September 28, 2023 – By Olivia Mundorf
After opening the season with an impressive win over South Carolina in Charlotte, the Tar Heels returned home to Kenan Stadium for a thrilling double overtime victory against the Appalachian State Mountaineers.
The first home game of the season is always an exciting day in Chapel Hill for the players, the coaching staff and, of course, the Carolina fans. For one young Tar Heel fan in particular, it was an interaction near the tunnel with one of Carolina’s defensive stars after that electrifying win that made the greatest impact.
“I’m not sure if he’s ever going to read this, I’m not sure if his dad’s going to read this,” Jahvaree Ritzie said. “I remember he was shy at first and I remember his name being James and I thought that was pretty cool because I like to know people, to know the fans.” Their names both happen to start with the letter “J,” and Jahvaree knew that his friendly personality would be able to connect with James before heading back through the tunnel.
James, who attended the game alongside his dad and brothers, happened to get the attention of Ritzie who remembered the details of their entire interaction. He recognizes that spending just a few extra minutes with a young fan can leave a lasting impact and strengthen the bonds that the Carolina Football program is fortunate to foster with the community that supports them.
It might seem typical to see players taking a moment to interact with fans after a big win at home. But to remember the name and the detail of their conversation is a special quality to possess. For Ritzie, that is just the Carolina way.
Ritzie has a self-proclaimed, “outgoing” personality, one that has become infectious since he joined the Carolina Football program as an early enrollee. A native of Kernersville, NC, Ritzie has always wanted the opportunity to play in Chapel Hill and represent his home state.
Although he was recruited by several other Power 5 programs, Ritzie wanted to remain close to home. On June 12th, 2020, Ritzie made his commitment to be a Tar Heel – a day he says was unforgettable. “What really made my decision was my hometown team,” Ritzie said. “I wasn’t going to any other school in North Carolina outside of UNC.”
Part of staying close to home meant that Ritzie’s two biggest fans – his mom and his brother – can attend home games and come visit much more often. To Ritzie, this means everything. “It’s just me, her, and my brother,” Ritzie said. “I do every single thing for them because that’s where my motivation comes from. Every single day I wake up and text both of them to make sure they have a good day. We text each other good morning. We have a group chat. We’re very connected for sure, and we’re all locked in.”
Ritzie’s mom introduced him to the sport of football at the age of five, and he continues to keep his family in mind throughout his gameday preparations, including a pre-game prayer circle. And as Ritzie runs out of the tunnel, he is always keeping an eye out for his greatest support system in the crowd, both at Kenan Stadium, and when the Tar Heels play on the road.
In fact, one of Ritzie’s earliest Carolina memories was his first true game as a Tar Heel, when Carolina traveled to Blacksburg, Virginia to take on Virginia Tech in the season opener. “The stadium was definitely rocking, and there was a lot of orange,” Ritzie said. “I also remember seeing my mom in the stands. She was sitting in the left corner on the visitor’s sideline and I remember looking up at her.” Despite being surrounded by thousands of Hokies fans, Ritzie was still able to find his mom before taking the field for his Tar Heel debut.
Ritzie had two tackles in his collegiate debut, both of which he remembers in detail and has photos. During his true freshman season with the Tar Heels, Ritzie appeared in all 13 games, and completed the season with 25 tackles. During his sophomore season, the number of tackles nearly doubled, as Ritzie finished with 48, four of which came in the ACC Championship game against Clemson.
Now a junior, Ritzie is helping lead the Carolina defense to a much stronger start for this 2023 season. According to Ritzie, their preparation started after the final snap in the Holiday Bowl, when last season came to an end with the Tar Heels falling just short to Oregon in the closing minutes of the game.
“We all went into that locker room and said it’s time to make changes, it’s time to step up and really get things done,” Ritzie said. “That really set the tone for how this year was going to be, because we all want to have a high standard of being the best we can be. We’re all locked in every single day.”
So far, the changes that the defense worked on throughout the offseason and the preseason have made an impact on the early games of 2023 and will hopefully keep the Tar Heels in contention to make a return to the ACC Championship game, a goal that everyone in the locker room has in mind.
For Ritzie, his goals for the season are simple: “I’m looking forward to winning with the guys every single week. That’s the goal, is to win every single week, to better ourselves every single week, and to enjoy playing football together.”
And hopefully – with this mindset and the momentum going their way as the Heels continue ACC play – Ritzie and the rest of the Carolina Football program will give the Carolina fanbase, including young James, a season to remember.
Olivia Mundorf graduated in May with her degree in Journalism from UNC’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media. During her time at Carolina, Olivia has focused on pursuing a career in sports broadcasting and journalism, and has spent several semesters covering UNC sports and sharing the compelling stories of the athletes, teams, and community surrounding one of the top athletic departments in the nation. Olivia is now a member of the UNC Sport Administration Graduate Program.