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Potential impact freshmen for UNC football in 2016

Freshmen play a bigger role in college football than ever before. Here’s a few Tar Heel freshmen who could become standouts this year.

ACC Championship - Clemson v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

There used to be a time in college football where we waited two or three years to see a highly touted freshman take the field. No longer is that the case as freshmen play a larger role now than they have ever played before. Recruiting is not just about the future anymore, it also affects the now. Here are a few North Carolina freshmen to look out for this fall.

Jonathan Smith (Linebacker, 6’1, 230)

Smith made noise in the spring after enrolling early from Scotland High School in Laurinburg. The losses of linebacker tandem Jeff Schoettmer and Shakeel Rashad have been highlighted throughout the offseason, and with Andre Smith and Cayson Collins both out for the spring, Smith took advantage of his snaps in Gene Chizik’s defense.

For the most part, both Schoettmer and Rashad brought great effort and production to the position, but they lacked the overall talent and instincts that Smith brings to the program. Because of this, he should factor into the linebacker rotation, if not start from day one. Either way, Smith has the pedigree to be a future star in Chizik’s defense and could be molded into the type of linebacker the program was known for in the mid-to-late 2000’s.

Myles Dorn (Safety, 6’2, 185)

The son of former Tar Heel and NFL alum Torin Dorn looks to build upon his father’s legacy. Thankfully for the UNC faithful, Dorn decided to stay true to his parent’s alma mater, as opposed to his brother who transferred from Charlotte to play for our step brother in Raleigh on the hardwood. Dorn figures to find early snaps in the secondary after performing admirably in spring practice.

The Tar Heel secondary is one of the most stable position groups on the roster as far as talent and past production goes, but it still lacks the quality depth that one would hope for. Dorn’s early enrollment adds a young, talented performer who has taken advantage of learning the in’s and out’s of Chizik’s offense. Dorn reminds me of a young Tre Boston, not figured to play early in his career, but if thrust into the role, I feel that he would thrive, despite some ups and downs.

Patrice Rene (Defensive Back, 6’2”, 200)

The Ottawa native was one of the late signees for Larry Fedora’s 2016 class. Originally committed to Rutgers, Rene’s recruitment opened up after Scarlet Knights head coach Kyle Flood was ousted from the program. Fedora used his previously established relationship to land the four-star prospect out of Episcopal School of Alexandria, Virginia.

Like Dorn, Rene is expected to have a bright future in Carolina’s defensive backfield. Whether that is this season or next we don’t know. If his name is called upon, the hope is his talent will takeover his inexperience. Rene comes in this summer without the advantage of getting the reps that Dorn and other Carolina secondary members have in Chizik’s defense. This fact may slow Dorn’s progression, but all signs point to him playing sparingly this season, unless injury occurs, with an expanded role in 2017 and beyond.

Tomon Fox (Defensive End, 6’3”, 235)

Fox comes in as another big time signing on the defensive line for North Carolina. Jalen Dalton was the marquee prospect for the Tar Heels defensive line in 2015, and Fox takes on that role this year.

Dalton was not expected to contribute much in 2015, but he ended up playing in all but five games last season after injuries forced him into the fold. The plan for Fox may be much the same, but with Dalton and defensive linemen Dajaun Drennon and Mikey Bart already struggling with injuries in training camp, don’t be alarmed to see the Peach State native in early action this season.

Fox brings a speed element much like Drennon, and with another 15 to 20 pounds added on to his frame, he should live up to his four-star rating and perform at an All-ACC level by the time he exits Chapel Hill.

Garrett Walston (Tight End, 6’4”, 225)

A lot has been made about Brandon Fritts’ potential in the Carolina offense, but one Tar Heel newcomer to look out for is Walston. The Wilmington native was one of the more sought after tight end prospects of the 2016 cycle. Walston’s recruitment actually came down to Carolina and Georgia before deciding to enroll at Chapel Hill. Fritts should play a large role with Mitch Trubisky under-center, while Walston plays an intermediary role that could potentially grow into a larger one by the time November roles around.

Chazz Surratt (Quarterback, 6’3”, 205)

I’ve personally placed a lot of stock in the southpaw signal-caller out of Denver, NC. Can you blame me, though? Surratt was named the Parade magazine National Player of the Year, along with being dubbed the Mr. Football and the Gatorade Player of the Year in North Carolina. Despite the hype, Surratt will not see the field this year. Why do I list him? I list Surratt because I believe him to be a major reason why former Tar Heels quarterback and U.S. Army All-American Caleb Henderson transferred. Trubisky may be the starter, but Surratt is undoubtedly the future quarterback who could finally put UNC on the national stage.