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UNC Football: 5-star DB Tony Grimes commits to Tar Heels

He is UNC’s 12th ESPN 300 recruit of this cycle.

NCAA Football: Clemson at North Carolina Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports

The North Carolina football program has their crown jewel of the 2021 class. On Wednesday night, Tony Grimes pledged to play for Mack Brown, Jay Bateman, and Dre Bly. The #1 defensive back in the country made his announcement live on CBS Sports HQ.

Playing for Princess Anne High School our of Virginia Beach, VA, Grimes is both a nationally known talent and a major victory inside Virginia’s Tidewater region. A consensus five-star talent and the top defensive back in the country, this recruitments is arguably UNC’s biggest recruiting coup since Mack came back - and yes, that includes flipping in-state quarterback Drake Maye from Alabama. Check out his current ratings by the various recruiting services.

Rivals: CB, 5-stars, #13 (national), #1 (position), #1 (state)
ESPN: CB, 5-stars, #6 (national), #1 (position), #1 (state)
247 Sports (organic): CB, 5-stars, #20 (national), #2 (position), #3 (state)
247 Sports (composite): CB, 5-stars, #7 (national), #1 (position), #1 (state)

For a school that can only claim less than a handful of memorable football recruiting victories on a national level, Grimes’ commitment is a watershed moment. Ronald Curry in 1998, Marvin Austin in 2007, and Desmond Evans in 2020 are arguably UNC football’s greatest recruiting coups of the last quarter-century. Recruiting is admittedly weird and it’s always difficult to decipher the importance of various recruits, but Grimes now joins that very short list of memorable UNC recruiting moments.

The 6-0, 180-pound defensive back joins JJ Jones (South Carolina) and Eli Sutton (Tennessee) as the only out-of-state commitments for the 2021 cycle (so far). This is also the third straight year UNC has traveled into UVA and Virginia Tech country and gained the commitment of a high profile player. They signed four-star linebacker Ethan West last year, and four-star linebacker Eugene Asante in the 2019 class.

247 Sports’ Brian Dohn has also provided the following scouting report on Grimes, though it is dated from 2018. The lack of camps and evaluation weekends this spring and summer halted most possible updates.

Wide shoulders and good length. Frame of safety with cornerback skills. Instinctual player with high skill level. Physical and smooth. Tracks ball well and has great timing. Opens hips and runs with ease. Long strider who can cover on long crossing routes and deep throws. Strong upper body helps re-route receivers with jams. Comfortable in backpedal and explodes forward out of it. Good tackler and asset in run defense. High IQ on and off field. Leadership qualities. Must get stronger in lower body. Ready to play at elite program when he steps on campus. First round NFL draft pick potential.

After watching the secondary get shredded last year due to a combination of injuries, talent deficiencies, and lack of depth, Grimes will join a resurgent defensive backfield. In the past 18 months, North Carolina has welcomed at least eight high school safeties and/or cornerbacks, not including a few additional players who have switched, or will switch, positions in college. That number also doesn’t include transfers Kyler McMichael (Clemson), Cam’Ron Kelly (Auburn), or Bryce Watts (Virginia Tech).

Per his 247 Sports profile page, Grimes has been clocked with a 4.2 40-yard dash and a 33.8 inch vertical leap. That’s some serious speed on the outside, and despite the current rebuild in the defensive backfield, the rotation will still be a bit unstable over the next year or two. Don’t be surprised to see him contribute to the fluctuating defensive backfield almost immediately upon arrival. That arrival could even be as soon as this season if COVID-19 persuades Virginia officials to cancel the high school football season.

Perhaps equally important is UNC’s Dre Bly winning a head-to-head battle with Georgia’s staff. Bly, who is also from the “757” area-code of the Tidewater region, is a living legend in that part of Virginia. That reputation, plus his noted success training recent NFL Defensive Player of the Year Stephen Gilmore, helped the Heels build the relationships that were so important to Grimes. In other words, Bly and Mack effectively swiped yet another recruit away from a national title contender.

Grimes chose UNC over Georgia, Texas A&M, and Ohio State. He is the Heels’ second five-star recruit of the cycle, joining defensive end Keeshawn Silver. Silver is currently ESPN’s #8 overall recruit, while Grimes is #6.

UNC’s 2021 class has 17 verbal commitments. Every recruit holds at least a four-star rating from either 247 Sports, Rivals, or ESPN. That includes a program-record 12 ESPN 300 recruits, bringing UNC’s total to 21 ESPN 300 recruits since Mack Brown returned.