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Early Signing Period: Live Updates on UNC Football Signings, Rumors, etc.

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Let’s make it official with Mack Brown’s first batch of new Tar Heels.

NCAA Football: Sun Bowl-Stanford vs North Carolina Ivan Pierre Aguirre-USA TODAY Sports

2:48 pm: With Howell’s commitment, Carolina’s recruiting class now has enough clout to move to 35th in the country (per the Class Calculator tool)— jumping ACC rivals Miami, Virginia, Duke and Pitt in the process.

By that measure, UNC ranks 5th in the ACC, behind #6 Clemson, #11 Florida State, #25 N.C. State, and #29 Virginia Tech.

Still low by UNC’s standards, but beats the hell out of being in the 80’s.

2:43 pm: Its offical— Sam Howell to UNC, capping off a pretty damn good day.

Howell is ranked 87th overall in the class, the #2 player in the state of North Carolina, and the #3 quarterback in the country.

Said another way, Howell is the headliner recruit in the class that Mack Brown needed.

I live in Charlotte, and did not realize Union County schools were still in session.

2:32 pm: Howell announcement forthcoming... Also, Carolina got a commitment from IMG linebacker Parks Cochrane, who will be a preferred walk-on.

2:10 pm: And we’re back, the day job needed three hours of attention. Big things popping in the next 20 minutes, as Sam Howell will choose between Carolina and Florida State, and Jaden McKenzie between Ohio State and Carolina.

Inside Carolina is apparently live on the scene for Howell’s announcement, which gives me PTSD when I think back on all the great memories of Zamir White, Savon Huggins, Arthur Brown, and friends in Carolina Blue.

10:46 am: Khafre Brown will, in fact, be holding off on signing until February. That’s the only bad news UNC has received today.

10:19 am: Added capsules on the two commitments who remain unsigned: Khadry Jackson and Khafre Brown. Jackson, again, will sign tomorrow. Brown, UNC’s current highest-rated commit, may be doing the same.

10:07 am: Queue State fans complaining about the classic “UNC bump conspiracy” for Triston Miller.

9:40 am: Per the GoHeels.com live blog, Mack Brown intends to add “another half dozen” prospects during the February signing period. With just three weeks on the job, here’s hoping some more surprise big names are in the offing.

If they ink Howell today, the class will be at 19, with five early enrollees, so Carolina could theoretically take as many as 11 more initial counters. Florida linebacker O.C. Brothers seems like one of the likely names, but expect a ton more to emerge once the dust from the Early Signing Period settles.

9:34 am: It should be noted that Khadry Jackson, the 3-star safety commit flipped from Pitt, is signing at a ceremony tomorrow. So we won’t get worked up without his paperwork today.

9:00 am: As of right now, Carolina’s class is up to 43rd in the country, 8th in the ACC. It bottomed out at 83rd and dead last three weeks ago. We’re waiting on LOI’s from 4-star WR Khafre Brown and 3-stars CB Storm Duck, WR Welton Spottsville, and S/LB Khadry Jackson.

8:51 am: Triston Miller has sent his LOI, so his flip is official. Don’t look at him as a 3-star, look at him as one of the nation’s most highly-ranked 3-stars. 247’s best metric is the 0-1 scale that ranks players— a 0.9 is a 4-star. Miller is 0.8998. HUGE get for the Heels.

8:34 am: More fun with hypotheticals! After the Miller flip and in anticipation of the Howell one, the 247sports class calculator would have the Heels up to 34th in the nation. Not amazing, but considering where the class ranked 3 weeks ago...

8:26 am: I found myself wondering which guys are enrolling early, and hopefully “back-counting” to the 2018 class, when UNC brought in 20 guys. Emery Simmons and Wyatt Tunall (signed), Storm Duck, Khadry Jackson, and Sam Howell (the latter of whom is not a UNC commit...yet) will be in Chapel Hill for the spring as well.

