By Olivia Mundorf, Graduate Student at UNC Sports Administration Program and Heels4Life Journalism Intern
“You could be the best football player in the world, but it really matters what type of human being you are at the end of the day,” UNC junior Lejond Cavazos said in response to a question about what it means to him to use his platform as a member of the Carolina Football team.
That is the mindset for Cavazos, a San Antonio, Texas native and one of the top recruits in his high school class. While some athletes find their identity solely in the sport they play, the same can’t be said for the emerging defensive back.
The game of football has certainly shaped his character, but Cavazos could just as easily be known for his big personality, his commitment to his education, and his desire to be a role model in the community. And to him, those qualities mean more than the box score on a given Saturday during football season.
“I want people to look up to me because, yeah we love him because he plays football, but he’s such a nice person, he’s such a genuine guy, and I want to be like that,” Cavazos said.
Part of becoming such a standout individual is surrounding oneself with the right people, something Cavazos has tried to do throughout his upbringing and into his collegiate career.
When asked his favorite part about Carolina through his first year as a Tar Heel, his answer was simple: “It’s the people. It has nothing to do with football. I love football and everything, but being in Chapel Hill, the people make this school what it is, and that’s what’s making my experience very memorable” Cavazos said.
But the journey to get to Chapel Hill was a long one for Cavazos, and while he has learned numerous important lessons along the way, there is one that has endured over time that he continues to practice as a student-athlete at Carolina: patience.
“Can you finally let me play tackle football,” Cavazos would persistently ask his father at a young age, but he was forced to wait until he reached middle school. He stuck to flag football until seventh grade, when he played quarterback, ran the ball nearly every play, and for the first time fell in love with the game.
Cavazos continued to improve on the field, and by the time he was a freshman in high school his stats were off the charts and coaches around the country began to take notice. Several Power 5 programs were starting to show interest.
After a successful showing in a camp the following summer, Cavazos made the move from his hometown in San Antonio, Texas to Bradenton, Florida to continue his educational and athletic career at the prestigious IMG Academy.
IMG Academy breeds some of the best high school athletes and guides their preparation and player development to be successful student-athletes at the collegiate level. Upon arriving at IMG Academy, Cavazos quickly realized that his high school experience would be quite unique.
“It’s not a normal high school. Everyone there is athletes. My football team was filled with all of the nation’s top football players,” Cavazos said.
This change came at a pivotal time in Cavazos’ life. To some, this adjustment would have likely been too overwhelming to endure – especially when playing on a team full of future college football and NFL stars. For Cavazos, this was a tremendous opportunity to learn from the older guys, and again, to be both persistent and patient to achieve something he desperately wanted to experience.
“I knew everything wasn’t going to take off right away when I got there, so it also taught me to wait my turn and be patient and trust myself and my abilities,” Cavazos said.
Cavazos received offers from several Power 5 programs and decided that his dream of playing collegiate football would become a reality with his commitment to play at Ohio State University.
During his redshirt freshman season with the Buckeyes, Cavazos appeared in 11 games and finished with eight tackles. But after spending two years at Ohio State, Cavazos felt it was time to make a change and decided to enter his name in the transfer portal.
As he considered where he would spend the remainder of his college career, there was a small sense of comfort in Chapel Hill, largely due to a familiar face.
UNC Basketball big man, Armando Bacot, attended IMG Academy with Cavazos and the two have been close friends ever since. Cavazos said that Bacot helped show him around campus during his visit to UNC, a weekend that Cavazos summed up in one word: “amazing.”
During the visit he also had the chance to meet some of his future teammates and see for himself a glimpse of what it could be like to be part of the Carolina Family.
“You could tell the relationships were real genuine and that it was like a brotherhood that I definitely wanted to be a part of,” Cavazos said.
That initial feeling of comfort extended to the coaching staff who demonstrated that they had the best interest in helping Cavazos reach his goals – on and off the field – which ultimately helped him realize what became the most important factor in his decision to join the Tar Heels.
It was all about the people. In his own words: “It was a lot of people here that I knew I could trust.”
Cavazos knew that everyone within the Carolina Football program and throughout the UNC fanbase would share in the common goal of winning. In fact, it’s the only thing on Cavazos’ mind as he runs out of the tunnel and onto the field in Kenan Stadium on gamedays: “We have to win. No matter who we play, that’s all I think about. We have to win this game.”
Cavazos hoped his career at Carolina would take off right away, but after an injury in fall camp, he was once again reminded of the need to be patient.
“I ended up pulling my hamstring, so that took a toll on me, and I was a little down on myself because I wanted everything to happen so fast. But all great things take time,” Cavazos said.
The time came for Cavazos when he got to start for the defense in the ACC Championship game against Clemson. He had been patient. He trusted his playmaking abilities. And he was ready when his name was called.
In the very first play of the game, Cavazos came up with a huge tackle to set the tone and get everyone in Carolina Blue excited. His most memorable moment yet as a Tar Heel happened on the biggest stage of the 2022 season.
“It was such a great atmosphere that game, although we didn’t have the outcome we wanted,” Cavazos said. “I repeat that play in my head.”
After one season in Carolina Blue, Cavazos admitted that he has become a more confident player and is preparing for what fans hope will be a breakout 2023 season for Cavazos and the rest of the defense.
United with his teammates and coaches, Cavazos wants an opportunity to get back to the conference title game, and this time, come out on top. While it will be a team effort to get back there, Cavazos said he is willing to do whatever it takes.
“I can do whatever the defense needs me to do,” Cavazos said. “I can make the plays that I need to make, trust all the other guys on the field that they’ll make the plays they need to make, and as long as we’re all on the same page, we’ll definitely be back.”
There is one other championship-caliber, winning moment that is important for Cavazos to experience before he leaves Chapel Hill.
“I really want a degree from North Carolina,” Cavazos said. “Football is fun and all and I hope it lasts me a lifetime, but there’s the realization that football doesn’t last forever, and I’ll have to enter the real world at some point, and I feel like having a North Carolina degree – that’s slim to none.”
As for his career goals post-football, Cavazos said that he sees himself having a career in front of the camera, whether that be in the form of having his own talk show or calling games as a sports broadcaster.
Regardless of where life takes him as an athlete, or perhaps one day talking about the game of football on television, Cavazos knows that if he stays patient, believes in his abilities, and trusts the people around him, the right opportunities will come his way.