Originally created 07/22/98

Tar Heels push Bly for Heisman



BUFORD, Ga. -- His hands loom a tad large on his 5-foot-10 frame. Not hulking or massive, but certainly noticeable and definitely imposing.

They are soft and clean-cut, revealing few blemishes from daily torment. And quick, oh boy, are they quick. So swift and menacing he has scouts drooling and opposing quarterbacks and receivers perpetually panicked at the mere mention of Dre Bly.

"In two years," North Carolina football coach Carl Torbush says of his two-time All-American cornerback, "he has not got his hands on a ball that he's not intercepted."

And you want to know where Bly started grooming those renowned set of claws? Soccer. And no, not as a goalie. Until his parents allowed him to begin playing football in seventh grade, Bly dabbled in soccer, baseball and basketball.

Perhaps he might have began his career a little earlier if his parents could have known how little action Bly entertains on the field.

In becoming the Tar Heels' first two-time consensus All-American, Bly has picked off 16 regular-season passes in 22 regular-season games. That doesn't even include the two he posted in the '97 Gator Bowl. He is one shy of the all-time ACC mark of 17 shared by five players.

That has forced teams to test Bly on fewer and fewer occasions.

Only one player has scored on Bly, and that came against Florida State's Corey Thomas during his freshman season.

He can recall every catch made against him, and the numbers are so paltry that Torry Holt's three catches against him last season were a big story.

"He's constantly on you," said Holt, an All-ACC receiver last season for N.C. State. "He's got his hands on you. He makes it tough to get off the ball, and he's got the quickness to recover."

Experts say it's in his hips. He possesses a remarkable ability to open his hips to turn and recover.

Bly could have taken those quick hips and his marvelous footspeed to the NFL last spring. But he passed up the riches that so many of his teammates cashed in on.

"Most guys leave for money," said Bly, whose parents are elementary school teachers back in his hometown of Chesapeake, Va. "Coming from a stable background, that's not a need. I want to graduate and enjoy school as long as I can."

Of course, that doesn't mean Bly won't bolt early for the NFL. The Sports Science major plans to leave school when he graduates. Considering that he's a redshirt junior and plans to earn his degree on time, this should be his final season in Chapel Hill.

There are big plans for Bly during this final campaign. Posters featuring Bly, a locker and a wad of interception balls have begun to circulate, promoting him for the Heisman Trophy.

"We're talking about a guy who has done as much at his position as anyone in the country," Torbush said. "We're talking about a cornerback as a freshman and sophomore who has 18 interceptions and started every game. He's been a two-time consensus All-American -- in my opinion, enough said."

For Bly, though, the Heisman isn't much of a goal. After all, chances of a defensive player receiving the award this season virtually disintegrated last year when Charles Woodson became the first defender to capture the award.

So Bly has his sights set on the Jim Thorpe Award, which goes to the finest defensive back in the country. A finalist twice, Bly wants to capture it.

"If I get the opportunity to go for (the Heisman), I will, but it's not one of my goals," said Bly, who plans to dabble at receiver and returning kicks this season. "I'd like to win the Thorpe Award, because I actually have a chance to win it."