8:12 am: Just got the text that Charlotte O-lineman Triston Miller is completing his flip from N.C. State to North Carolina, and signing today. That would be two-for-four on the ones we’re watching today.

7:48 am: Fax machine working, Justin Olson capsule up.

7:43 am: T.J. Yates’ little brother, Jordan, signed with Georgia Tech. That wasn’t unexpected, but I’ve gotta say: the commitment video with highlights is a really nice touch. Geoff Collins truly might bring the Jackets into the 21st century.

7:38 am: Fax machine must be broken, its been 19 minutes since a letter of intent came through.

7:31 am: Capsules on Carolina’s next four LOI’s are up. Some thoughts:

  • Kristian Varner, Tomari Fox, and Kevin Hester (ESPECIALLY Kevin Hester) are going to be exciting to watch develop. I’d label Fox as the most likely to contribute right away, and Hester as the most likely to develop into an All-American. With the trio roughly averaging 6’4 230, its going to be exciting to see the three Georgia natives develop.
  • Kamari Morales irrationally excites the hell out of me— he looks longer than his 6’3 frame, and with his quickness I have visions of a Dallas Clark, Jace Amaro type safety valve weapon at the TE position.

7:09 am: Well, that started off with a bang. Tomari Fox, one of the three guys we’re sweating, is the FIRST signee of the 2019 class! Jake or myself wrote a little capsule on each signee at the bottom of the liveblog.

7:03 am: Good morning! Welcome to your one-stop shop for Carolina’s Early Signing Period news! We’ll update this post with capsules on new signees and any rumors we’re seeing as the day develops.

Jake put out a nice primer yesterday, which tells us who we’re expecting to sign, when they committed, and (in year two) what, exactly, the Early Signing Period is.

As of right now, the Tar Heels are awaiting 16 commitments’ official paperwork. Additionally, the commitments of Georgia DL Tomari Fox (Tomon’s brother) at 8:00, and both Monroe, N.C. 4-star QB Sam Howell, and Wake Forest, N.C. DL and top Carolina target Jaden McKenzie at 2:30, are scheduled.

Pray for my Tweetdeck to not time out, my day job not to go crazy, and my coffee pot to remain full for much of the day. Let’s go!

Signee Capsules

Tomari Fox
Collins Hill High School, Suwanee, GA
Defensive End, 6-3 250
247Sports: 3 stars, #1074 (national), #77 (position), #102 (state)

A pleasant surprise to start the day, Fox joins his brother Tomon in Chapel Hill. He’s not quite the quick-twitch freak Tomon is, but he is strongly built and should be a factor for the defensive line rotation in 2019. With additional size, he’ll fit really well as a SSDE in Jay Bateman’s 3-4.

Fox chose Carolina over Iowa, who was long his perceived leader, and Georgia Tech, who made a late push under new coach Geoff Collins.

Kamari Morales
Lincoln High School (Tallahassee, FL)
Tight End, 6-3/232
247 Sports: 3 Stars, #972 (national), #40 (position), 135 (state)
Rivals: 3 Stars, 35 (position), NR (state)

Tight ends have not been a major feature of UNC’s offense over the past few seasons, either by choice or by injury. Kamari Morales will attempt to change that trend after signing his NLI to play for North Carolina over the next few seasons.

Shortly after Mack Brown began his second round at UNC, he made sure Morales knew that the Heels still had plans for him. Morales took an official visit on December 8th, and three days later the coaching staff was in Florida for a home visit. Per a tweet from his mom, her son was recovering from surgery and the trio of Jay Bateman, Chad Scott, and Mack Brown stopped by. With the whole family on board, Morales finalized the deal this morning. Though judging by the bedroom decoration in the tweet, the Heels didn’t have much to worry about.

https://twitter.com/JacJac1964/status/1072580584382308352

Emery Simmons
South View HS (Fayetteville, NC)
Wide Receiver, 6-1/186
247 Sports: 3 Stars, #518 (national), #66 (position), 21 (state)

A rare top-20 in-state recruit for this cycle, Simmons took a circuitous route to UNC. Originally committed to Indiana, he flipped to UNC and Larry Fedora over the summer. Then Simmons flipped to Penn State at the beginning of the season. Finally, earlier this month he decided that he definitely wants to stay in North Carolina.

