Mack Brown: UNC's 'Future is Unlimited'

Brant Wilkerson-New

CHAPEL HILL — Mack Brown did something that most college football coaches wouldn’t dare approach on Monday: he talked about the program’s future beyond Saturday’s game against Mercer.

“I think the future is unlimited,” Brown said. “I think we’ve got a chance to be really good. If you look at it, you lose a few players on offense and that’s it.”

Unprompted, during his weekly press conference Brown brought up the fact that the Tar Heels will have 12 freshmen in their stellar 2020 recruiting class enrolling in January, instantly giving the program a talent infusion unlike it’s seen in recent years.

As of now, 247 Sports ranks Carolina’s class 16 nationally and second in the ACC with seven four-star recruits. The Tar Heels also remain the favorite to land four-star linebacker Trenton Simpson out of Charlotte.

With Carolina sitting at 4-6 heading into the final two weeks of the season still in contention for a bowl game, Brown pointed to the progress the team has already made.

“If they win on Saturday, they’ve won as many games as we’ve won here the last two years,” Brown said. “So, they’re definitely making progress. Everybody that watches them knows there’s a great future and they’re playing with a lot of confidence.”

Taking quick stock of his returning players, Brown pointed out that the offense will only lose Charlie Heck and Nick Polino on the offensive line while Antonio Williams, third in the running back rotation, will exhaust his eligibility.

Barring any surprise departures, the Tar Heels will return 100 percent of their passing yards, 98 percent of receiving yards and 86 percent of rushing yards.

Within that group is a quarterback that has a chance to set the program’s single-season passing touchdown record as a freshman, while posting one of its best overall performances ever in Sam Howell.

Some of the struggles caused by forcing younger players into action earlier than expected on the offensive line this season will benefit the future, as the group stands to stick together through the next two years.

“We lose very, very few seniors, not an offensive lineman for two years, which is really interesting,” Brown said. “I think the future’s going to be great. I’m really excited about our offense moving forward.”

There are a few more questions on defense, where Carolina loses Aaron Crawford and Jason Strowbridge up front, Dominique Ross at linebacker and Myles Dorn at safety — all of which will have opportunities in the NFL.

As of now, defensive coordinator Jay Bateman believes he’ll have Chazz Surratt back and is hopeful that Tomon Fox will be back, too.

Perhaps the biggest area of growth will be the secondary, as Myles Wolfolk and Cam Kelly return at safety, while Patrice Rene is set to be back at cornerback.

Add to that transfers Bryce Watts (Virginia Tech) and Kyler McMichael (Clemson), plus youngsters like Storm Duck, Don Chapman and DeAndre Hollins that are playing significant roles this season, and suddenly, the secondary goes from a concern to a strength.

“We’re going to have a lot of kids that can go out and cover and allow us to do some of the things we want to do coverage wise, as far as being able to have five DB’s on the field because right now we’re struggling to do it a little bit,” he said. “I’m excited about the corner position moving forward; I’m excited about the safety position moving forward.”

Brown agreed — and made an even bigger prediction further into the future.

“We should have a chance to be really good in the secondary next year,” he said. “I think we’ll definitely have a better team next year; I think we’ll have a lot of those great young defensive players coming in that we’ve recruited, some real speed on offense, and then I think we’ll be special in two more years.”