Tar Heels get some good news: DT Farmer cleared to play

Aug. 28, 2014 @ 03:52 PM

Hours after he suspended four players for Saturday’s season opener against Liberty, North Carolina coach Larry Fedora learned that one important piece will return in time to face the Flames.

Senior defensive tackle Ethan Farmer received notice from the NCAA Wednesday night that he has been cleared to play this season.

Farmer started every game and had 30 tackles last year. The Tabor City native is the only member of the defensive line who has started a game in college, and his 13 starts are tied with safety Dom Green for the third-most on the defense behind safety Tim Scott (33) and linebacker Travis Hughes (15).

Farmer practiced with the team during training camp, but according to team sources his eligibility was in doubt because of an academic issue.

“We are thankful to have Ethan cleared to play and I know he’s excited to have this behind him,” Fedora said Thursday in a statement. “Ethan is our only experienced player on the defensive line and we’ll be counting on him for senior leadership in that group. He has practiced hard during the preseason and has not let this situation affect his preparation for the season.”

Farmer’s presence is a huge boost for a unit that already lost two expected contributors, senior Shawn Underwood and redshirt freshman Greg Webb, because of academic issues.

“Ethan’s the strongest guy on the team, by far,” guard Landon Turner said on Monday. “It sucks to block him. … We definitely need him back on the field because he’s such an anchor.”

Still, UNC will be short-handed when it plays at Kenan Stadium on Saturday (6 p.m., ESPN3.com).

The Tar Heels’ top three cornerbacks — sophomores Des Lawrence and Brian Walker and early enrollee M.J. Stewart — and backup ram Donnie Miles have been suspended for one game for what Fedora called “a violation of team rules.”

“We’re going to hold all of our guys accountable for everything they do, on the field and off the field,” Fedora said. “And we also have very high expectations for guys in this program, and they didn’t meet those expectations, so that’s why we’re having some disciplinary measures.”

Fedora announced the punishment after practice on Wednesday evening, one day after a Yahoo report described a group assault during training camp on walk-on wide receiver Jackson Boyer that left Boyer with a concussion.

Juniors Alex Dixon and T.J. Jiles and sophomore Kedrick Davis are expected to replace the suspended cornerbacks. Another option could be to use move Scott, a three-year starter at corner who switched to free safety after last season. Scott’s backup at safety is experienced junior Sam Smiley.

“We’re not going to change the game plan or anything,” Fedora said. “We’ve got other guys that have been preparing to play in those positions also, so now there’s just less depth defensively and on special teams, and a couple of guys may have to move around a little bit to help us in some positions, but we’ll get it covered.”