He made it official this morning by signing his NLI. Like other key recruits over the last month, Simmons couldn’t pass up the opportunity to play with Mack Brown. That allure means a deep WR corps just got even deeper. Simmons was also represented North Carolina in the Shrine Bowl. Simmons is regarded as an athletic freak, but raw. It’s hard not to salivate over his potential.

Ogi Egbuna
Charlotte Christian (Charlotte, NC)
CB, 5-10/170
247 Sports: 3 Stars, #2076 (national), #197 (position), 78 (state)
Rivals: 2-stars, NR

Egbuna only announced his commitment to the Heels this past weekend and made it official this AM.

Measuring only 5-10 and 170 lbs, the cornerback from Charlotte was originally originally committed to Richmond, Egbuna jumped at the opportunity to play for Mack Brown. Though lightly recruited among FBS programs, he was a playmaker on the 7-on-7 circuit, where he was coached by Dre Bly. His coach at UNC will be...Dre Bly!

Kevin Hester
North Cobb HS (Kennesaw, GA)
Defensive End, 6-6/230
247 Sports: 3 Stars, #958 (national), #69 (position), #96 (state)

Hester, along with Egbuna, verbally committed this weekend and was the fifth to send in is NLI this morning.

Formerly a basketball player, Hester only started playing football this season. The big man from Kennesaw, GA started to gain attention in recent months and held offers from Rutgers and Boston College among others. Southern Miss offered him before he played a live snap of football, based on spring practice tape.

Attracted by his size and raw athleticism, the Heels can likely expect him to be a multi year project as he learns the college game. Hester finished his only season of high school football with 37 tackles and 6 sacks. He’s a project, but the prototype multi-sport jumbo athlete to get excited about.

Kristian Varner
Hiram HS (Hiram, GA)
Defensive End, 6-4/255
247 Sports: 3 Stars, NA (national), #93(position), 138 (state)

You can officially add Varner’s name to the list of “flips” produced by Mack Brown.

Originally committed to Louisville, Varner changed his mind after Bobby Petrino was fired. The Heels were quickly knocking on his door and maintained interest through their own coaching change. The new staff and hosted him on December 8, along with other important 2019 recruits, and Varner committed before leaving Chapel Hill.

A strongside defensive end from Georgia, the lineman projects to fill a major need along the Heels front seven. Pass rushing has been inconsistent, and with new DC Jay Bateman possibly bringing a 3-4 defensive scheme, Varner brings some of the necessary athleticism needed on the edge. He finished last season with 44 tackles, four sacks, one forced fumble, and an interception.

Justin Olson
North Mecklenburg HS (Huntersville, NC)
Wide Receiver, 6-2/182
247 Sports: 3 Stars, 1207 (national), #144 (position), 51 (state)

Another Mack Brown commit, Olson only popped onto the radar couple of weeks ago. This morning he made his future as a Tar Heel a certainty when he signed his NLI.

Olson used a strong senior season and caught the eye of the new staff. He began the year unranked, but that changed when 247 Sports updated their rankings at the end of the season. He didn’t have an extensive interest and UNC was his only Power 5 offer, but this wasn’t done out of desperation— Olson amassed 14 touchdowns and over 1,100 yards on 63 catches his senior year.

In Phil Longo’s “Air Raid” style offense, a higher number of receivers is necessary, as are multiple skillsets. Using that as context, adding a rangy in-state three-star WR is an easy decision. At his size, a position change to safety is also a possibility.

Asim Richards
The Haverford School (Haverford, PA)
Offensive Tackle, 6-5/285
247 Sports: 3 Stars, #877 (national), #75 (position), 75 (state)

Asim Richards is the first of three offensive linemen expected to join the Heels after sending his NLI this morning.

