For better or worse, a lot is riding on college football happening this fall.
On one hand, universities rely heavily on football revenue to fund other athletics programs. On another, players and coaches are still focused on meeting the goals they had set long before the term “social distancing” was in anyone’s vocabulary.
Some players have been vocal about wanting to play in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, believing the season needs to happen for them to prepare for the next level. Although Kenan Memorial Stadium will likely be at reduced capacity this fall, a number of players know this might be their final opportunity to create game film for NFL scouts.
A notable example of a player using his senior season to improve his draft stock in recent years is former LSU quarterback Joe Burrow, who tweeted his support for college athletes last week. Burrow tweeted that if the pandemic happened a year earlier, he “might be looking for a job right now.” On few draft boards before last season began, Burrow won the Heisman Trophy and National Championship, which helped his draft stock soar and made him the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
UNC senior cornerback Patrice Rene issued a similar statement on social media to declare how important this season could be for his future. After tearing his ACL at the beginning of last season, Rene could use 2020 to show what he can accomplish when he’s healthy.
In 2018, Rene started every game for UNC. With the Tar Heels ranked No. 19 going into the new season, he should have plenty of opportunities to perform under a national spotlight if the season occurs.
While Rene's season could put him on the map for NFL scouts, senior linebacker Chazz Surratt will look to bolster his already impressive draft resume. After making the transition from quarterback to linebacker, Surratt finished the year with 115 tackles and was named to the All-ACC First Team.
Despite receiving interest from the NFL, Surratt announced he would return for his senior year in January. Although the uncertainty of how the pandemic will shape the season has led a number of players — including his brother — to opt-out of playing this fall, Surratt said he believes this season will benefit his quest of becoming a professional.
“I wanted another year to play linebacker and show the scouts how much I improved,” Surratt said during a press conference in April. "I didn’t really think too much about sitting out because I know the year that I’m capable of having.”
When asked how much more comfortable he feels now compared to a year ago, he couldn’t help but give a subtle grin.
“From this time in camp last year to now, I’m not even the same player,” Surratt said.
On the offensive side of the ball, another draft prospect that hopes to use this season to improve his candidacy is senior wide receiver Beau Corrales. In 2019, Corrales caught 40 passes for 575 yards and six touchdowns, all of which were career-highs. As sophomore quarterback Sam Howell continues to develop, there are reasons to believe Corrales’ numbers can improve once again in 2020.
After the Big Ten and Pac-12 announced on Aug. 11 that they would be postponing their respective seasons, Corrales said he is embracing the opportunity to suit up this fall.
“Being able to move forward and have the chance to play, because nothing is guaranteed right now, I’m so grateful for it,” Corrales said during a press conference on Aug. 5. “Obviously there are kids that aren’t getting that same opportunity, so I’m grateful for it and am trying to attack every day with some positivity.”
As of now, UNC is still planning to kick off its season on Sept. 12 in Chapel Hill against Syracuse, and UNC's head coach Mack Brown has doubled down on these beliefs.
"I'm excited that we're moving forward," Brown said during a press conference on Tuesday.
Although the season will certainly feel a bit different, this campaign could help NFL hopefuls build a profile that will allow them to play with more normalcy down the road on Sundays.
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