photos by Smith Hardy and Turner Walston
For months, there's been little clarity in North Carolina football's four-quarterback circus. Now, there are signs of a front-runner.
Chazz Surratt — a former N.C. high school star who redshirted last season — has led the first-team offense in both of UNC's private scrimmages this month, according to sources. If he starts in Saturday's scrimmage, as well, that would appear to give the redshirt freshman an inside track over redshirt senior Brandon Harris, redshirt sophomore Nathan Elliott and redshirt freshman Logan Byrd.
Harris, a graduate transfer from LSU, announced his intent to transfer to UNC in late March, a month before 2016 starter Mitch Trubisky went No. 2 overall in the NFL Draft. Harris has said all the right things about embracing competition and earning every rep since training camp opened in early August, though the transfer quarterback indicated in March that coach Larry Fedora promised him more passing opportunities within the offense than Harris saw in Baton Rouge.
Fedora has historically avoided recruiting graduate transfers before this offseason, so courting Harris appeared to be an endorsement of his starting potential. Yet Surratt has seemingly impressed enough to steal snaps from Harris and Elliott — the only two quarterbacks on the roster with any collegiate experience.
A three-star recruit in 2016, Surratt was the AP Offensive Player of the Year in North Carolina as a senior at East Lincoln High, where he set the state's all-time career records in yards (16,593) and touchdowns (229). Surratt initially committed to Duke before flipping to UNC, joining fellow three-star Byrd as the two Tar Heel quarterbacks in that year's class.
At 6-foot-3, Surratt's athleticism seems a better long-term fit for Fedora's option offense than Byrd, the only quarterback among the four who came to UNC as a pocket passer. Elliott's knowledge of the offense helps his case atop the depth chart, while Harris is the only candidate with collegiate starts (15) under his belt.
North Carolina holds its third fall scrimmage Saturday, and Fedora suggested after Friday's practice that it should be a pivotal one.
Players aren't allowed to speak with the media until after their first game, so we likely won't hear from Surratt until after UNC's Sept. 2 opener against California. Fedora has said he won't name a starting quarterback until someone separates himself, even if that comes five minutes before facing the Golden Bears.
If scrimmage reps are any indication, Surratt could be separating himself from his counterparts. And if he continues to lead the first-team offense Saturday, that likely bodes well for his chances of starting in the season opener.
In two weeks' time, we'll know whether the depth chart concurs.