The 6-5 big man from Pennsylvania stuck with the Heels when Mack Brown was hired. With the whole OL two-deep expected to return next season, playing time may be scarce in 2019. That will give him time to adjust to the new coaches, system, and college life. However, as we’ve seen the past few years, injuries can create emergency playing time, so having the extra depth is never a bad problem to have.

Ben Kiernan
Wakefield, NC (Raleigh, NC)
Punter, 6-0/205
247 Sports: 2 Stars, NA (national), #19 (position), 115 (state)

Some teams try to skirt by with specialists, offering preferred walk-on spots. Carolina is not one of those teams, as they signed one of the nation’s better punters.

A punter, Kiernan jumped at the opportunity when Mack Brown offered him a full ride. While it’s easy to roll your eyes at the importance of a punter, we all remember how much Tom Sheldon contributed to UNC in 2016 and 2017. The punting game took a slight step back this season with poor punts often putting UNC’s defense in sub-optimal position.

With starting punter Hunter Lent’s departing due to graduation, Kiernan will compete with rising senior Michael Selsor and rising sophomore Mats Pokela for the starting position next season. (S/O to Jake for looking up the other names in the punter battle)

Wyatt Tunall
Chester HS (Chester, SC)
Offensive Tackle, 6-5/270
247 Sports: 3 Stars, 1704 (national), #142(position), 31 (state)

Add another offensive lineman to the list. Wyatt Tunall becomes the second offensive lineman to join the signing party in Chapel Hill.

Tunall was originally headed to Appalachian State (and was being courted heavily by South Carolina and N.C. State), but as has been a common theme this winter, Mack Brown changed those plans. An offensive lineman out of South Carolina, Tunall is likely a project, but will add needed depth at a position that has seen it’s an abnormal amount of bad luck over the past few seasons. As mentioned with Richards, playing time will be hard to come by next season with the entire starting five expected to return.

Josh Henderson
Hun School (Princeton, NJ)
Running Back, 6-0/205
247 Sports: 3 Stars, #581 (national) , #37 (position), 13 (state)
Rivals: 4 Stars, #18 (position), 6 (state)

Josh Henderson stuck with UNC through the coaching change, and as of Signing Day is the lone RB in this year’s class. Until two weeks ago, he was also the only commit with a 4th star attached to his name on any site.

The Princeton, NJ will add depth to a crowded backfield that returns Antonio Williams, Michael Carter, Jordon Brown, and Javonte Williams. It seems likely he’ll redshirt and be primed to get in the rotation with Carter and (Javonte) Williams in 2020.

Giovanni Biggers
Boys Latin School (Baltimore, MD)
Defensive Back, 6-0/170
247 Sports: 3 Stars, #688 (national), #56 (position), 11 (state)

Carolina’s longest-tenured commit made it official.

After originally committing to Larry Fedora’s staff, the defensive back out of Maryland stuck with UNC through the coaching change. Currently the highest rated defensive player of the Heels 2019 recruits, he’s a welcome addition. The UNC secondary struggled last season after injuries wiped out multiple starters. He was visited last week by new coaches Jay Bateman and Dre Bly, after taking his official visit on Dec. 8.. Clearly, the new coaching staff views him as a key piece to future UNC squads.

Drew Little
North Stanly HS (New London, NC)
Long Snapper, 5-11/230
247 Sports: 2 Stars, NA (national), #7 (position), 111 (state)

Another holdover from the Fedora era, Drew Little stayed loyal to the Heels and sent in his LOI this morning.

Little will fill an important, if not underappreciated, need for the Heels. The North Carolina-based long snapper is one of the best in nation and should help to alleviate some deficiencies that reared their head over the past few seasons. Poor snaps in the kicking game led to multiple miscues the past two years, and arguably cost Carolina some much-needed victories.

Little’s presence, in theory, should help stabilize that part of UNC’s special teams. He was also a participant in last week’s Shrine Bowl all-star game.

