The Tar Heels have locked up the class of 2017, bringing in 20 new high school signees and one grad transfer. After signing their players, head coach Larry Fedora spoke about the new class and what lies ahead for the program.
They might not be done yet
Larry Fedora was asked about the size of the new class and whether or not they had room for anymore grad transfers, other than Stanton Truitt. He indicated that they might not be done yet, saying “We’ve got a little room...and we’re actively pursuing a few actually.” This statement is likely in reference to current Notre Dame quarterback Malik Zaire, who has expressed interest in transferring to UNC. Zaire seems to be holding back from making a decision just yet.
The offensive line and secondary were the biggest need
Fedora mentioned that their two biggest needs this year were offensive linemen and defensive backs. They knew they wanted to add five players to the O-line, which they were able to do with some incredible scouting and recruiting:
We wanted two guys with length, so one of them is 6-foot-6 (OT Marcus McKethan), the other one’s 6-7 (OT Jordan Tucker). One weighs 357, the other weighs 367. So two big guys for ends to have to get around in our passing game. And then some girth inside with the two guys, Billy Ross and Jonah Melton, 6-foot-3, 320, and 6-foot-5, 315, and then Brian Anderson, a center, out of Alabama that we needed. We really feel really strong about those five guys up front. That will be a key to our success in the future.
Fedora gave high praise to the recruiting work done on the defensive side of things as well:
“On the back end, defensively, with the four kids that we signed, starting with Tre Shaw out of Georgia, who came in and is with us early right now and doing a great job. Caleb Rozar, who is another really long corner that can play multiple positions for us, but he’s over 6-foot-2. You’ve got Dazz Newsome that came in today that we’re excited about out of Hampton, Va. And then you’ve got C.J. Cotman out of Tampa, who is a kid that’s listed as an athlete. He could play either side of the ball, but we expect to play him at corner because he’s got such great skills.”
This gives us some clarity about how certain players will be used now that they are officially on campus. OG Caleb Peterson, OT John Heck, and center Lucas Crowley are all gone now. We know that Tucker and McKethan will play tackle, with Ross and Melton at guard and Anderson the new center. We can also get a sense of who will see playing time with mention of Shaw, Rozar, Newsome, and Cotman among the secondary.
2018 will focus on quarterbacks
For those of you out there wondering why the Tar Heels didn’t go after a quarterback now that Mitch Trubisky has declared for the NFL Draft, Fedora gives an honest and simple answer. The truth is, they knew he would do well in the starting role, but “We just didn’t know it was going to be so fast. By the time we realized that could be a reality, that he might make the decision to come out, it was really too late for us to go back on ’17 quarterbacks.”
These players are scouted and recruited well in advance, so there was no way the program could target a quality quarterback in time. Instead, Fedora says the Tar Heels will be going “100 miles per hour” after play callers in the class of 2018 to make up for what they lacked in this year’s class.
Running backs Antwuan Branch and Michael Carter are expected to play
Asked whether or not Branch and Carter will contribute, Fedora said they would have to.
“Yeah, they’re going to have to. They don’t have a choice, do they? They’ve got to come in and play for us next year. Along with Jordon Brown, that’s what we have. They know right now; they’re preparing in their minds.
After T.J. Logan and Elijah Hood both left, the Tar Heels will need their young players to step up and replace what they lost. Sophomore Jordon Brown will get a chance to fill in, however Antwuan Branch and Michael Carter will be forced into a lot of action now that the team has no other options.
Jake Lawler is already a team leader
Fedora also mentioned that he had help on the recruiting trail. Defensive lineman Jake Lawler decided to take on an active part in building the 2017 recruiting class. He enrolled early in the university and worked alongside the coaching staff to begin recruiting players.
“You’ve got to give Jake a lot of credit for this class. It was important to Jake, once he fell in love with the University of North Carolina and decided he wanted to come, he didn’t sit back and pull the cap out on signing day to make a big deal because it wasn’t about him. It was about his class.
“He decided that he wanted to bring in a bunch of great guys around him. So as soon as we identified who those guys were, he actively recruited each and everyone of them.”
This is a huge effort for a kid who has only been on campus for a few weeks. His actions may have helped lure some of the best talent in the class to UNC, and as he recruited more teammates, they too decided to reach out to players. It looks like Lawler could take over some of the much-needed leadership on this team, and he’s only a freshman.