Earlier this week, the Tar Heels had their sixth player in program history elected to the College Football Hall of Fame by the National Football Foundation. Former offensive tackle Harris Barton was one of thirteen members to be announced to the class that was revealed on Monday morning, becoming the first Tar Heel to be inducted into the hall since current head coach Mack Brown back in 2018. With Barton becoming the Tar Heels ninth overall member of the hall, we thought it would be fun to take a look at some of the names who could be the next to join this prestigious group of Tar Heels.
Peppers not being inducted into the hall this year was a bit of a shock, but he will automatically be back on the ballot next year and one would think that it won’t be too long before he will be elected. Peppers put together one of the best careers of any defensive end in college football history, registering 167 total tackles, 53 tackles for a loss and 30.5 career sacks in just three seasons in Chapel Hill. Peppers earned unanimous All-American honors in 2001, but his most productive season came in 2020, where he led the nation in sacks with 15.0 and set a Tar Heel program record with 24.0 tackles for a loss. He took home the Lombardi and Bednarik Award in that 2001 season, becoming the first Tar Heel to ever take those two awards home. With Pepper it’s not a matter of if, but rather when.
Ellis is another defensive lineman who also had an extremely successful career at Carolina and is spread throughout the ACC record books. Ellis finished his career with 32.5 sacks, a number that still remains fifth in ACC history and the most in program history, to go along with his 50.0 career tackles for loss. Ellis received second team All-American honors as a junior in 1996, but returned to consensus first team All-American honors as a senior in 1997, finishing the season with 87 total tackles, 18.0 tackles for loss and 9.0 sacks. Ellis isn’t quite the shoe in that Peppers is, but he brings a compelling case and at the least, should make it to the ballot in the near future.
Drechsler should be the next Tar Heel offensive lineman to be featured on the ballot. Once he settled there, the success began immediately. In each of his final two seasons, Drechsler earned first team All-American honors from at least one NCAA recognized publication and also earned first-team All-ACC honors during that time. He is the only offensive lineman and one of just eight players in the program’s history to earn first team honors twice. It's going to be tough, but Drechsler has the resume necessary to make it to the hall if he is on the ballot.
Cooper becomes eligible to go through the selection process next year and he definitely deserves some consideration for the hall at some point in what will be 50 years of eligibility being one of the best offensive linemen to ever play in the ACC. Cooper started 48 games in his Tar Heel career, earning all-conference honors in each of his final three seasons in Chapel Hill and helping produce the Tar Heels first 1,000 yard rusher since 1997. As a senior in 2012, he took home the trifecta for an ACC offensive lineman, earning unanimous first All-ACC, unanimous first team All-American and Jacobs Blocking Trophy honors at the end of the season. Being that he is an offensive lineman and the fact that someone as productive as Peppers took 20 years to appear on the ballot, it may take him some time, but Cooper should eventually see his name heading for the hall.