Triston Miller
Charlotte Country Day HS (Charlotte, NC)
Offensive Lineman, 6’6/275
247 Sports: 3 stars, #381 (national) #34 (position) #15 (state)

Another flip in the books for Mack Brown, and this is the biggest thus far (both literally and figuratively). Miller is a rangy, athletic tackle with an NFL frame. He was committed to N.C. State for the past 8 months, but fortune favored the Heels— both of his parents are UNC grads, and State O-Line Coach Dwayne Ledford moved on to Louisville.

Carolina’s depth at offensive line is officially insane.

Storm Duck
Boiling Springs HS (Boiling Springs, SC)
Defensive Back, 6-1/180
247 Sports: 3 Stars, #1173 (national), #119 (position), 20 (state)

You can relax. The recruit with the most memorable name is officially a Tar Heel. Storm Duck sent his LOI into the football offices this morning.

When UNC’s coaching change took place, most fans hoped Duck would stay on board just because of his name. Fortunately, he’s also an impressive prospect. Larry Fedora thought so, and Mack Brown maintained that mutual interest— as the staff apparently made the trip to Boiling Springs, S.C. twice to make sure to lock him down.

Welton Spottsville
Havelock High School (Havelock, NC)
Wide Receiver, 6-0/200
247 Sports: 3 Stars, #831 (national), #103 (position), 39 (state)

Welton Spottsville is one of four WRs signing with UNC this winter after sending his LOI. He is the only WR holdover from Larry Fedora’s recruiting efforts. In fact, he was the only top-50 in-state recruit committed to Carolina when Mack Brown took over.

All four of Carolina’s receiver commits are home state products. He also joins Emery Simmons and Khafre Brown in the state of North Carolina’s top-50 recruits. Committed since June 7, Spottsville maintained his allegiance to the Heels over the past month and will join a dynamic underclassmen collection of WRs, including current Heels Antoine Green and Dyami Brown. At 200 pounds, Spottsville has some positional versatility as a thicker receiver.

Khadry Jackson (not signing until Thursday)
Windermere Prep (Windermere, FL)
Safety, 6-2/190
247 Sports: 3 Stars, #825 (national), #66 (position), #110 (state)

Its not official until tomorrow, but thought we should show him some love. Khadry Jackson committed to the Heels just last Tuesday on December 11.

The Windermere Prep product was originally committed to Pittsburgh. Mack Brown’s hiring changed those plans, and he flipped to North Carolina shortly after taking his official visit on December 8. The 6-2, 190 pound safety will bring some much needed size and strength to the backfield, though it wouldn’t be surprising if he eventually develops into a linebacker. That position has been a weakness for UNC in recent years, and Jackson’s athleticism, in addition to his status as a January enrollee, could see him gain early playing time at the position.

Khafre Brown (not signed yet)
West Mecklenburg HS (Charlotte, NC)
Wide Receiver, 6-0/176
247 Sports: 4 Stars, #218 (national), #33 (position), #8 (state)

Khafre Brown has officially signed with North Carolina, currently making him the highest ranked recruit for UNC in this class. Brown is the younger brother of freshman WR Dyami Brown, and will be making Tar Heels football a family affair next fall.

Brown was a late addition to the 2019 class. Larry Fedora’s staff had made Brown a priority, but the mutual interest seemed to be waning over the past few months. That changed with Mack Brown’s return to Chapel Hill. The Shrine Bowl participant will add depth and game-changing speed to an already deep WR corps as UNC looks to bring an emphasis on downfield passing over the next few seasons.

Sam Howell
Sun Valley HS (Monroe, NC)
Quarterback, 6-1/220
247 Sports: 4 stars, #86 (national), #3 (position) #2 (state)

Christmas came early for Mack Brown.

Howell is one of the most prolific signalcallers in North Carolina high school history—he amassed 3,256 passing yards in addition to another 1,352 on the ground in 2018, and eclipsed 17,000 total yards in his high school career.

He’ll enroll early and compete with Cade Fortin and Jace Ruder for the quarterback job in 2019.