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UNC defensive back Alijah Huzzie displays versatility in 41-24 victory over Pitt

Junior defensive back Alijah Huzzie (28) and sophomore defensive back Will Hardy (31) react to a call against the Pitt Panthers on Saturday, September 23, 2023 at Acrisure Stadium in Pittsburgh. UNC won 41-24.

PITTSBURGH —  Alijah Huzzie has a tattoo on his left forearm. It reads “versatile” in big bubble letters, running all the way from his wrist to his elbow.

Is Huzzie versatile? His performance in Saturday's 41-24 win at Pittsburgh — complete with a 52-yard punt return touchdown, 114 all-purpose yards, two interceptions and a pass breakup — certainly indicates it. 

His teammates, albeit in their own words, seem to agree.

After Huzzie's touchdown, senior linebacker Cedric Gray told the East Tennessee State transfer on the sideline, "you’re him." Later, junior wide receiver J.J. Jones echoed this compliment, deeming Huzzie “one hell of a player.” 

Whatever you want to call Huzzie — versatile, a “hell of a player” or just “him” — the junior defensive back’s impact on Saturday night was undeniable, as he recorded his first career punt return touchdown and first two interceptions as a Tar Heel, helping lift North Carolina to its first 4-0 start since 1997.

Huzzie, who joked about having butterflies before his first spring game at UNC and reported being a bit “antsy” heading into North Carolina’s fall camp, has clearly found his groove within the Tar Heel corps.

“I just told Huzzie in the locker [room], I said I’d take him out to dinner this week in the bye week,” sophomore quarterback Drake Maye said. “I’m going to find time to take him out, wherever he wants, on me."

So, is Huzzie versatile? Maybe positionless is a better descriptor.

Following Saturday’s game, head coach Mack Brown said Huzzie would be playing at corner had UNC not lost DeAndre Boykins to a lower-body injury. Instead, Huzzie has slotted in seamlessly at star – a defensive position that operates like a defensive back and linebacker hybrid – where his seemingly magnetic ability to find the ball still carries over.

“I feel like he just has that knack for the ball,” Jones said. “You can’t really teach that for a lot of DBs, so just having him on our side, it always makes me feel confident in our defense."

Cue Huzzie’s two interceptions on Saturday — the first of which he caught just outside the Panthers’ end zone during the third quarter.

And quite easily, if he may add.

“I think it was a miscommunication [between] the quarterback and the receiver,” Huzzie said. “[Kenny Johnson] quit running and I was like, 'Oh, the ball’s coming, I’ll go get it then.'"

Huzzie takes a moment to laugh, before adding “So, I just took off and caught the ball.”

Pretty simple, right? So elementary that, with just over two minutes left in the game, Huzzie did it again – leaping straight up to grab Christian Veilleux’s pass right out of the air.

“What we saw at East Tennessee State was an All-American that had 12 interceptions,” Brown said of his prized transfer. “And he’s just a ball hawk. He’s got instincts. He competes and he has tremendous hands. A couple of those catches were just phenomenal. And I knew, I told him this week during practice, 'I feel a punt return coming.'"

With just under eight minutes remaining in the first half, and the game tied at 14 apiece, Huzzie had a chance on the punt return.

“I saw a hole and I was like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s it,'" Huzzie said, crediting the blocking of his teammates. “I took it and I made a man miss.”

Roughly 10 seconds and 52 yards later, Huzzie arrived virtually untouched in the end zone. He looked directly at his mother, who was sitting in the UNC family section, and gave her a shrug.

“I was like, ‘Hey, I scored,’” Huzzie said with a chuckle. 

For a player whose family previously had to buy ESPN+ just to watch him play at East Tennessee State, what more was there to say? 

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The question has been answered: Huzzie is indeed versatile, just as his tattoo suggests. And his teammates are certainly grateful.

So, Alijah, how about that free dinner?

He ponders the question. Maybe he should let Maye pick the spot. Well, upon further thought…

“Is there a Texas Roadhouse in Chapel Hill?”


@dthsports |

Shelby Swanson

Shelby Swanson is the 2023-24 sports editor at The Daily Tar Heel. She has previously served as an assistant sports editor and senior writer. Shelby is a junior pursuing a double major in media and journalism and Hispanic literatures and cultures.