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Tony Grimes will join the 2020 class

The super-talented prospect is graduating early and getting to Chapel Hill ahead of schedule

North Carolina Tar Heels vs. Indiana Hoosiers

What timing, huh? Just hours after I wrote that there was no more news on whether or not Tony Grimes would stay in high school for his senior year or enter UNC a year early, he announced that he’d made the decision to enroll at UNC for this fall:

(“Respect My Decision” is usually for decommitments or other things that will make people mad, not for stuff like this. My guess is that this is aimed at the Georgia fans who had very publicly and assuredly saying in the last couple of weeks that he’d flip to them by December.)

With the Covid-19 pandemic very much not near its end, the state of college football is in flux, so there are a few different options as to how Grimes’ college career starts. For the first couple, I’ll paste my summary from yesterday’s Recruiting Recap:

In a normal year, reclassifying to 2020 in August would make starting as a true freshman a lot harder: he can only get the playbook and get college weight training once he’s signed, which he hasn’t yet, not to mention being a year younger physically than he would have been in 2021. So what probably happens then is that he redshirts his first year, makes 4 appearances, and then only has to play (and hopefully start) two more years before becoming draft-eligible. But in the 2020 we’re living through, football season might well be in the spring, giving Grimes that prep time regardless and setting him up to compete for a starting job early, which gets back to three years of play.

The third possibility is that football doesn’t happen at all in the 2020-21 season, which is unfortunately on the table. In that case, Grimes redshirts his freshman year and plays the following two years before heading for the draft, again assuming everything works out for him. There are people out there who would say this is a bad thing for UNC, only getting two years out of your highest-rated commitment, but honestly, if this is the case, we’ll have a lot more to worry about than how much football Grimes plays in a Tar Heel jersey - at the very least, losing years from a lot of players currently on the team, not to mention what it would mean for the country. Also, like my dad always says, value now is better than value later - getting Grimes physically developed, familiar with the playbook, and on the field ASAP holds a lot more value than an extra year in 2023: time just means variables. Also also, fans should never complain about getting a player picked high in the NFL Draft, which is what an early exit would mean for Grimes. NFL talent begets NFL talent.

The question of where Grimes fits into UNC’s 2020 defense is one worth asking. If the last year is any indication, Mack Brown cares approximately zero about a player’s age - starting Sam Howell, shifting Antonio Williams to a distant 3rd in the running back pecking order and Jordon Brown to 4th, playing Chazz Surratt over Dominique Ross, the examples are myriad. It’s still hard to see Patrice Rene not starting in his 6th and final year of eligibility after an injury-marred career, though. I’d expect more of a competition for the other outside corner position, which could be manned by last year’s true freshman starter Storm Duck (who finished the season pretty strong), Clemson transfer Kyler McMichael, Auburn transfer Cam’Ron Kelly (coming off an ACL injury sustained early last year), or Grimes. Trey Morrison probably has the nickel spot locked down, having started every game he’s appeared in for UNC and having done it well, and I also don’t know if Grimes is suited to play nickel, because his biggest strength is in press-bail where he can use his physicality and speed to lock up dudes.

And finally, for record-keeping purposes, there’s the matter of what this does to UNC’s class rankings. Grimes will be added to the 2020 class, bringing its ranking up to #13 from #19, and Mack and co.’s 2021 class will drop to #4 in the country, tracking for a #12-ish finish if this is a normal recruiting year. It’s not the top-10 year we may have been hoping for, but two straight top-15 classes would be a fine start to the new Mack Brown era.

We’ll keep you posted with recruiting updates as they come. For now, let’s get ready to welcome Tony Grimes to Chapel Hill!