Heel Tough Blog: Biggest Overachievers in Recruiting Era

Last year, I wrote an article about the struggles that many of the top Tar Heel commits in the modern recruiting era, asking if Mack Brown could change the fortunes of those highly rated recruits, something that he did in his first year back on campus. While that is great, I feel like I need to give some focus to the lower rated prospects who outperformed their recruiting ranking. Let’s look at some of the top Tar Heel overachievers in the modern recruiting era.


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Jacoby Watkins

Class: 2002

247Sports Rankings: No. N/A overall, No. 71 S

Career Stats: 132 ttkl, 3.0 TFL, 1.0 sck, 2 INT, 14 PD

A former 2✮ prospect, Watkins became a key part of the Tar Heels of the secondary in his time in Chapel Hill. After starting his first game as a sophomore against William & Mary, Watkins would start all of the remaining games that he played in, becoming a lockdown corner for the Tar Heels. Although he never received any postseason recognition, Watkins' growth is too much to ignore here.


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Ronnie McGill

Class: 2003

247Sports Rankings: No. 872 overall, No. 49 RB

Career Stats: 529 rush, 2393 yds, 24 TD, 39 rec, 320 yds, 2 TD

When the Tar Heels landed this 3✮ prospect from Clover, SC, little did they know that they were landing one of the top rushers in program history. McGill still ranks 12th in program history in rushing yards and 11th in rushing touchdowns. In each of his four seasons at Carolina, McGill rushed for at least 400 yards and five touchdowns, but somehow never received even an honorable mention from the ACC. Despite that, McGill was still the player that carried this Carolina offense for most of the John Bunting era.


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Kyle Jolly

Class: 2005

247Sports Rankings: No. N/A overall, No. 76 WDE

Career Stats: 38 career starts

After committing to John Bunting as a 2✮ weakside defensive end, Jolly became a starter at offensive guard his sophomore season and was a big part of the offensive line for the first three seasons of the Butch Davis era. Jolly started the final 38 games of his playing career and graded out at a 75 percent mark in each of his final three seasons on campus. Jolly earned an All-ACC honorable mention in 2009 to close out a very strong career at Carolina.


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E.J. Wilson

Class: 2005

247Sports Rankings: No. N/A overall, No. 94 OLB

Career Stats: 150 ttkl, 29.0 TFL, 12.0 scks, 6 FF, FR, 4 PD

Wilson committed to Carolina as a 2✮ prospect, but quickly became a one of the major contributors along the Tar Heel defensive line. In his final three seasons, he finished second on the team in tackles for a loss as one of the team’s best run defending lineman. He may not have received any postseason recognition in his time at Carolina, but he put together a fine career for a guy that was ranked outside of the top 1000 prospects in the 2005 class.


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Brandon Tate

Class: 2005

247Sports Rankings: No. N/A overall, No. 107 WR

Career Stats: 46 rec, 927 yds, 8 TD, 26 rush, 294 yds, 2 TD, 109 KR, 24.7 avg, 3 TD, 79 PR, 10.6 avg, 3 TD

Another player who was a former 2✮ prospect, Tate became one of the return men in program history. Tate’s six combined return touchdowns are tied for second most in program history with T.J. Logan both of his return averages are some of the best in program history. He earned All-ACC honorable mention in three of his four seasons on campus, all of which came as a returner. One of those honorable mentions came in 2008, a season where he played in just six games because. Tate was also a nice two year producer at wide receiver in his final two seasons and would have had a huge senior season at receiver if it wasn’t for the knee injury.


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Alan Pelc

Class: 2006

247Sports Rankings: No. N/A overall, No. 92 OG

Career Stats: 39 career games played, 34 career starts

Yet another 2✮ prospect, Pelc was not supposed to be the star of an offensive line class that landed two 3✮ prospects at tackle ahead of him. Of the three, Pelc was easily the most successful, though, starting all of the remaining games that he played in after his first career start against Connecticut in 2008. Although he was never given any postseason honor by the ACC, he was a widely regarded guard who worked alongside Jonathan Cooper his final two seasons to form one of the best guard duos in the country.


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T.J. Yates

Class: 2006

247Sports Rankings: No. 931 overall, No. 38 PRO

Career Stats: 795-1277, 9377 yds, 58-46 TD-INT, 220 rush, -333 yds, 7 TD

Quarterback has been a spot where the Tar Heels have had a lot of success landing talent, but one of the lowest rated prospects they’ve ever brought in at the position became the program’s all-time leading passer. In four years as the Tar Heels starting quarterback, Yates led the team to 28 wins, including six wins over ranked opponents, tied for the most in school history with Matt Kupec. To this day, Yates’ 9,377 career passing yards still stand as the top mark in program history and his 58 passing touchdowns still remain fourth in program history. Not bad for a player who was barely a top 1000 prospect.


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Charles Brown

Class: 2007

247Sports Rankings: No. N/A overall, No. 72 CB

Career Stats: 204 ttkl, 14.0 TFL, 1.0 sck, 8 INT, 13 PR, 2.5 avg, 12 KR, 19.5 avg

Coming in as a low end 3✮ prospect, many wouldn’t have guess that Brown would be a cornerstone of the Tar Heels late 2000’s secondary. He started 34 career games at either corner or nickelback and registered at least one interception in all four of his active seasons. Although he never received any postseason recognition from the ACC, his ability to create turnovers and label as a lockdown corner was well earned for a player that was not seen as a headliner of the 2007 recruiting class by any stretch of the imagination.


