UNC junior tight end Eric Ebron declares for NFL draft

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Photos from UNC football’s game against Old Dominion on November 23 at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill.

Eric Ebron turns to his mother Gina Jackson for all of the major decisions he makes in life. He said she has the final say for 95 percent of them — and the other 5 percent are made while playing PlayStation.

He said she’s the reason he plays football, the reason he came to North Carolina. “The reason why I was born,” he said, smiling.

She’s also the reason why the tight end declared for the 2014 NFL Draft and why he did it Monday — with one game left in the regular season — instead of waiting until season’s end.

In doing so, Ebron, a junior, will be honored along with the UNC senior class on Saturday against Duke in the final home game of the season. And that’s a moment he didn’t want to deprive his family of seeing.

“It’s really just to give my mom an experience that she wouldn’t get to experience,” said Ebron, who expects more than 20 family members to attend Saturday’s game. “It’s not for me, and it’s not to try to take away from anything or interrupt or interfere with my performance because I’m still going to go out there and play like we’re playing against Duke.”

The decision to declare has been a long time coming, and it’s one that his teammates fully expected — even encouraged him to make, Ebron said.

The 6-foot-4-inch, 245-pound Ebron has an NFL body and NFL talent, projecting No. 12 and No. 14 overall by ESPN draft analysts Mel Kiper and Todd McShay, respectively. He leads UNC with 774 receiving yards and was named one of three finalists for the John Mackey Award, given to the nation’s top tight end, a few hours after he declared for the draft.

His coming-out party was an eight-catch, 199-yard performance in a primetime Thursday night matchup with the Miami Hurricanes on Oct. 17. With NFL scouts in the seats and ESPN cameramen on the field, Ebron said his teammates all but assumed he’d be a top draft commodity.

“He’s a tight end, running back, receiver — I mean, the guy can do it all,” quarterback Marquise Williams said. “He’s the most athletic player we have on the team … Just throw the ball in his vicinity, and he’s gonna get it. That’s what I love about him.”

Ebron has never been shy about his abilities. After the Miami game, he said he played “one of the best games a tight end could ever play,” and his Twitter trash talk before UNC’s Nov. 2 win against N.C. State drew headlines, but Williams said Ebron’s always backed up his words.

“I’m proud of what Eric has accomplished and how he has represented the University of North Carolina,” coach Larry Fedora said Monday.

Ebron made the decision Sunday night with Fedora, who he said offered nothing but support.

Of course, Ebron’s mother was there, too.

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