After the North Carolina football team lost two of its most experienced offensive players to injury last week, the Tar Heel coaching staff was left with many questions about its depth chart headed into the season — and few answers.
During Saturday’s practice, the Tar Heels’ running back room took a major blow, as graduate British Brooks suffered a lower-body injury that will sideline him for the entire 2022 season. That news came just a week after fifth-year wide receiver Antoine Green injured his collarbone, a setback causing him to be out for six to 10 weeks.
Brooks and Green’s on-field leadership will not only be missed in their respective position groups, but throughout the entire North Carolina roster.
“It was really heartbreaking,” senior offensive lineman Asim Richards said. “Injuries are a part of the game but it’s still a terrible feeling to have. British, I know he worked so hard to be here and he was going to do great things this season.”
After rushing for over 2,500 yards and 31 touchdowns in his final two seasons at Ashbrook High School in Gastonia, Brooks’ lone Division 1 offer came from Charlotte.
Rather than take the guaranteed roster spot and play for his hometown university, Brooks enrolled at North Carolina in hopes of earning a walk-on spot. He did, and by his junior season, Brooks cemented himself as one of the Tar Heels’ top leaders and was named captain of the special team’s unit.
“How (Brooks) moved himself up is really inspiring to be able to watch that and learn from him,” sophomore running back Elijah Green said.
While he led special teams, Brooks remained a regular face in the running back room as a member of the scout team. In each practice, the bruising back not only mastered North Carolina's playbook but the schemes for UNC’s weekly opponents.
Once he gained more experience, Brooks began to pass down his college knowledge of the program's principles to his younger teammates.
“Brooks has been like a big brother and he took me under his wing,” sophomore running back Caleb Hood said. “Coming in here and playing quarterback (in high school) I had no clue what it was like playing running back, especially at the college level. He took me in and made me feel comfortable.”
With Brooks’ absence, North Carolina’s depth at running back will be tested. Junior D.J. Jones and Green are both viable options to take over the position's starting reigns, while four-star recruits Omarion Hampton and George Pettaway could see snaps earlier than expected in their first years.
Likewise, the Tar Heels will be in search of new a second option at wide receiver to complement junior Josh Downs with Green’s absence potentially lasting until late October. The only healthy receivers on the roster — excluding Downs — have only caught a combined 13 passes in college, but the Tar Heels’ young playmakers say they're up to the task.
“Me, Gavin (Blackwell) and J.J. (Jones), we’ve already started stepping up,” sophomore wide receiver Kobe Paysour said. “We’ve been waiting on our turn so this is a great opportunity to show ourselves and step up to the challenge.”
Any results and steps in the right direction made by North Carolina's young talent in fall camp will have to be validated once the Tar Heels take the field for their home opener.
With UNC’s first game set for Aug. 27 against Florida A&M, head coach Mack Brown said this year's squad has more question marks than any teams he’s ever coached — a predicament the 34-year head coach is confident he’ll find answers to.
“We have more options, they’re just inexperienced options,” Brown said. “The good thing about the team right now is they are giving everything they got.”
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