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Erik Highsmith

Class: 2009

247Sports Rankings: No. N/A overall, No. 181 WR

Career Stats: 167 rec, 2086 yds, 15 TD, 4 PR, 14.5 avg

In a class that boasted borderline 5✮ wide receiver Jheranie Boyd, as well as solid 3✮’s Joshua Adams and Vincent Davis, no one would have expected Highsmith to be the star of this group of wide receivers. Highsmith is one of just ten receivers in school history to finish with more than 2,000 yards receiving in his career and his fifteen receiving touchdowns are eighth in program history. Highsmith is another player who never received any love from the ACC in terms of postseason recognition, but he finished his career with 300+ yards and two or more touchdowns in all four of his seasons on campus.


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Tre Boston

Class: 2010

247Sports Rankings: No. 818 overall, No. 64 CB

Career Stats: 282 ttkl, 8.0 TFL, 13 INT, TD, 12 PD

Boston was far from the biggest name in 2010 class on national signing day, but he would quickly turn into one of the best defensive playmakers in the ACC and the leader of a defense that saw two coaching changes in three years. Although he only landed on an All-ACC team once (second team in 2013), Boston increased his tackle and interception numbers every season at Carolina, even with his move from corner to safety prior to his senior season. Boston’s 13 career interceptions still remain third in program history and he continues his success at the NFL level today.


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Mack Hollins

Class: 2011

247Sports Rankings: No. N/A overall, No. N/A WR

Career Stats: 81 rec, 1667 yds, 20 TD, 24 ttkl, FR

Hollins is the first walk-on that appears on this list, but he is far from the last as Larry Fedora and his staff specialized in turning walk-on’s into stars. Hollins wasn’t expected to be much more than a special teams piece when he arrived on campus, but he turned into the offense's best deep threat in the final two seasons of his career. His 20.6 yards per reception mark is the most for a Tar Heel receiver with 40 or more receptions in their career and his 20 career touchdowns are third in school history. Those 20 touchdowns also came in just 81 catches, averaging out to a touchdown every 4.05 catches, a ridiculously efficient number. He earned second team All-ACC honors in 2015, a season where he led the country with 24.8 yards per reception and found the endzone eight times. He would receive honorable mention in 2014 and was off to a great start to the 2016 season prior to suffering a shoulder that ended his season after just seven games. Hollins was also an extremely valuable member of the kick and punt coverage units in his time in Chapel Hill.


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Jeff Schoettmer

Class: 2011

247Sports Rankings: No. N/A overall, No. N/A S

Career Stats: 279 ttkl, 19.0 TFL, 1.5 scks, 4 INT, 2 TD, 8 PD, 3 FR

Another one of the shining examples of the Fedora staff’s work with walk-on’s, Schoettmer was brought in as a reserve safety, but molded into one of the top Tar Heel linebackers of the decade. In each of his final three seasons on campus, Schoettmer finished with 70 or more total tackles while anchoring the Tar Heel linebacking corps. He received an All-ACC honorable mention as a senior in 2015 after finishing with 97 total tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and two interceptions. Pretty strong numbers for a guy who was a former walk-on in a class that was loaded with commitments at the linebacker position.


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Jon Heck

Class: 2012

247Sports Rankings: No. N/A overall, No. 103 OT

Career Stats: 50 career starts

It was a tough decision of which Heck brother to go with here, but it’s hard not to go with Jon. His 50 career starts is the most by a Tar Heel offensive lineman in program and includes a streak of 31 consecutive starts to close his career. Heck received second team All-ACC honors in both the 2015 and 2016 while anchoring an offensive line that helped for two of the best offenses in program history.


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Malik Carney

Class: 2014

247Sports Rankings: No. N/A overall, No. 86 OLB

Career Stats: 176 ttkl, 32.5 TFL, 17.0 scks, 9 FF, 3 FR, 4 PD

Carney came to Carolina with his teammate Jeremiah Clarke, but few expected him to put together the better career of the two. Carney increased his production each and every season, including his monster senior season where he had career highs in tackles, tackles for a loss and sacks, despite missing four games due to suspension. He was another player that was spurned any postseason recognition from the ACC, but yet another defensive playmaker that vastly exceeded expectations.


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Cole Holcomb

Class: 2014

247Sports Rankings: No. N/A overall, No. N/A OLB

Career Stats: 327 ttkl, 15.5 TFL, 2.5 scks, 4 FF, FR, 12 PD

It’s only fitting that another former walk-on closes us out here and, yet again, we go to the linebacker position. After entering as a walk-on in 2014, Holcomb would become one of the most important players defensively by his sophomore season. In his final three seasons on campus, he led the team in tackles twice (2016 and 2018) and finished second on the team in season he didn’t lead the team (2017). Holcomb earned second team All-ACC honors as a senior to close out an amazing career before he was drafted by the Washington Redskins, the team he is currently a starter for.

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