The college football season may be over, but the North Carolina football staff isn’t taking any time off. After finishing the season hot, the Tar Heels’ momentum has carried into the offseason. Head coach Mack Brown has made two staff changes while receiving commitments from several highly ranked players in the class of 2021. As the annual Spring Game draws closer, excitement and expectations continue to grow in Chapel Hill.
Tar Heels’ Momentum Carries into Busy Offseason.
North Carolina was on a roll at the end of 2019. The Tar Heels blew out Mercer and NC State to become bowl eligible; they proceeded to hang 55 points on Temple in a Military Bowl trouncing. In December, North Carolina signed a Top 20 recruiting class. Several of the new signees enrolled early, giving them the opportunity to begin practicing this spring.
One new addition is graduate transfer Grayson Atkins, an FCS All-American kicker. At Furman, Atkins made 33 out of 41 field goal attempts. He converted seven out of nine attempts from over 40 yards, including a 55-yarder. The Tar Heels struggled with the kicking game in 2019, so Atkins’ arrival comes at a very good time. Noah Ruggles handled kicking duties this past year but was inconsistent. While Ruggles was solid inside of 40 yards, he had trouble with longer kicks. Brown yanked Ruggles for the first half against Duke in favor of Jonathan Kim; however, Ruggles was re-installed after Kim missed a field goal against the Blue Devils.
Atkins has one year of eligibility in Chapel Hill, and he will be the favorite to get the kicking job. While he will have to battle it out with Ruggles in Spring and pre-season, Atkins did not transfer to North Carolina to sit in 2020.
A New Recruiting Class
The Tar Heels’ 2020 recruiting class is complete, and Brown and his staff are now focused on the class of 2021. The results have been impressive, as several talented players have committed in the new year. North Carolina’s 2021 class ranks #10 in the nation according to 247 Sports.
One intriguing recruit is Gavin Blackwell, a wide receiver from Monroe, North Carolina. Blackwell is a former teammate of Tar Heels’ quarterback Sam Howell at Sun Valley High School. A four-star prospect, Blackwell will have the opportunity for immediate playing time in the fall of 2021.
Three more four-star recruits from the Charlotte area have joined Blackwell in committing to the Tar Heels. Dontavius Nash is a safety from Gastonia, and Power Echols is an inside linebacker from Charlotte. Then there’s athlete Gabe Stephens, from nearby Mount Holly. Stephens will most likely play defensive back after picking the Tar Heels over Penn State, Florida, Auburn, and South Carolina. North Carolina’s secondary could be scary by 2021 when it will include Stephens, 2020 recruit Ja’Qurious Conley, and rising sophomore Storm Duck, who by that time will be a seasoned veteran.
Brown has put the state of North Carolina on a recruiting lockdown since returning to Chapel Hill. He flipped Howell’s commitment from Florida State and has brought in most of the state’s top recruits since then. With most of these players, Brown and his staff have had to fend off traditional football powerhouses. The fact that these North Carolina players are staying home is a direct reflection of the enthusiasm that has returned to the program. The Tar Heels’ momentum continues to accelerate on the recruiting trail.
New Faces on the Coaching Staff
The Tar Heels have two new faces on the coaching staff. Jovan Dewitt takes over as Special Teams/Outside Linebackers Coach after former coach Scott Boone was relieved of his duties. North Carolina’s special teams struggled last season, and the move was described as a mutual decision, based on “philosophical differences.”
Dewitt arrives in Chapel Hill after spending the last two seasons on Scott Frost‘s staff at Nebraska. He has nine seasons of coaching experience, after playing college football at Northern Michigan. After graduating, Dewitt turned down a job offer from NASA, choosing to coach instead. Nebraska ranked number seven in the nation in punt coverage last year, and Dewitt will look to bring that same success to North Carolina.
Longtime Brown assistant Tim Brewster left the program after 2019 to join the staff at Florida. Brewster coached tight ends at North Carolina and was known as an excellent recruiter. Taking Brewster’s role is John Lilly, the former tight ends coach at Florida State and Georgia. Lilly was also the recruiting coordinator during his time with the Seminoles. Last season, North Carolina’s tight ends combined for 18 catches; it will be interesting to see if that number increases in 2020 with Lilly’s arrival.
Tar Heels’ Momentum Leading into Next Season
Following North Carolina’s resurgent 2019 season, the Tar Heels’ momentum continues to build. Expectations for next season are high, and ESPN’s Early Top 25 has North Carolina ranked #22. Tar Heel fans can get the first glimpse of some of the new players on April 18, at the Spring Game in Kenan Stadium. This very well may be the most highly anticipated Spring Game in the history of the program.
The season kicks off with a trip to Central Florida. The Golden Knights have an explosive offense, and the Tar Heels will be tested on the road. The following week brings a meeting with Auburn in Atlanta, with the first home game scheduled for the next week against James Madison. North Carolina hosts UConn in November, in the fourth and final non-conference game. A new season awaits, and with the Tar Heels’ momentum in full swing, this should be fun to watch.