August 24, 2011

Bond looms large up front for Heels

Travis Bond is a mountain of a man---the biggest man among a group of big men along North Carolina's offensive line.

The UNC Media Guide and official football website lists Bond at a whopping 6-7, 340 pounds---a large figure no doubt.

It's common knowledge that heights and weights are often fudged an inch here and there, and a few pounds added here and there in football.

But could Bond, who goes by the appropriate nickname of 'Tree Top,' actually be that huge?

"Yeah, its about accurate. It might be a little off, but hey, I make it look good," he joked after a recent practice.

The massive UNC junior right guard is heading into his first season as a full-time starter, but he does so with a wealth of experience---about as much experience as a non-starter could ask for.

Pushed into immediate work as a true freshman, Bond wound up starting several games in 2009 after Alan Pelc got injured, including the team's Meineke Bowl loss to Pitt.

He again played heavily in 2010.

"I can pick up blitzes and stuff now. I know how to read stuff a lot better than I used to. And Brennan (Williams) is so talented, he picks it up as he goes," Bond said.

"It's coming along good. We'e big, strong, and fast up front. It should look real good this year."

Bond joins fellow first-year starting junior Brennan Williams, UNC's starting right tackle, to form a seasoned and eager unit on the right side of the offensive line for the Tar Heels.

While teammates James Hurst and Jonathan Cooper have gotten plenty of attention on the left side, Bond and Williams are both out to prove that they can hold their side down just as well.

"We (Williams and I) look at the right side as the strong side," Bond said. "We haven't played as much in games together, but throughout the years we've been here, we've practiced a lot. We've got a strong connection."

Bond and Williams push each other in practice every day, working to motivate each other.

"We expect a lot out of each other. So when he (Williams) messes up I get on him and when I mess up he'll gets on me. We just want to keep moving along. We don't want to hold our heads down if something goes wrong. We just want to move forward to the next play," Bond said.

Bond knows that being elevated to a first-team player requires an entirely new level of focus and attention on his part, and he's stepped up to the challenge.

In practice this summer, Bond has been seen helping out his younger teammates with steps and play calls---a strong sign of leadership and of his command of the offense.

"I like pressure, so last year, they had me out a lot to work even harder to try get to that No. 1 spot," Bond said.

"But now that I'm here, I want to make a good, solid foundation. I want the guys behind me to work even harder to make me work harder.

"I feel like being a 'one' is a privilege. So I take it as it is. I just want to do the best at it to make everybody on the team better," he added.

After many years of being a so-so group, this year's North Carolina offensive line has a chance to be outstanding. They'll need to be if UNC is to get its first 1,000-yard rusher in 14 years, and in order to make the transition to starting quarterback easier for sophomore Bryn Renner.

"It feels good. Throughout some of the years, we've been question marks," he said.

"Coming into training camp, there was a lot expected out of us. James and Coop and Cam (Holland), they've played more than me and Brennan, so we were somewhat young guys, but since I played in every game, I had some experience. I feel like James, Coop, and Cam, they're more like the big brothers of the whole offense. They have some of the most playing experience throughout the whole (team)."

"The question marks, we're still going to have them. And people are going to have them. But we're going to have some great games where people can just erase all that and be able to say, 'Yeah, that's the unit that they want to have for any type of back.'" Bond continued.

Bond readily admits that he prefers run blocking over pass blocking. He loves the physicality of it, and he's looking forward this season to helping North Carolina put together the elusive punishing rushing attack it so desperately needs.

"I like blocking more for run. It's a lot more physical. You just get to lot a let of it (energy) go. I feel like a D-lineman should be a lot more worried, and I should be worried too, in case he makes a move on me or something (when run blocking)," Bond said.

"But it's fun. I just love blocking. Growing up I would have never thought I would have been an offensive linemen---I played other positions growing up---but it's fun. It's one of the best positions on the field, if anyone asks me."

It's been an interesting transition over the years as Bond has grown into his current frame. He was always tall, so in the beginning in Pop Warner football as a kid he played a bunch of other positions besides offensive guard.

"I started out as a receiver, running back, tight end, and a defensive end," he said.

Bond played most of his high school career at Windsor (N.C.) Bertie as a left tackle, and that was the position he was originally expected to play at North Carolina.

But as is often the case, injuries necessitate change, and the significant depth issues the UNC offensive line had in the fall of 2009 forced Bond's permanent move to guard.

And now that he's a starter, Bond is looking forward to helping UNC get off to fast starts and get its running game in full gear.

"The way the offensive line, how we look at it is we have got to come out every game strong. You know, it starts up front. So we want to make sure the running game starts with us," Bond said.

"Even though the running backs are carrying the ball, we want them to feel comfortable and trust us to open the holes for them to have a successful season for himself, the team, and to win some games."

Bond commented on Carolina's situation at running back, which has been somewhat fluid this summer with multiple players missing time with assorted injuries.

"They have a few nicks and bruises, but we like them all. Being offensive linemen, you'll block for anybody that's going to run the ball hard. And we appreciate that from all the backs that we've got, because they will run hard," he said.

Guys like A.J. Blue, Travis Riley, Matt Kolojejchick, and Romar Morris have been busting their humps in practice in the absence of Ryan Houston and Giovani Bernard, and it's got the offensive linemen excited.

"That will give offensive linemen some more encouragement. (You think), 'This guy wants to run so I want to block even harder for him so he can look good, because if he looks good, he's going to make everybody else look good.'"

When asked which UNC running back has impressed him the most this summer, Bond was quick to respond.

"Gio has impressed me the most," he said. "He just knows how to make the right cuts. He makes the small holes look like they're bigger. Even if you don't have something, he's going to run like it's something there. He's very impressive."

"He's got a chance to be one of the premier backs that Carolina has ever had," Bond added about Bernard. "We don't want to put too much pressure on him. We've just told him to go out and run the ball. We'll take care of the rest."






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