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UNC Recruiting: SPECIAL UPDATE

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We send off the Fedora era for good with one final #HeelYeah! Or, you know, five.

Dre Bly
The Mack Brown picture was getting tired. Have a Dre Bly.

We usually just update you guys on football commitments in our weekly recruitcap, because football recruiting is so very fluid that it’s better to cover it in installments than in big moments. But a day like this past Saturday is the kind of day I think deserves an exception, because during a big visit weekend, UNC received five, count ‘em, FIVE, verbal commitments, including a couple of very notable ones. After the several decommitments I mentioned on Friday, this rash of commitments brings the class’ total back up to 13, a much more tenable position ahead of the December Signing Day than the program was in just a couple of days ago. Without further ado, here they are:

The biggest splash of the day was this commitment from 4-star wide receiver Khafre Brown, brother of Dyami. While slighter than his brother at 5’11 compared to Dyami’s 6’2, the younger Brown might be an even more explosive athlete. His Hudl page claims that he runs a 4.36-second 40-yard dash (unofficial) to his brother’s 4.49, and with his official 100-meter time of 10.41 when he’s running track for West Mecklenburg, that’s not too hard to believe. He’s also listed with a 39-inch vertical and some seriously impressive weight room numbers, and I expect that if and when he’s invited to a Nike Opening event after his comeback from an ACL tear, his SPARQ score will be through the roof. Before his injury, Brown was a dynamic receiver/running back who could simply run past entire defenses. There was some concern that he may have lost a step after his comeback from surgery, but by the end of the season, he was back to his old self, and has a great future as a slot receiver and all-purpose player for the Tar Heels.

This name might look a little familiar if you’ve been paying attention. 3-star receiver Emery Simmons was committed to UNC this summer, having flipped from Indiana to UNC basically as soon as he received a UNC offer. In late July, he flipped again to Penn State, probably due at least in part to uncertainty about the stability of the coaching staff at UNC. As we can see from his message above, The Return of the Mack looks to be a reason for the Hope Mills, NC product’s re-commitment to the state’s flagship university. As a player, Simmons is another unbelievable athlete with ball skills to boot. He posted a 115.59 SPARQ score at Nike’s The Opening Regionals in Charlotte, including an electronically-timed 4.47 40-yard dash, 35.5-inch vertical, and 4.39 short-shuttle (his Hudl boasts a 4.26). At 6’3, 190 pounds? That’s really, really good. He has the ball skills to match, too, with a flair for the spectacular and safe hands for the routine. He uses his size and athleticism to give opposing DB’s no chance on most plays he makes. His high school coach compares him to Larry Fitzgerald. He’s only really come on the scene starting this past summer, so his consensus ratings haven’t caught up to what seems to be an incredible profile. This is to say, there’s not really a catch with Simmons on the field; his reputation far outstrips his ranking. It’s fair, though, to wonder how much we can trust a commitment from a guy who’s flipped 3 times already to stick on the 4th, but it’s what we’ve got.

3-star defensive end Kristian Varner was committed to Louisville for a lot of this recruiting cycle, but decommitted about a month ago after receiving some new offers, including from Iowa, Ole Miss, Missouri, UCF, Miami, and, of course, UNC. The 6’4, 257-pound Hiram, GA product already has the body of a college defensive end and could be either an excellent edge rusher or 3-technique as his body continues to mature. He already has experience playing up and down the line already, so that’s not just me projecting a guy with a defined position playing out of position. He knows how to use his body in those situations, too, with very effective push-pull moves, bull rushes, and inside swims as a pass rusher and the ability to close gaps at will as a run stopper. He needs a little more finesse in college than he’s shown in his high school tape, but the tools, particularly the hands, are there for him to be able to do it. With the rash of high-end offers he received in November, it’s clear that he had an excellent senior season and hopefully will carry that momentum over to his college career.

The second offensive lineman to join UNC’s 2019 class did so on Saturday as well. Wyatt Tunall, from Chester, South Carolina, is a 3-star left tackle who had been committed to Appalachian State, but decommited a few days ago, probably at least in part due to Scott Satterfield leaving to take the head coaching job at Louisville. He also had an offer from N.C. State. Tunall is 6’5 and weighs 270 pounds, which makes him the perfect height for a tackle and a little tall for an interior lineman. I’m not sure where he’ll play in college; he played tackle, but judging by his highlights, he played in a very run-heavy scheme and I haven’t seen much of his pass protecting skills, which are obviously vitally important for any offensive lineman but vary much more from run blocking skillsets for tackles than guards. Either way, he’s a good player, having been invited to the Carolinas Shrine Bowl, and he’ll make a great addition to an OL group at UNC which is becoming seriously formidable.

Hey, I predicted something! From Friday:

This includes punter Ben Kiernan, who does not yet have an offer from UNC. With 5 of them opening up, maybe he gets one this weekend. He deserves it, and as I wrote last week, UNC needs him.

From Wakefield High School in Raleigh, Kiernan made good on the promise he made several months ago; that if UNC offered him a scholarship for 8 full semesters, he would commit on the spot, and that this was something he wouldn’t do for other schools. He also had an offer from Nebraska, but true to his word, he waited on UNC and eventually, despite the staff turnover, they delivered him the opportunity to play football for and attend his dream school. Kiernan is Chris Sailer’s 12th-ranked punter in his class (so I exaggerated when I called him the best in the country. Sue me), with a reported 43-yard average distance and 4.6-second hangtime, the former of which would be top-50 in college football right now and will only get better. He has a good relationship with incoming long snapper Drew Little, which will help UNC’s unit as they try to replace seniors at all 3 specialist positions in 2019, and will generally help renew the tradition of excellence that has defined UNC’s special teams for the past several years.

If there’s something to learn from this day, it is that Mack Brown was serious about not needing a year to rebuild, either on the field or on the recruiting trail. He’s gone hard after guys with whom UNC either got in the game late or had been losing traction; the offers to Varner and Tunall were very recent, Brown had been drifting towards Tennessee for the past few months, and Simmons, of course, was committed to Penn State. Undaunted by 5 decommits in class already lacking in volume, he made that gap up in a single day and probably isn’t done. Several prospects are still out there who had everything pointing UNC’s way until about the week before committing somewhere else, and instability on UNC’s sidelines has to have been a part of it for several of them: receiver Donovan Greene, committed to Wake Forest, safety Tony Davis, committed to Duke, defensive end Christian Rorie, committed to Duke, and, of course, the man who would immediately be this class’ crown jewel, Sam Howell, who has all but said UNC must have hired an offensive coordinator before he can think about flipping his commitment. These are all, as are most of Saturday’s commitments, local guys, which brings me to my second point about this haul: This rebuilt (and as-yet incomplete) coaching staff is renewing emphasis on recruiting the fertile state of North Carolina. The former staff ended things apparently not on the best terms with many high school programs across the state, but commitments from big-time players in Charlotte, Raleigh, and Fayetteville are the first step towards making UNC more attractive to in-state student-athletes. Mack Brown was brought in to mend fences, and these are a good starting point.

We welcome all of Saturday’s commits to the UNC Football Class of 2019 and wish them the best of luck as Tar Heels! We’ll be back with more information on them as they get closer to stepping on the turf of Kenan Stadium.