread offense that set program single-season records for total yardage and scoring average. And he's athletic enough that he even saw spot duty on the defensive line in a win against rival North Carolina State last season.
Ebron and sophomore receiver Quinshad Davis, who had 38 catches in the final four games, are the go-to guys for senior quarterback Bryn Renner in an offense that averaged nearly 41 points and 486 yards per game.
Fedora compared Ebron's talent to Detroit Lions tight end Brandon Pettigrew, whom Fedora coached as offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State before his first head coaching stop at Southern Mississippi. Fedora and tight ends coach Walt Bell spent training camp pushing Ebron to do even more than last year.
The 12-touchdown goal would tie the program's single-season receiving record, regardless of position.
"I'm wanting him to push himself beyond what he thinks he can go and understand we're going to try to push him beyond where he thinks he can go," Fedora said. "Always in every kid you're dealing with, when you're pushing them higher and farther than they think they can go, they get frustrated. So you try to push them through that frustration — and even farther. That's when you really want to push, because you're going to find out a lot about them in that situation.
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