Return of the Mack

Return of the Mack

I still remember when it happened. I was a freshman, sitting in the Tar Pit for my first home game as a student at UNC. It was a bubble screen.

'Who is that?' My friends and I were puzzled as we watched No. 13 blaze down the sideline past the secondary for a 33-yard score.

Maybe it was a fluke.

The following week, No. 13 did it again. This time on a 91-yard touchdown reception — the longest pass play in Kenan Stadium history.

It was at this moment that we realized we should get used to Mack Hollins.

We doubted him. We gave him every opportunity to be a one-week wonder. And every time he reestablished himself as a bonafide football star. But that’s nothing out of the ordinary for Mack Hollins.

On Thursday, he did it again. His first play as an Eagle. It was preseason, our first time watching Mack in the NFL.

No. 10 slants across the middle and makes the catch. He stiff-arms oncoming defenders, bursts down the sideline and finds the end zone. 

Nothing out of the ordinary for Mack Hollins.

As a walk-on in 2012, Mack redshirted and learned the ropes. He diligently studied the game, pushed himself on the field to show what he could do. By 2013, Hollins was named the captain of the special teams — a title he would hold for each of his four years.

He came to UNC without a scholarship, a true walk-on. He worked at his craft before earning a scholarship in the summer of 2014. He kept that scholarship for the rest of his time in Tar Heel blue.

When he started with the Tar Heels he was listed as a defensive back, but he eventually proved himself worthy of a spot on offense. He made the most of countless hours of work and exceptional athleticism — which he showcased with a 25-yard touchdown grab in the 2013 spring game. It still took him two full seasons at UNC before catching a pass in-game.

Just as my friends and I didn't recognize him, neither did a majority of opposing defenses. But Mack proved himself to them too. He scored in 16 of his 41 career games — he was only listed as a receiver in 33 of them.

Proving himself to people has been Mack’s story, but he’s never let that stop him. He tallied 81 total receptions for 1,667 yards, and his 20 touchdowns place him third all-time in the Tar Heel record book. He finished his career in Chapel Hill with the career record for yards per reception (20.6), evidence of the unstoppable deep threat he became.

He scored 20 times on 81 catches — once out of every 4.05 times he caught the ball. He led UNC in receiving touchdowns in 2014 and 2015, and he was leading the team with four touchdowns in 2016 before breaking his right collarbone in October. He was five touchdowns short of tying Quinshad Davis' record for career touchdowns by a Tar Heel (25).

He proved himself each year at UNC, and people took notice. In April, Mack was taken in the fourth round (No. 118) in the NFL Draft by the Philadelphia Eagles.

Yes, Hollins was the most unlikely of heroes, but a hero nonetheless. He certainly proved himself to us. The strange thing is, he seemingly did it overnight. He worked his way into our hearts and his name into regular Chapel Hill vocabulary.

But this is how Mack goes about his business, always working from the bottom up.

This is why I have no doubt Mack Hollins will have a successful NFL career. He’s already showing himself worthy at wide receiver, even though he was chosen mostly on his special teams prowess.

As Mack continues his NFL career, I have no doubt he'll have more nights like Thursday. He’ll prove himself yet again.

It’s what Mack Hollins does.

@WillDBryant