Sharpening Klawz

The UNC Bears tangle with tougher grid foes.

That is not lost on the Bears' current offensive star, senior wide receiver Vincent Jackson. "The tough schedule is exciting for us," Jackson said amid the deflation of Saturday's loss. "It's a stepping stone for the future of football [here]. But we hadn't lost at home since my freshman year, and it's tough. The seniors certainly don't want to go out like that." Jackson, a 6'6", 238-pounder with NFL-quality speed and sure hands, scored an amazing 21 touchdowns in 2003 and is getting a long look from pro scouts. But he got off to an abysmal start this season -- he made just four catches for 23 yards as the Bears failed to score a touchdown in their first two games -- and he's hoping that Saturday's scoring breakout (42 points in a loss) signals better things ahead. He may be playing on Sunday afternoons next year, "if I'm lucky. But we have to get through this year first."

While the football program moves up to I-AA, fifteen other UNC sports are now aimed at the top Division I level, and that will take money -- lots of it. Athletic director Hinrichs has been on the job less than a month (he came from an assistant coach's post at Kansas), so he's not fully versed yet in UNC fundraising. But he calls the university "the most positive, supportive place I've been in my entire career," and he's optimistic that the Division I moves will eventually "put one more feather in the cap of a very good university." Centennial author James Michener is no longer with us, but there are 60,000 other UNC alumni living in Colorado, and university fundraisers hope to tap into their goodwill -- and their bank accounts.

For now, Bears football retains its appealing, small-time charm. At Saturday's game, the UNC marching band -- which wears navy-blue cowboy hats fringed in white feathers that suggest the aftermath of a massive cotton-candy fight -- was selling CDs at $10 each in the hopes of financing a trip to this week's game in Missoula. Last summer, players worked $7-an-hour shifts at a local department store and personally passed the hat among boosters to pay for new uniforms. The team mascot still awards a pizza to the craziest fan in the gold-and-blue-clad student section. And when a home game ends, girlfriends, fellow students and family members stroll out of the stands to mingle with the Bears right there on Nottingham Field. The whole thing gives off a sweetness you can't find in South Bend or Boulder. It makes you wonder if any Bears jerseys are available on Swap Shop.

As for the difficulties his 1-2 team is bound to face in its remaining eight games, Dalton is philosophical, as befits a 72-year-old ex-football player who used to coach the Montreal Alouettes at twenty below zero and who walks around these days with two artificial hips and a synthetic left knee. "I can't let it drive me crazy," he says. "I've been around the business for almost fifty years, and I knew this would be difficult. I'll just try to do my best to be of service with my experience and understanding.Š This is the last stop on the road for me, and I still love to work with these kids."

In the coming weeks, they may find themselves growing up in a hurry.

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