Cookie Massey wears glasses. He has something of the appearance of a young scholar. The looks and the speech, however, belie the attitude that rests just underneath Massey's close cropped hair, inside the head of a defensive back.
``You have to play with a vicious tempo,' he said, measuring the words the way he would take aim at a wide receiver coming across the middle. ``But it has to be within the rules. As a defensive back you have to keep telling yourself to cover (the receiver) and if they catch it, make 'em pay for it.'Massey is the first to admit that the North Carolina Tar Heels, 3-20 under Mack Brown, have been the payee more often than the payer in the last two seasons. But he also says there is a change that has taken place within Carolina's total defensive psyche. There is a little arrogance, a little cockiness, maybe even a little confidence after Saturday's 34-0 blitz of Miami of Ohio.
Perhaps it is the next step in the maturation process of Brown's program collectively and players like Massey individually.
It started in the spring, when Carl Torbush became the Tar Heels' defensive coordinator, after two seasons coaching linebackers only. Recognized as one of the top defensive coaches in the country, Torbush brought a new attitude to the job.
``Coach gave us the go ahead to go out and play with a little cockiness,' Massey said. ``But if you go out and don't do the drills full speed all the time, he makes you do it over. He wants you to do the job, but he wants you to have fun doing it.'
Part of the fun for Massey and fellow defensive back Doxie Jordan is a ``you slap my face I'll slap yours' routine they came up with in spring practice. They don't really hit each other. The slapper passes a hand in front of the face mask of the slappee who moves his head back and forth.
``No one really gets hit,' Massey said. ``It's just a way we have of recognizing a good play.'
The Tar Heels slapped Miami around on Saturday. The Redskins didn't come close to scoring. And along the way, the Tar Heels did some ``talking.' Maybe a football team that has won only three of its last 23 games shouldn't be shooting off its mouth, but, Massey said, ``talking is part of the game.'
``Everybody talks,' Massey said. ``I found that out as a freshman. The tight end blocks you and he's talking. The running back talks. Even the quarterbacks. I used to do the same thing in high school. I figured why stop now.'
Massey said he has been known to tell a receiver ``I can see Bike on your jockstrap and I'm going to knock it off.' Or he'll remind a receiver to tell his quarterback ``don't throw it over the middle.' Or he'll tell a quarterback ``yo, buddy, throw me one.'
Massey, a 5-11, 214-pounder, said he and Jordan, a 5-11, 175-pounder, have tried to take on leadership roles within Carolina's youthful defense. The talk and the cockiness, he said, ``are ways to try and get some fire' in the defense. Whether or not it works will be known over the course of the next few Saturdays, beginning this week at South Carolina.
The Tar Heels face a South Carolina team that, unlike Miami, can attack on the ground or through the air. The Gamecocks have two tailbacks - 6-3, 245-pound Mike Dingle and 5-9, 197-pound Albert Haynes - who combine power and speed. Dingle had 113 yards last week in a 21-10 win over Duke. They have a quarterback, 6-2, 207 Bobby Fuller, who is coming off a 16-for-23, 177-yard, two TD performance.
``The thing they can do,' Brown said, ``is keep the ball. Dingle is listed at 245. He looks like 295. He's bigger than most (eight) of our defensive people. It's going to be our strength against theirs.'
And of South Carolina's 22 starters, 20 will be juniors or seniors. Carolina will start 10 sophomores or redshirt freshmen.
The Tar Heels will need all the cockiness and confidence they can muster.
Perhaps because his team needs it and because he has more talent, Brown is having contact work in practices prior to games for the first time in his tenure at North Carolina. Monday they went at it in goal line situations, with starters hitting starters.
``We feel like we have to have the contact,' Brown said. ``We did it last week and I saw more aggressiveness, more big hits than I've seen from our defense.
``We're going to have to improve more this week than they do to have a chance to win. We can compete if we can run the football and don't turn it over. But if we get behind and have to play catch up, that concerns me.'
Massey hopes Carolina's game of intimidation will keep that from happening. But he also knows that like the game of intimidation, the game of football can work both ways.
South Carolina will play it Saturday night. When the sound of the theme from ``2001 A Space Odyssey' fills Williams-Brice Stadium, 72,000 Gamecock fanatics will try and scare the light blue right off the Tar Heels.
``We're playing at 7,' Massey said. ``I wish it were going to be dark. I'd like to run out on the field to 2001 in the dark and see what happens.'