As the UNC football program rises in national prowess, its recruiting classes have begun to reflect that success.
Since the return of head coach Mack Brown in 2019, the team won more games in two seasons than in its previous three combined. North Carolina reached two bowl games in the past two seasons as well, with a victory in the 2019 Military Bowl and an Orange Bowl appearance last season.
Many point to Brown and the coaching staff’s ability to recruit for the recent turnaround. The recruiting classes for 2020 and 2021 both ranked in the top 15 on 247Sports, giving the program valuable pieces to build around. For next season’s incoming class of players, UNC ranks 13th on 247Sports and even landed the state’s top recruit: five-star defensive lineman Travis Shaw.
Here is a brief rundown on a few players from the next batch of prospective UNC football assets.
The fourth-ranked recruit in the nation, Shaw is North Carolina’s most promising asset beyond this season. The 6-foot-5 lineman out of Grimsley High School would be tied for the heaviest defensive lineman on UNC’s current roster, weighing in at 310 pounds.
Shaw chose North Carolina over reigning national champion Alabama, as well as Georgia and Clemson. The Tar Heels landing a prospect like Shaw over schools that often boast prominent football teams serves as a great milestone for the program. Though the team has landed top prospects in the past, adding one of this stature while the team is trending upward helps solidify UNC as a threat in both the recruiting game and on the gridiron.
In 10 games last season, Shaw recorded 84 total tackles — including five sacks —according to MaxPreps. His sack count sits at 17 through three seasons.
The No. 137 recruit overall nationwide in the class of 2022, Cheeks will offer more depth at the linebacker position for UNC in 2022. He sits as Illinois’ fourth-best prospect, and is among the top 20 at the position in the nation.
With experienced linebackers on UNC’s roster leaving after the 2021 season, including Jeremiah Gemmel, Tomon Fox and Tyrone Hopper, Cheeks’ development along with the rest of the linebacking core is a key factor in North Carolina’s defensive growth. While he possesses the athletic gifts to be a key asset, filling in the gaps over time is essential to evaluate for the trajectory on that side of the ball.
Heading into his senior season at Evanston High School, the linebacker is a quick, hard-hitting athlete with good instincts. He has also played running back in high school for the Wildkits.
A difficult force to bring down, Hampton comes into the program poised to fill in the gaps in the backfield. Of the seven running backs on UNC’s current roster, two are slated to complete their college tenures after the 2021 season. As the highest-rated back in UNC’s class of 2022, Hampton should see a good deal of time early in his college career.
Coming from Cleveland High School in Clayton, Hampton has 3,757 career rushing yards and 56 touchdowns. Standing at 6 feet, 215 pounds, he is taller than most of the ball carriers on the current Tar Heel roster and has a similar weight.
Hampton ranks as the third-best prospect in North Carolina, just two ticks from Shaw.