“I remember talking to a security guard one night at a football game,” Heckendorf said. “The leadership that (Surratt) had within his team, within his school ... everybody within the school had nothing but great things to say about him.”
By the end of Surratt’s high school career, he’d been named North Carolina’s Gatorade State Player of the Year in football. He won state titles in 2012 and 2014 and broke North Carolina's total yardage (16,593) and touchdown (229) records. In basketball, the kid from Denver, N.C., led his team to two title appearances.
And this Saturday, in his first true season, the former four-star commit will take the field against the undefeated Duke Blue Devils. His fourth career game will hold weight for two reasons: It’s an in-state, conference rivalry matchup, and it's the first time Surratt will face the school that he first declared he was attending.
On April 21, 2016, and for about two months after that, Surratt planned on being a Blue Devil.
Choosing Duke over UNC and other schools made sense. Surratt, who had been eyeing both programs throughout the process, knew Duke head coach David Cutcliffe’s history with quarterbacks like Peyton and Eli Manning.
He also knew the Tar Heels were recruiting one of the highest-ranked pocket passers in the country in Logan Byrd. And the hysteria surrounding the North Carolina academic scandal was at its peak.
But UNC head coach Larry Fedora said he remembers that Surratt wasn’t “really sure” about his decision to go to Duke at the time.
“He wasn’t 100 percent, so we just felt like if they wanted us to continue recruiting him, we would,” Fedora said. “They said they would, so we continued to do that.”
So, Heckendorf continued showing up to East Lincoln’s football field periodically on Friday nights for the next two years.
Then, one night in the East Lincoln gym, Surratt answered his phone. UNC basketball head coach Roy Williams was on the other line. He offered the dual-sport star a walk-on spot on the basketball team.
“It was pretty surreal talking to Coach Williams," Surratt said. “It wasn’t a long conversation, but it was a good conversation.”
Not long after, the quarterback talked over the decision with his family. They collectively told Cutcliffe of his decision to flip his commitment from Duke to its lighter blue adversary.
He wasn’t on the roster when the Tar Heels brought Chapel Hill its sixth basketball national championship — mainly because he was focused on competing for the starting quarterback job after Mitchell Trubisky entered the NFL Draft early.
Through three games in his UNC football career, Surratt has recorded 588 yards and four touchdowns through the air and 40 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. In his most recent contest against Old Dominion, he took all meaningful snaps at quarterback.
“I think deep down in his heart, this is probably where he really wanted to go the whole time,” Fedora said. “He just had to find the right time to make that decision.”
Game by game, pixel by pixel, North Carolina fans are learning who their new quarterback is.
On Saturday, they'll see the clearest picture yet.
Sports editor Chapel Fowler contributed reporting.