Dalton had not touched the field through his first five games as a Tar Heel. But due to injuries to fellow defensive linemen — including senior Jessie Rogers and redshirt sophomore Nazair Jones — Dalton received his chance against Wake Forest on Saturday.
And the first-year made the most of his opportunity.
Dalton, who is from Winston-Salem, recorded four tackles and a quarterback hurry against the Demon Deacons. Dalton knew he’d eventually get a chance to play as long as he kept progressing.
“(Defensive Coordinator Gene) Chizik brought me into his office Thursday on our bye week,” he said. “And we talked about if I had a good practice that Thursday and Sunday that there would be a good chance that I’d play.”
The first-year entered UNC as the third-ranked weak-side defensive end in the class of 2015 by 247Sports, while Rivals tabbed him as the top recruit in North Carolina.
Dalton said beginning on the scout team and going against UNC’s starting offensive linemen helped prepare him for Wake Forest. He added that the coaching staff has been impressed with his quick first-step and his ability to rush the quarterback.
Despite Saturday’s game marking Dalton’s first game action, Chizik said he did not sense any hesitancy.
“In the last month, it’s been night and day,” he said. “You never know when the light is going to come on, and it’s come on for him. And he hasn’t arrived yet, and he knows that.
“We’re still trying to put weight on him, but if he continues on the track of improvement, he’s going to continue to be a really good player.”
After taking a look at Saturday’s game film, senior linebacker Shakeel Rashad was impressed with Dalton’s performance.
Whenever the senior observes the offensive and defensive linemen drills, he usually sees Dalton beating his opposition.
“At the time, I was like, ‘This guy is going to be so good next year,’ because we thought he was going to redshirt,” Rashad said. “But come to find out, due to circumstances, he had to step up and play this year. And he did a great job.”
In his first season as a collegiate player, Dalton said he’s adjusted to the game’s speed, become more aggressive and learned how to use his hands while battling offensive linemen.
The young defensive end is confident he can help bolster UNC’s defense for the rest of the season, including filling the box score.
“I’m looking forward to getting my first sack,” Dalton said with a smile. “That’d be nice.”