Updated: Aug 20, 2019
“This is the biggest decision we have to make in the next month and a half.” This was the quote that Mack Brown gave the media at ACC media days a month ago. Now, just two weeks before the season opener against South Carolina, that decision appears to have been made.
Mack Brown announced to the media Sunday afternoon following practice that true freshman Sam Howell will begin taking reps with the No. 1’s this week in practice. Brown cited consistency as the reason for the decision. “Sam has just been more consistent than the other two.”
Howell, an early enrollee to Carolina back in January, flipped his commitment to the Tar Heels from Florida State back on December 19th following a historic prep career. In his four seasons as the starter at Sun Valley, Howell would throw for 13,415 yards, 145 touchdowns and just 41 interceptions. He would add 3,621 rushing yards on the ground, totaling 17,036 yards of total offense, a number that helped him break the record previously held by current Tar Heel linebacker Chazz Surratt. His passing yards number ranks second in state history, while his total touchdowns (213) and passing touchdowns (145) rank third.
During the spring, Howell took some time to grasp the playbook, but kept himself in the running a strong on-field performance. Howell would get the start with the first team in the spring game, but as Mack Brown explained at ACC media days, that choice was made by coin toss. Still, Howell impressed, throwing for 131 yards and a touchdown on 10 of 16 passing, highlighted by a 42-yard touchdown pass to Roscoe Johnson on a 3rd & 13. That parlayed into a strong summer and strong start to training that ultimately landed him the starting job.
Howell will be the first true freshman quarterback to start a season opener at quarterback for the Tar Heels. His first career start will also be just 20 minutes from his hometown in a stadium that he probably frequented as a youth like many in the Charlotte-area have. It will be a special day for him and his family in Bank of America Stadium on August 31st.
For the first time since 2016, the Tar Heels have their starting quarterback set in stone for the foreseeable future. That’s one reason to be excited, but comparisons to Brett Favre and Baker Mayfield may be an even bigger reason for excitement. Sunday may have been the start of something special at quarterback for the Tar Heels.