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Three takeaways from UNC football's early enrollee media day for offensive players

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Early enrollee wide reciever Javarius 'Vari' Green speaks at a press conference on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024 at the Kenan Football Center and Hall of Honor.

This spring, 20 early enrollees headline the UNC football team's incoming first-year class, ranked by Rivals.com as the 22nd best class in the nation. A handful of the recruits have been a part of workouts and practices since the Tar Heels’ bowl game in late December.

Last Wednesday, the offensive group met with media for the first time. With less than two months until North Carolina's spring football game, here are the key takeaways:

‘Fun to be in that tight end room’

Adding further depth to a highly-skilled tight end room are first-years Timmy Lawson and Ryan Ward. The pair come in boasting impressive speed, but are looking to add weight so they can be more effective in the blocking game.

Ward, a New Jersey native, was told to add seven pounds of muscle mass by the fall — a caution his older brother, a tight end at Rutgers, mentioned prior to his arrival.


Early enrollee tight end Ryan Ward poses for a portrait at a press conference on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024 at the Kenan Football Center and Hall of Honor.


“He definitely warned me before my recruitment and commitment that I would be seeing the strength and conditioning coaches quite a lot,” Ward said. “And I definitely have been.”

Lawson, a dual-sport athlete — in addition to football, he will be a pitcher for next year’s Diamond Heels — came early to recover from an ACL tear that sidelined him from a portion of his senior season.


Early enrollee tight end Timmy Lawson speaks at a press conference on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024 at the Kenan Football Center and Hall of Honor.


The 4-star prospect is thankful he can still grow his football knowledge, even with his mobility being limited. The opportunity to learn from veterans like graduate John Copenhaver and senior Bryson Nesbit is a blessing that both first-years acknowledged. 

“You got a lot of people to learn from, you got a lot of people to watch and kind of emulate when you’re in the locker room,” Lawson said. “So it’s really nice having those guys around and their super cool guys, so it’s fun to be in that tight end room.”

Coaching connections

A common thread among all players was their respective relationships with the UNC coaching staff. Regardless of position, each player expressed how easy the transition from high school to college has been because of their coaches. 

First-year offensive linemen Desmond Jackson, Aidan Banfield, Luke Masterson, Andrew Rosinski and Jani Norwood have already built a great bond with offensive line coordinator Randy Clements.

“The first thing that stood out when I came here was the relationships I was able to build with my coaches,” Jackson said. “They were always great people during the recruiting process. I felt like I was comfortable just talking to them."

Early enrollee offensive lineman Desmond Jackson poses for a portrait at a press conference on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024 at the Kenan Football Center and Hall of Honor.


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First-year Michael Merdinger, a quarterback coming from Cardinal Gibbons High School in Raleigh, also echoed praise for his coaches. The 3-star prospect first built a relationship with his staff as a backup in high school. During his junior season, Merdinger met offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey in the bathroom of his team’s locker room.


Early enrollee quarterback Michael Merdinger poses for a portrait at a press conference on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024 at the Kenan Football Center and Hall of Honor.


But Lindsey — recruiting for UCF at the time — was not there to scout Merdinger. He was interested in seeing senior starter Dylan Rizk. However, while visiting Rizk at Cardinal Gibbons, Lindsey was impressed with Merdinger’s talent and later recruited the quarterback after a breakout senior season.

“The whole process with him was super bottom line, super upfront and honest,” Merdinger said. “It’s really what I wanted.” 

High school smack talk

Highlighting the skill positions are running back Davion Gause and a trio of homegrown North Carolinian wide receivers: Jordan Shipp, Alex Taylor and Javarius ‘Vari’ Green.

In middle school, Gause was given the nickname ‘Bullet’ by a coach who admired his hard-hitting ability. Fast forward to today, and the South Florida native’s physicality is considered one of his best attributes.

Early enrollee running back Davion Gause speaks at a press conference on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024 at the Kenan Football Center and Hall of Honor.


Whether it is breaking through the line of scrimmage or being a menace in pass protection, Gause does not shy away from big hits. But according to him, his greatest skill as a back is his patience.

“You gotta let the blocks develop,” Gause explained. “Sometimes the linebackers might over-pursue you, and you gotta have a cutback.”

As for the wideouts, UNC recruited a talented bunch from the Tar Heel state, which allowed familiarity to bond the competitive pass catchers.

Although none of the three played each other’s high school teams, Taylor and Shipp did compete in 7-on-7s over the summer. Green said this fuels constant trash talk about the high school glory days.

“We hear it every day up in the cafe, always talking about ‘Oh, my high school would have beat yours,'" Green said. “We hear it every day, but you never really know.” 

@cadeshoemaker23

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com