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UNC Football: Ja’Qurious Conley steps into starting Nickelback role

With the unexpected departure of redshirt senior Myles Wolfolk, Ja’Qurious Conley is handed major responsibility early in the season.

Ja’Qurious Conley, the four star recruit from Jacksonville, NC, was elevated to the starting nickelback spot on the heels of Myles Wolfolk’s dismissal from the team. Yesterday, he spoke with media and discussed how his acclimation to the program was going.

It was enlightening to see how up and down it’s been for the prodigious young talent. “Right now I’m still trying to learn the plays, I’m still trying to make sure I do everything correctly, but I’m so focused right now,” Ja’Qurious told reporters.

Ja’Qurious got a decent amount of playing time in the Syracuse game, playing 23 snaps on defense and 22 snaps on special teams, totaling two tackles on the day. He was fortunate to begin his college career against a team with a mostly toothless attack. There’s still a lot to learn for the powerful, hard-hitting nickelback. The mental side of the game will come with time, but the physical part is already turning heads on the team.

Junior linebacker Jeremiah Gemmel is already impressed. He told the media that Ja’Qurious was getting positive attention on day one, saying:

“Just the first day of fall camp, I think it was just his organic talent that we saw on the first couple days without even really knowing the schemes. He’s got really good speed in the point of attack, and that’s something we really need at the nickel spot. Someone who can cover, but also to go in run fit. That’s something I saw from him from the first month he got here, that he’s not scared to go and get in the run fit and get physical.”

Ja’Qurious didn’t seem to think that he was making a big splash when he got to campus. He said, “Before D.J. Ford and everyone opted out, I felt like I was lost. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t have a starting spot, I wasn’t the man of the team. I just had to stay focused, making sure I was on my grind, making sure that I can jump to the level I’m at now.”

Without a proper summer camp and preseason, it was always going to be an uphill climb for the freshman to make an immediate impact. When the good news came, Ja’Qurious was overcome by emotion.

“I was very emotional. I called my mom. I told her, and she’s not really a big football fan so once I told her she really didn’t understand but I started crying and told her that I’m getting an opportunity to play... We shared that emotion.”

While this is a wonderful opportunity for Ja’Qurious, it didn’t come without some mixed feelings. Ja’Qurious considered Myles Wolfolk a big brother and said that it was very difficult hearing the redshirt senior apologize to the team for letting them down. Wolfolk was a veteran who knew the system, and acted as a security blanket, both on the field and emotionally to the younger members of the Rude Boyz.

Ja’Qurious didn’t think he would play his freshman season and thought he might even redshirt. The three secondary opt-outs started to make him think playing time was possible. With Wolfolk out of the way, the dominoes ironically fell into place for Ja’Qurious to not only play, but start in the second game of his true freshman season.

As discussed in my position preview for the UNC secondary, Ja’Qurious looks so stout and fast, if he’s able to put on some more good weight, it’s definitely possible to see him at linebacker before he leaves Chapel Hill for the NFL. In the meantime, he’ll have another week to hone his craft at nickelback and learn the ins and outs of Jay Bateman’s system. If I were a Boston College receiver or running back, I’d go ahead and get some ice packs ready for next Saturday night.