Advanced Beyond His Years

CHAPEL HILL – After working through a minor knee injury during the spring, true freshman Shakeel Rashad saw significant action in his first game against Elon on Saturday.

Rashad (42) had plenty to be excited about in his college debut

“I think I did well,” the Tar Heels’ first commitment in the 2012 recruiting class said. “I feel like I was able to contribute and I had fun doing it.”

Rashad officially finished the game with 3 solo tackles, including 2 tackles for loss and 1 forced fumble in the 62-0 rout against Elon.

But it hasn’t been completely smooth sailing since making the move in January to Chapel Hill from Jacksonville, Fla. as he had to sit out spring practice due to minor knee surgery.

“The injury was really tough,” Rashad explained. “It happened my third day here. But with that, I was able to get in classes and get used to UNC’s academics because there’s two parts to being a student-athlete.

“When the summer came around I was back to 100% and I had two classes but it was basically all football from there. Now that we’re in the fall I have four classes but I know how to handle that and how to balance it with football. Being here last spring definitely helped and I’m glad I did it.”

Putting on weight was also one of the first priorities for the freshman who found it no problem with the regimen of new head strength coach Lou Hernandez.

“I came in at about 215 but after surgery I dropped down to about 208,” the versatile defender said. “Through the hard work of Coach Lou, I came out of last spring at about 232 and I’m at about 235 now. I feel like I’m in the best shape of my life and I’m right where I want to be.”

This added weight has helped Rashad become one of the strongest players on the team as the Florida native holds the overall team record in the power clean -- an almost unheard of feat for a true freshman.

“I got 372 and I wanted to go up but we were getting close to the season and I got cut off,” he explained.

And while he had fully recovered from his knee injury, another transition awaited him on the football field.

After playing linebacker at Jacksonville (Fla.) Episcopal, Rashad made the move to the Bandit position, which is a hybrid linebacker-defensive end role in UNC’s new 4-2-5 defense.

“We spend a lot of time with our hand on the ground but it’s a really similar position. The play starts and your linebacker play took you to the line of scrimmage but other than that it’s very similar. It hasn’t been too bad.”

And while Rashad has taken to most of the social and academic adjustments extremely well, he said that the position change was probably the hardest thing he’s had to tackle.

“The toughest transition was probably been having to play with my hand in the ground. Academically, I came from a strong school so I feel like I was prepared but putting my hand in the ground feels kind of weird. But once it comes off and the play starts it’s pretty similar to what I’m used to."

Rashad’s most memorable play from his first collegiate game came in the 3rd quarter as executed the Tar Heels emphasized defensive game-plan by forcing his first fumble.

“We put a big emphasis on causing turnovers, especially this week, and I just went in after P.J. Clyburn wrapped him up and I just ripped as hard as I could. It came out afterwards.”

But his advanced play shouldn’t be too much of a surprise as sources informed just weeks before the start of fall camp that Rashad had arguably been the most impressive of all the freshmen during summer workouts.

“I feel like I had a pretty good summer but I think that was because I wasn’t able to do much in the spring. I feel more productive when I’m doing something.

“When I came in the fall, I would say that shocked me a little bit with the speed because we were going fast all the time. Coming out to game-time wasn’t a giant jump with what we did in practice but between plays I feel like it slowed down because going against our offense its play, after play, after play.”

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