Monday, May 12, 2014
Second-year stars: North Carolina
By David M. Hale
The 2013 signing class has already made its mark on the ACC, from Tyler Boyd and Stacy Coley shining on offense to Jalen Ramsey and Kendall Fuller starring on defense to Ryan Switzer racking up All-America honors on special teams. But for most players, the transition from high school to college takes a little time, and it’s not until Year 2 that they truly shine. With that in mind, we’re taking a look at the best candidates for second-year stardom in the conference -- the players who didn’t quite hit the big time as true freshmen, but are poised for a breakthrough in 2014.
Class recap: Larry Fedora brought in the No. 21 overall class (and No. 5 in the ACC) in 2013, and he used a good portion of his freshmen right off the bat. T.J. Logan led UNC running backs in rushing, Khris Francis carried 63 times, Bug Howard was a key member of the receiving corps and, of course, Switzer won All-America honors as a punt returner.
Recruiting stock: Lawrence wasn’t the most coveted talent, and among UNC defensive backs, he was widely overshadowed by ESPN 300 member Brian Walker, UNC’s top signee in 2013. But Lawrence did rank as the No. 47 safety, and was a three-star prospect from Charlotte with good height and athleticism.
2013 in review: A knee injury early in training camp scuttled some early enthusiasm for Lawrence, and he missed the first six games of the season. It’s probably coincidence that UNC finished 6-1 after Lawrence’s return, but he did finally record his first tackle on Nov. 9 against Virginia and saw his playing time mount as the season progressed, finishing with 11 tackles (one for a loss).
2014 potential: The excitement surrounding Lawrence upon arrival at North Carolina was tempered early last season, but coaches knew what they had in him. He entered spring penciled in as a starter at cornerback alongside Walker, his fellow 2013 signee, and showed no signs of slowing down this spring. The Tar Heels’ secondary was burned for too many big plays last season (75 plays of 15 yards or more) and Fedora believes Lawrence and Walker can help turn that tide in 2014. Lawrence will need to show he can be more effective in supporting the run and utilize his size with more physical receivers, but he’s got ample talent to blossom quickly, and UNC is willing to let its young corners learn on the job this season.
Also watch for: The freshmen who played last season are all expected to take a big step forward in 2014, particularly the running backs. Walker will see his role increase significantly alongside Lawrence, and both could blossom into solid players this year. Dajaun Drennon could fill a role in a depleted group of defensive ends, R.J. Prince is pushing for a starting job on a thin line, and Lucas Crowley projects to take over as the starting center. And all of that ignores the biggest wild card, as quarterback Mitch Trubisky remains in competition to win the starting job over incumbent Marquise Williams. In other words, the Class of 2013 was big as freshmen, but it could have a massive impact in Year 2 in Chapel Hill.