With the marquee signing of five-star cornerback Tony Grimes on June 30, North Carolina’s football recruiting class of 2021 is now slated No. 3 in the nation, according to 247Sports.
The last time the Tar Heels recruited a top 10 class was in 2007, the first recruiting class to come in under then-head coach Butch Davis. While that era is largely remembered for scandal, vacated wins and Davis' firing, there is no denying the success the team saw.
After going 4-8 in 2007, the Tar Heels posted back-to-back-to-back 8-5 seasons over the next three years, including three bowl games and a win in the 2010 Music City Bowl in double-overtime over Tennessee. For a team that hadn’t posted a winning season since 2001, this was a major improvement. Here's a look at some of the recruits from that highly touted 2007 class and see how they contributed to this success, and how their careers panned out at UNC and beyond.
On UNC’s all-time football recruits page on 247Sports, only one player has a higher evaluation than Grimes: Marvin Austin. A five-star defensive tackle from Washington D.C., Austin is considered the 82nd best football recruit of all time by 247Sports Composite. While Austin may not have lived up to his mercurial potential — and was kicked off the team for receiving improper benefits in 2010 — he was still a sturdy presence on the line.
Thrust into a major role as a first-year, Austin held his own, registering 26 tackles, including six for a loss and four sacks. After a solid sophomore campaign, he blossomed in 2009. In his junior season, he had 42 tackles, six for a loss and four sacks, as well as three pass breakups and a forced fumble. All this earned him a selection to the second-team All-ACC. Though his draft stock was high, a 2010 season spent in suspension led to him falling out of the first round. In the 2011 NFL draft, he was chosen 52nd overall by the New York Giants.
Austin’s journeyman NFL career was hampered by multiple injuries. After missing out on his rookie season due to a chest injury sustained in the preseason, he debuted in Week 2 of his second season. He played eight games with the Giants before being released. He then had short stints with the Miami Dolphins, Dallas Cowboys and Denver Broncos before leaving the league in 2014 at just 25 years old.
A four-star linebacker from Oakboro, North Carolina, Quantavius Sturdivant was considered the 10th-best recruit from the state in 2007. Despite not being considered one of the nation's elite prospects, Sturdivant had a standout career as a Tar Heel.
In his first-year campaign, he notched 47 tackles with one sack, one interception and a blocked punt. In his sophomore year, he led UNC and was third in the ACC with 9.4 tackles per game, and led the nation in unassisted tackles with 87. His junior season may have been his best, earning a first team All-ACC selection and leading the Tar Heels with 79 tackles. His 12 tackles-for-loss was good for second on the team.
While his senior season was disrupted by injury, his last play as a Tar Heel during the 2010 Music City Bowl was arguably his peak. In double-overtime, with the game tied at 27-27 and Tennessee in the red zone, Sturdivant intercepted a pass from quarterback Tyler Bray, giving UNC the ball back. On that possession, UNC kicked a field goal to win the game, 30-27, giving Davis his only bowl game victory as UNC's coach. It also proved that Sturdivant was one of North Carolina’s most important defensive pieces.
This didn't translate directly to NFL success — after being drafted in the sixth round of the 2011 draft by the Arizona Cardinals, Sturdivant was cut before the season began. He bounced around some practice squads and offseason rosters for a few years before ending his career in 2013. Sturdivant didn’t play a single snap in the NFL.
One of the few recruits from this class who had a somewhat stable NFL career, Greg Little was a four-star wide receiver from Durham, North Carolina and the third-ranking overall recruit from the state in 2007. Though he showed potential as he shifted between running back and wide-out for his first two seasons as a Tar Heel, his junior season proved how deadly he could be.
In 2009, Little made 62 catches, receiving 724 yards and five touchdowns, while also rushing for 166 yards and a touchdown. Thanks to his versatility, he led UNC in all-purpose yards with 890 on the season. His 6-foot-2-inch frame gave him extra strength against coverage, sometimes making catches despite having two defenders on him. His height, power and versatility made him a constant threat on the field.
Despite being suspended for his senior season in 2010 for his role in the athletic scandal, he was able to keep his draft stock high enough to go 59th overall to the Cleveland Browns in the 2011 NFL draft. He put together three solid seasons with the Browns, including a rookie campaign that saw him haul in 61 catches for 709 yards. His second season saw him catch for fewer yards, but increase his average yards-per-catch and double his touchdown total with four.
After the 2013 season saw his production decrease, he was released by the Browns, which would spell the beginning of the end of his professional career. He played only six more games after that — all for the Cincinnati Bengals in 2014 — making 12 catches for 69 yards. After being released for the Bengals for the second time in 2015, he had offseason stays with the Buffalo Bills and Cardinals. Little remains a free agent and hasn't signed an NFL contract since 2018.
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