Today, the North Carolina football team will host Western Carolina in their final home game of the season at Kenan Stadium. The Tar Heels will not only be hoping for their first home victory of the season, but the players and coaching staff will be looking to send off their seniors with a victory in their last ever home game in Chapel Hill.
The group of 14 seniors on this year’s team have seen and experienced the ups and downs of Tar Heels football these last four years. They experienced the lows of losing to East Carolina and giving up 70 points, and they never won a bowl game in their four years at North Carolina (0-3). However, these seniors were also a part of a group that accomplished things that were done by only a few UNC teams in prior years: they won the Coastal Division and competed in an ACC Championship, and they defeated both Florida State and Miami on the road in the same year.
Here’s a look at some of the seniors and their achievements over their four years at North Carolina:
The leader of the defense became one of the best cornerbacks in the NCAA, and has a good chance to be drafted early in the upcoming NFL Draft. Due to injuries, he even had the opportunity to return punts on special teams this season.
Early on in his career, Stewart showed glimpses of the talent he would become on defense. In his Freshman season, he was second on the team with two interceptions that year and was third on the team in passes defended. In his Sophomore season, he continued to improve and become a headache for opposing quarterbacks, as he was the leader on the team with four interceptions and 14 passes defended. He continued to lead the team in passes defended in both his Junior and Senior years (leader in passes defended in the ACC).
Over his four seasons at UNC, he became a cornerback that opposing coaches would gameplan around and quarterbacks would throw away from.
With the departure of Bug Howard, Ryan Switzer, and Mack Hollins, Proehl was poised to lead the Tar Heels’ receiving corp in his Senior season. Unfortunately, a broken collarbone ended his season prematurely. Despite his injury early on in the year, Proehl still was one of the leading receivers on the team with 270 receiving yards and one touchdown.
Following in the footsteps of his father Ricky, Austin became one of the best route runners at North Carolina. Playing behind players like Switzer, Hollins, Quinshad Davis, and T.J. Thorpe, Proehl didn’t have big numbers in his first two seasons and only collected one touchdown in his Sophomore season.
However, in his Junior year and with the injury to Hollins, Proehl had a breakout season and became a reliable target for Mitch Trubisky. He was third on the team in receptions and receiving yards, and he finished the year with three touchdowns.
Right from the start, Miles was a tackling machine for the UNC defense. He had one sack in his Freshman year and was fifth on the team with 53 total tackles.
In his Sophomore year, primarily at safety, he doubled his previous year’s total and led the team with 128 tackles on the year. Also, he led the ACC in total tackles in 2015. The next season he followed it up with 102 total tackles, which was good enough for third on the team.
Unfortunately, like Proehl, his Senior season was cut short due to a forearm injury. Through six games, he had 37 total tackles and even recorded his first career interception.
Healthy in his first two seasons, Drennon was effective in putting pressure on opposing teams’ quarterbacks. Playing primarily at defensive end, Drennon recorded two sacks in his Freshman season. He also was fifth on the team in tackles for loss, as he was able to get around offensive linemen and into the backfield often. He had a similar season in year two, recording five tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.
Injuries plagued his Junior year, but Drennon has been able to return to form in his Senior season and been a productive member along the defensive line. For a group that has consistently gotten pressure on quarterbacks and done a much better job at stopping the run, Drennon has helped with four tackles for loss and 1⁄2 sack.
Collins is like the perfect example of a college player growing and improving over the course of four years.
In his Freshman season, he recorded only 36 tackles; however, he did something that few defenders get the opportunity to do and that is score a touchdown. He forced two fumbles that season and recovered one of those fumbles for a touchdown.
In each of his next three seasons, Collins improved in multiple areas at the linebacker position and it showed in his stats. In each of the following years, his number of tackles increased from 38 (sophomore) to 60 (junior) to 80 in his Senior season (he is currently 2nd in the ACC with 50 solo tackles).
With the loss of Andre Smith early in the 2017 season, Collins stepped up in a big way to help lead the linebacking group. He has been a force all over the field and has helped with the improvement throughout the entire defense. To go along with his 80 total tackles on the year, Collins also has two sacks, two fumble recoveries, and two forced fumbles.
Spain started out his career at North Carolina as a reserve, but ended up being one of the best tackles at UNC and in the ACC. He became the starting tackle in his Sophomore season and held on to that position for the next three years (outside of injuries that kept him out of games).
He was a part of the offensive line that helped UNC’s offense to score over 40 points a game in 2015, which was 9th best in the country and helped lead them to the Coastal Division title.
Jordan Cunningham, Tyler Powell, Hunter Crafford, Allen Artis, Connor Barringer, R.J. Prince, Chris Ripberger, and Jonathan Trull are the other seniors who will all be recognized on Saturday afternoon.
Brandon Harris, Cam Dillard, and Khaliel Rodgers are all graduate transfers, and they will also be playing in their last game at Kenan Stadium.
Over their four years at North Carolina, this group of seniors went 27-23 overall and 18-13 (games remaining against N.C. State and Western Carolina) in the ACC.
For this group of 14 seniors, there have been offensive/defensive struggles, significant achievements and records broken, but through it all (and through all of the catastrophic number of injuries in their Senior year) this group has persevered, been resilient, and showed tremendous heart and fight out on the field. So to despite all of the injuries and their 2-8 record in their Senior season, their “never quit” attitudes is something that they (and fans) should be proud of when leaving that field one final time on Saturday.