CHAPEL HILL — After losing two key starters last week to injuries — one for the season, and the other “indefinitely” — North Carolina is going to have to rely on its younger football players to step up.
UNC senior cornerback Patrice Rene suffered a torn ACL Saturday against Miami and is out for the season. Senior center Nick Polinio suffered a lower body injury and is out indefinitely.
Rene, who’s 6-foot-2 and 208 pounds, was UNC’s top cornerback entering the 2019 season. He started all 11 games during the 2018 season and finished with 31 tackles, two interceptions, five pass breakups and a fumble recovery.
He had five tackles against Miami, and six for the season.
“As excited as we are about the win, we’re disappointed for Patrice Rene because he’s worked so hard,” Coach Mack Brown said this week.
Rene showed up to training camp in early August wearing a hard hat, a construction vest and goggles. He said 2019 would be “about business,” and he planned to have a big season in 2019. He wanted to be named to the All-ACC team at the end of the season.
Rene injured his knee in the first half against Miami and did not return. Brown said the injury occurred on a goal line play in the first half when he made contact with teammate Myles Wolfolk.
Brown said Rene will be eligible to return for a fifth season if he desires. He is expected to graduate in December and could decide to try for an NFL career.
“We do want him back if he wants to come back,” Brown said.
Sophomore cornerback Tre Morrison will likely step up Friday against Wake Forest as UNC’s No. 1 cornerback. Junior Greg Ross will move in as the No. 2 at the position. And UNC freshman Storm Duck will be No. 3.
Through the first two games of the season, Wake Forest has two receivers — Sage Surratt (203) and Scotty Washington (204) — with at least 200 receiving yards.
Washington is 6-5, 225 pounds, while Surratt, the younger brother of UNC linebacker Chazz Surratt, is 6-3, 215 pounds.
Morrison, at 5-10, 190 pounds, played well against Miami, a week after suffering a concussion on the first play of the game against South Carolina on Aug. 31. He finished Saturday’s game with two pass breakups. He was targeted six times and allowed three catches for 36 yards.
Polino, who is 6-3, 305 pounds, suffered a lower body injury when he had his leg rolled up on late in the first quarter. He started in all 11 games for the Tar Heels in 2018.
Brown said he hopes Polino will be able to return before the end of the season.
Sophomore backup center Brian Anderson, who is 6-2, 302 pounds and took some first-team snaps at center in training camp, will replace Polino. Anderson also played some against South Carolina.