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Sunday September 25th

Column: UNC football players entering the transfer portal isn't a bad sign

Kenan Stadium is pictured on Nov. 11, 2021.
Buy Photos Kenan Stadium is pictured on Nov. 11, 2021.

In recent weeks, North Carolina football has seen five players enter the transfer portal: sophomore wide receiver Khafre Brown, sophomore defensive lineman Clyde Pinder Jr., junior running back Josh Henderson, junior wide receiver Emery Simmons and sophomore defensive lineman Kristian Varner.

Despite the departure of talent, it is not time to go into panic mode for the UNC football program.

For years, the rule was that a player would have to sit out an entire sports season if they wanted to transfer schools. But in April, the NCAA Division I Council approved a measure granting all players the ability to transfer once in their careers and be immediately eligible — commonly known as the one-time transfer.

Enter the transfer portal.

The transfer portal was created to be a compliance tool to manage a player’s transfer process. When an athlete enters the transfer portal and they have notified their school of intentions, prospective schools can immediately contact the athlete if they've provided contact information.

With the emergence of the one-time transfer and NCAA transfer portal, it is now easier than ever to switch schools when a player becomes unhappy with their role.

North Carolina head coach Mack Brown echoed this sentiment.

“Most guys that go in the transfer portal in our experience have been because they either weren't getting the ball enough, they weren't starting or they weren't getting enough snaps," Brown said last month.

In the case of Henderson and Pinder, there was a slim path for them to regularly play.

This year, Tennessee graduate transfer Ty Chandler has emerged as the top backfield option. Behind him, sophomore D.J. Jones and first-year Caleb Hood have solidified their backup roles. UNC also has commitments from a pair of four-star running backs, George Pettaway and Omarion Hampton. These players all left little opportunity for Henderson, already a junior, to break into the backfield rotation.

Pinder is facing an uphill battle, as he never broke into the UNC defensive line rotation and UNC has recruited five-star lineman Travis Shaw, the program's highest-ranked recruit in the past decade. 

Khafre Brown, Simmons and Varner were all expected to contribute this season, yet their in-season performances and the emergence of younger, talented players greatly reduced their playing time.

Varner began as a backup defensive tackle in co-defensive coordinator Jay Bateman’s 3-4 alignment but was quickly passed by first-year Jahvaree Ritzie to serve as Myles Murphy’s primary backup.

Simmons started 14 games for the Tar Heels but recorded just two catches in his last four games as a Tar Heel and was eventually benched in favor of sophomore Justin Olson. Simmons entered the portal after he recorded no snaps against Notre Dame. 

Khafre Brown came to Chapel Hill with high expectations, especially following the footsteps of his older brother, former UNC wide receiver Dyami Brown. However, that only materialized into one catch this season. After several drops and not playing in the Miami game, Brown decided to transfer from the program and get a fresh start elsewhere.

Transferring after a loss of playing time is the new normal. 

"We are already seeing it," Mack Brown said. "But I think it is going to happen all over the country and more in December than at midseason. But you are going to see guys who think they have a better chance of playing somewhere else. They pick up and go. That's what the rule was put in for, so that's what the NCAA is going to get."

This doesn’t mean schools want the players to leave. The overall team depth takes a hit, where a string of injuries would leave the team thin. 

The reality is these players want to play. These were players low on the depth chart and are now looking for more playing time at a different program. 

“It's our job to be honest and tell (the players) exactly how we feel about where they are right now and where they are moving forward,” Mack Brown said.

With the team not playing up to its preseason expectations, expect the younger players to get more reps in practice and more snaps in games.

Some guys who have been around for two to three years may be satisfied with their future outlook with the team. And that’s OK. In fact, it’s a sign of a healthy program. Develop the young players, help the unhappy ones find new homes. 

So no, the sky isn’t falling for North Carolina football. It’s business as usual. 

@dthopinion

opinion@dailytarheel.com

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