If you’re a UNC sports fan, you probably know about Michael Jordan, Mia Hamm and Julius Peppers, but what about the hundreds of other UNC athletes that have gone professional after their time spent at Chapel Hill?
Our school has produced some of the most successful athletes in their respective fields.
Some big names include former New York Giants player and Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Lawrence Taylor, former Seattle Mariners player Kyle Seager, former Los Angeles Lakers player Bob McAdoo and former U.S. Women’s National Team Player Heather O'Reilly, who is now an assistant coach for the UNC Women’s Soccer Team.
One of the most recent UNC athletes to have gone on to professional play is women’s soccer player Tori Hansen, a fall 2022 graduate who was drafted on Jan. 12 to the Orlando Pride, a member of the National Women’s Soccer League.
Former men’s tennis player Rinky Hijikata — a member of the UNC team from 2019 to 2021 — became an Australian Open doubles champion on Jan. 28 and has competed in many other tennis championship matches.
Former UNC quarterback Sam Howell, predecessor to Drake Maye, was a starter for the NFL’s Washington Commanders on Jan. 8, helping their win against the Dallas Cowboys.
These examples are all recent UNC athletes — they went to the school within a two-year span of each other. Hansen, Hijikata and Howell have made huge strides in their professional careers, whether by being drafted or winning an international trophy and title.
There are 23 UNC football alumni in the NFL, nine men’s basketball alumni in the NBA and four women’s basketball alumni in the WNBA. There are 18 women’s soccer alumni in the NWSL, two of whom are current members of the USWNT, and many who were former members. There are four baseball alumni in the MLB, six women’s lacrosse alumni on the U.S. national team.
The Tar Heels have been a leader in almost all of the varsity sports the University offers — and it goes beyond just being a good college team. UNC has consistently put athletes in the pros, and a lot of them.