As we enter May, it's time for the annual offseason series. This year, we're going in-depth with a look at the best player to ever where each jersey number. This is a ten part series where we will go ten numbers at a time for ten weeks. This week, we look at the best to wear numbers 31-40 in Tar Heel football history.
#31: Dré Bly
We start this edition with a jersey number that is home to some of the best cornerbacks in program history. Bobby Cale was the first lockdown corner to wear this jersey, setting the career interceptions record with 12, having three or more interceptions in each of his three seasons on campus. Trimane Goddard would put together another phenomenal career in the jersey nearly three decades later, tying Cale’s career number with 12 interceptions in his career, headlined by a monster senior season in 2008. However, their careers pail in comparison to the legendary career of former cornerback and current cornerbacks coach Dré Bly. Bly holds the program record for interceptions with 22 in his career, a number that is still first in ACC history. His 11 interception season in 1996 as a freshman is also a program record and sits third in ACC history. Bly is the only three All-American in program and ACC history and the only Tar Heel to earn consensus All-America honors in back to back years. He is also one of just two Tar Heel true freshmen to be named a consensus All-American and was named to ACC rookie of the year in 1996. Bly also added three first team All-ACC appearances to his stacked résumé, one that might just be the best in program history.
#32: Curtis Johnson
There is not that much success overall here, but there are a few Tar Heels who put together solid careers at the top. Linebacker Larry Edwards had a decent three year stretch of production in the number and running Ryan Houston followed that with a nice career where he found the endzone quite often. For our pick here, though, we go back to the 90s to a running back that was just a bit more successful than those two. In his three years with the Tar Heels, Curtis Johnson ran for 1,999 yards and 20 touchdowns, the bulk of which came in his final two seasons. Those career rushing yards still rank 17th in program history while his rushing touchdowns sit 13th. He earned first team All-ACC honors in 1993 after running for 1,034 yards and eleven touchdowns on 173 carries.
#33: Hilee Taylor
This number is one of the thinnest ones so far. John Lafferty was an average punter who held down the position well for three years in the early 2000s. William Henderson had a good career for the Tar Heels at fullback, but just didn’t have a ton of production with the position he played. That’s why we’ll give the advantage to Hilee Taylor here. The four year producer on the defensive line got his career off to a great start with 4.5 sacks as a freshman and carried that throughout his career. His most productive season came as a senior in 2007 where he finished with 49 total tackles, 16.0 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks, landing second team All-ACC honors for his efforts. His 19.0 career sacks still sit eighth in program history.
#34: Elijah Hood
The No. 34 has some decent success overall, headlined by a group of playmakers at the running back position. From the early 70s success of James Betterson, to the late 2000s production that Johnny White had in the jersey, there has been a lot of success from this number out of that Tar Heel backfield. The most successful of that group is our pick here, though. Elijah Hood put together a very good career while donning the jersey. In his three seasons at Carolina, Hood ran for 2,580 yards, which sits eighth in program history, and 29 touchdowns, which is seventh-most in Carolina history, on his 430 career carries. Hood’s 2015 season is the only season by a running back that has come close to challenging Don McCauley’s immaculate 1970 season, as he ran for 1,463 yards and 17 touchdowns on his way to earning first team All-ACC honors. He would earn third team all-conference honors as a junior in 2016 before heading to the NFL a year early.
#35: Eric Starr
This is one of, if not the least, decorated number we’ve come upon so far. There frankly just isn’t a ton of production here, even at the top making this one a tough decision. Both Dick Penegar and Rocky White had decent careers in the jersey, as did Bryan Bethea. However, our pick here is former running back Eric Starr. After spending his first two seasons on campus at defensive back with some nice success, Starr made the move to running back for his final two seasons, where he ran for 1,028 yards and seven touchdowns on his 215 career rush attempts.
#36: Cole Holcomb
Another number that is thin with production, the No. 36 does have a clear standout. Guys like Pat Norton, Lawrence Winslow and Ken Craven all had their moments to shine in the jersey, but they all paved the way for Cole Holcomb. In his four seasons in the jersey, Holcomb racked up 324 total tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss and 12 pass deflections, taking home second team All-ACC honors as a senior in 2018. Holcomb led the Tar Heels in tackles in two of his final three seasons on campus, an amazing story for a guy who joined the Tar Heels in 2014 as a walk-on.
#37: Josh McGee
It’s been a while, but there is a history of success here. Flo Worrell and Eddie Mason put together solid careers in the jersey, but the debate comes down to kicker Josh McGee and defensive back Derrick Donald. Both definitely have a case, but we’ll go with McGee in a close one. He finished his Carolina career 52-72 on field goals, a 72.2% mark that is decent, but not great. However, as a four year starter, his 52 made field goals is the third-most in program history and he still holds the record for field goal makes in one game with six against Duke in their 1999 matchup with the rival Blue Devils.
#38: Deon Dyer
There is slim pickings here at a number that has been home to a lot of walk-on and players that moved on to a new number. Bobby Ratliff and Jermaine Strong both made a little noise in the jersey, but we’ll give late 90s fullback Deon Dyer. In his four years in the uniform, Dyer had 822 yards from scrimmage and eleven touchdowns on 206 total touches. To this day, he is still the most productive true fullback to grace a Tar Heel uniform.
#39: Micah Moon
This number has a surprisingly solid track record. Connie Gravitte was a dual sport athlete who was seeing success on the baseball and football fields before passing away during World War II. Both Tom Sheldon and Don Hartig had success on special while in the number, while Chelsey Borders had a nice final two seasons at wide receiver in the jersey. The best to wear the jersey, though, is a member of the early-to-mid 80s linebacker Micah Moon. While he may have had a quiet first three years on campus, he exploded in 1984 with a huge senior season, finishing second on the team in total tackles with 153, a number that is still the ninth most in a single season by a Tar Heel. For his efforts in that 1984 season, Moon would pick up first team All-ACC honors, the first postseason recognition of his career.
#40: Tommy Thigpen
We close with a number that has seen plenty of production over the years. Both Lewis Jolley and Jimmy Jerome had nice careers in the back-to-back in the early 70s while donning the number, while Ken Willard became the first Tar Heel in program history to run for 2,000 yards in a career. While Willard’s case is a good one here, we’re going to give the edge to former linebacker and current co-defensive coordinator Tommy Thigpen. In his four seasons on campus, Thigpen tallied 409 total tackles, 32.0 tackles for loss and 14.0 sacks. In each of his final three seasons on campus, Thigpen landed All-ACC honors, including first team honors as a junior in 1991.