CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Remind Tre Boston of the plays he made last season, such as his four interceptions, and he might smile in an attempt at modesty, nod his head and say “yeah, a couple,” as if those plays were no big deal. That was his reaction recently when he thought back to last season.
Boston, a senior free safety at North Carolina, also missed a lot of plays. He might have been in the wrong position, or have taken an incorrect angle. He might have been trying to do too much on his own. Defensive coordinator Vic Koenning often reminds him of those moments — the ones in which Boston failed.
Koenning was talking last week about the defense and what it would take for it to improve entering UNC’s season opener Thursday night at South Carolina. Koenning kept coming back to Boston — criticizing his leadership ability in one moment, saying “I love him to death” in the next, lauding his potential in another while in the same thought threatening to bench him.
“There’s no reason why he shouldn’t be a guy that can be (among) some of the top in the country in interceptions and tackles,” Koenning said. “And he can be one of the better players at his position. Or he can stand over on the sideline.
“It’s really his call. You know, we had a Saturday scrimmage and there were three plays he cost us points. We can’t have those. He can’t do those.”
Boston is one of three returning starters in the secondary, a unit that has more experience than any other position on the defense. Whether that’s a good thing, though, remains to be seen. The secondary might have been UNC’s most frustrating position a season ago.
Boston and his teammates produced decent enough numbers — UNC’s 16 interceptions tied for 20th nationally — but the Tar Heels allowed more plays than they made. Coverage breakdowns and miscommunication plagued UNC, which ranked 83rd nationally in pass defense.
“They were just miscommunications,” junior cornerback Tim Scott said of the problems in pass coverage. “Half of the defense thought we were playing one call, and half of the defense thought we were playing another. So we definitely took the initiative to talk more this offseason … even when we’re watching film in the film room, we just talk to each other and make sure everybody’s on the same page.”
Boston perhaps best personified UNC’s struggles in pass defense. He had a team-high 86 tackles and four interceptions — and returned one for a touchdown in a lopsided victory at Virginia — but his knack for allowing big plays flustered Koenning and the rest of the coaching staff.
“I thought I knew the plays better than I did,” Boston said. “And it’s very true. And I look at myself on film (from last year) every day and I think, wow, Tre, what are you doing? And it’s one of those things, I would kill myself sometimes. And this year, I’ve really buckled down.”
Despite his lack of discipline last season, Boston earned preseason All-ACC honors in July at the ACC’s annual football kickoff. He was one of two UNC defensive players to receive that distinction.