As the 2017 season nears for the University of North Carolina football program, Larry Fedora and the Tar Heels are preparing for what is considered to be a rebuilding year in Chapel Hill. The Heels lost No. 2 overall pick, Mitchell Trubisky, to the NFL Draft along with their two-headed monster at running back in T.J. Logan and Elijah Hood.
The receiving corps took a hit heading into the 2017 season as a trio of seniors made the next step in their professional career, heading to the NFL. Senior Ryan Switzer, who set the University of North Carolina record for career receptions, career receiving yards, and single-season receptions, was drafted in the fourth round by the Dallas Cowboys. Former walk-on Mack Hollins was the first UNC receiver to be selected in the draft as a pick of the Philadelphia Eagles, going in the fourth round, just 15 picks before Switzer, while Bug Howard signed with the Indianapolis Colts as an undrafted free agent.
The trio of Tar Heel receivers along with the backfield of Logan and Hood combined for over 2,600 receiving yards, meaning North Carolina will lose approximately 70 percent of their receiving yards from the 2016 season. One receiver that will be returning for the Tar Heels is rising senior, Austin Proehl.
Proehl finished third in receiving yards for UNC in 2016 with 597 and completed the season with three touchdowns. Although Proehl would more than likely have finished fourth in receiving yards if it hadn’t been for the season-ending injury suffered by Mack Hollins, he was still a valuable asset to the North Carolina offense and a threat to opposing defenses.
Proehl comes from a long line of football in his blood, with his father, Ricky, playing 17 seasons in the NFL and serving as an assistant and wide receivers coach for the Carolina Panthers for five seasons. Coming out of Providence Day School in Charlotte, N.C., Proehl was ranked as a three-star recruit and the No. 56 player in the state of North Carolina in the class of 2013. He signed with Larry Fedora and the Tar Heels in July of 2013, picking North Carolina over Ohio, Virginia Tech, and Wake Forest. The Charlotte, N.C., native has compiled 70 receptions in his collegiate career for 928 yards and four touchdowns.
Proehl set for the veteran role
With the departure of the veterans at the wide receiver position for the Tar Heels, the opportunity for Proehl to take the reigns and torture opposing defenses in the ACC is his for the taking. In total, North Carolina lost 98 percent of their passing yards, 97 percent of their rushing yards, and 70 percent of their receiving yards. Proehl will be the only receiver on the roster in 2017 with more than 275 career receiving yards.
As the plethora of new faces for the Tar Heel offense seemingly signifies a rebuilding year in Chapel Hill, it heralds a different message for the slot receiver. Proehl will head into the 2017 season as the leader of the receiving corps and the face of the North Carolina offense.
Reliability for new face at Quarterback
When the 2017 season begins for the Tar Heels on Sep. 2 as they host California, Proehl will be catching passes from a new quarterback under center. Whether it be graduate transfer Brandon Harris, redshirt sophomore Nathan Elliott, or redshirt freshman Chazz Surratt taking snaps, they will need a wide receiver they can rely on to help ease them into their role.
Harris lost the starting job at LSU two games into his junior season and threw for 2,165 yards, 13 TD, and six interceptions in his lone full season as the LSU starter in 2015. Elliott completed eight of his nine passes in his redshirt freshman season in 2016 before shining in the University of North Carolina spring game in April. Surratt will be heading into his redshirt freshman season, seeking his first game action at the collegiate level. With Proehl being the most experienced and seasoned returning receiver for the Heels, he will be the first one they look to.
Proehl has the speed and agility to not only be a dynamic player for the North Carolina offense, but also a dynamic player in the ACC. The senior is a sure handed receiver with three years of experience at the college level. His progression over the years in the North Carolina offense provide reason for the breakout season that seems imminent.
In each season following his freshman campaign, Proehl has improved his receiving yards, while recording more touchdowns per year. In his first two seasons, he recorded 27 receptions for 331 yards and one touchdown. The veteran has tallied double digit catches in all three seasons and grown under the guidance of former UNC standouts Ryan Switzer, Quinshad Davis, Mack Hollins, and Bug Howard.
Proehl’s 2016 campaign ended earlier than expected, as he suffered a torn hamstring in the Hyundai Sun Bowl vs Stanford. The standout receiver has been rehabbing and working his way back to 100 percent in hopes of dominating the 2017 season. While this may be a concern for some, Proehl will spend the entire off-season working to get to full strength and is sure to be in the best shape possible heading into the season. Early on, the previously injured hamstring may limit the explosiveness of Proehl, but training camp for the Heels will give him the opportunity to become comfortable.
The new faces for the UNC offense will be eased by the familiarity of Proehl in the huddle. Proehl is trending upward as the dynamic threat for the UNC offense and will be under the spotlight in his efforts to showcase his talents to NFL teams. His reliability for the new face at quarterback, his progression throughout his career, and the departure of the receiving corps indicate his senior season will be his best yet.
The North Carolina offense will indeed look different heading into the 2017 season, but one thing is for certain, senior Austin Proehl is in prime position to have his best season yet and state his case to NFL scouts.