Twists, turns lead linebacker Ty Linton from UNC to NC State

jgiglio@newsobserver.comJuly 18, 2014 

  • Mutual understanding?

    Few athletes have gone from North Carolina to N.C. State, or vice versa. After checking with both schools, and crowd-sourcing Twitter, here are three examples that precede Ty Linton’s move from UNC to N.C. State:

    1991: Heath Woods, an offensive tackle, transfers from UNC to N.C. State to join his twin brother, Scott, on the Wolfpack’s football team. Woods redshirted during the 1990 season at UNC and then was teammates with his brother in 1993 and ’94 at N.C. State.

    1945: Horace “Bones” McKinney returns from World War II and plays one season of basketball at UNC. McKinney, who would later coach at Wake Forest, played two seasons at State before the war.

    1905: Oliver Max Gardner goes to law school at UNC and plays football for the Tar Heels, after playing football and graduating from N.C. State. Gardner served as the Governor of North Carolina from 1929 to ’33.

— Forgive Ty Linton for his indecisiveness when it comes to choosing sides between North Carolina and N.C. State.

Linton, a 23-year-old freshman linebacker on N.C. State’s football team, loves both blue and red.

Is that even possible?

Linton thinks so.

Even a setback – in part caused by UNC – hasn’t soured Linton on the school he grew up in Charlotte cheering for and the one he committed to in 2010.

“I will always have love for that school,” Linton says of UNC.

So why, after a four-year detour in minor-league baseball, is Linton at N.C. State?

“You’ve got to do what’s best for you,” Linton said. “Overall academically, I thought N.C. State was the best situation for me.

“And with football, I know coach (Dave) Doeren, and there was a chance to play right away.”

The decision to go to N.C. State – he enrolled in January – cost Linton a year of eligibility.

Since he took summer school classes at UNC in 2010 before going to play pro baseball, the ACC considers him an intra-conference transfer.

As such, he can’t be on scholarship this year, and he loses a year of eligibility. (He is not eligible to play college baseball.) He will be a sophomore when he’s eligible in the 2015 football season. Or in NCAA vernacular, he has four years to play three, instead of five to play four.

Signing bonus changed direction

The lack of scholarship is not a problem for Linton, but it gets into the complexity of his story. There is so much to it, it’s easier to start at the beginning.

Linton was a gifted outfielder and hitter for Charlotte Christian’s baseball team in the late 2000s. He also was an outstanding linebacker and running back for the Knights’ football team.

In 2010, the Arizona Diamondbacks drafted him in the 14th round. Former UNC football coach Butch Davis recruited Linton, who was ranked among the top 30 players in the state by Rivals, to play linebacker for the Tar Heels.

Linton reminded Davis of former Miami Hurricanes and Charlotte Panthers linebacker Dan Morgan.

Linton planned on playing both sports at UNC. He enrolled in summer school and participated in some offseason drills with the football team.

At the draft signing deadline, the Diamondbacks changed Linton’s plan with a seven-figure offer. The major league team dangled first-round money in front of its 14th-round pick.

The $1.25 million signing bonus, plus a fallback provision to pay for his college tuition, was too much for Linton to turn down.

Minor league struggles

The Diamondbacks started Linton in rookie ball in Missoula, Mont., in the Pioneer League.

His baseball career got off to a slow start. The Diamondbacks wanted Linton, who is 6-2, 235 pounds, to lose some of his football weight and work on his flexibility.

Instead of riding the bus in the minors, Linton got a dose of plyometrics. He only played one game for the Osprey in 2010.

The next season lasted 39 games, with Linton hitting .257, but it was cut short by an elbow injury.

In 2012, Linton played 42 games for Missoula and hit four home runs but tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.

Instead of moving Linton up the minor league ladder, the Diamondbacks shuttled him back to Hillsboro (Ore.) in the Northwest League in 2013 before he was released.

Linton considered trying to kick around an independent league, but his father, Jim, had reminded him about the clause in his contract with Arizona. The Diamondbacks would pay up $80,000 in education expenses for Linton, if he started within two years of his release.

“Baseball didn’t work out the way we wanted it,” Jim Linton said. “Even after it ended, we really weren’t thinking, ‘Let’s play football.’ 

UNC? Not this time

But Linton wasn’t ready to walk away. Last fall, Appalachian State was recruiting Linton’s younger brother Trey, a receiver at Charlotte Christian.

Linton talked with the coaches at Appalachian State and started the process of possibly playing football there.

One problem: When Appalachian State checked with UNC for Linton’s academic paperwork, the possibility of Linton going back to UNC popped up on UNC’s radar.

Since he wouldn’t count toward the scholarship total, Linton became an attractive option for UNC, which has been dealing with scholarship reductions from NCAA violations committed under Davis.

Linton then started thinking about playing for current coach Larry Fedora and the Tar Heels. He got two other phone calls in the interim. One from Bo Hines, a standout receiver at Charlotte Christian and then-recruit for N.C. State, and one from Doeren, who recruited Linton out of high school while an assistant at Wisconsin.

“N.C. State felt like home to me,” Linton said. “With Bo there and a coach I know there, it felt like the right thing to do.”

To the surprise of some former UNC teammates, Linton enrolled at N.C. State in January.

Linton was only at UNC a short time but developed friendships with some players, including former quarterback Bryn Renner and safety Matt Merletti, and kept tabs on the Tar Heels while in the minors.

“I would have loved for him to be a Tar Heel,” Merletti said, “but ultimately Ty has to do what is best for him. I can’t fault him for that.”

Linton, who was playing the weakside linebacker position, went through four weeks of spring practice with the Wolfpack, which needs help at linebacker.

There was rust, to be sure, Doeren said, but the natural talent was evident.

“He’s very aggressive and he can run,” Doeren said. “He was getting better; it was just a matter of reps.”

Then the Saturday before the spring game, Linton tore the ACL in his left knee again during a pass coverage drill.

“I feel like I’ll make a full recovery, and I’ll be fine,” Linton said. “It just stinks. It’s not really the way you want to start things off at a new school.”

Transfer pits UNC vs. N.C. State

After the injury and missing the spring game, Linton and N.C. State got word from the ACC in May that Linton would lose the season of eligibility per the conference’s transfer rules.

On Linton’s behalf, N.C. State appealed his case to the ACC’s Faculty Athletic Representatives. A two-thirds vote by the FARs would have given Linton the extra year of eligibility.

N.C. State made its case, arguing Linton had committed to UNC under a different coach and that was four years ago, and he never played for the Tar Heels.

To the disappointment of Linton, UNC made a case against Linton getting the waiver to N.C. State.

Linton’s father said he and his son knew going in to the ACC process that getting the waiver was a 50-50 proposition, but “we didn’t know the severity of the challenge would be there from Carolina.”

Jim Linton said his son might have had a better chance going to a different school, but “because it was Carolina and N.C. State, that’s the way it is.”

“That was really bizarre,” Jim Linton said. “Instead of ruling for a kid, (the ACC) ruled for a rule.”

Doeren said he had hoped Linton would not lose the year of eligibility because he was not a “traditional case,” and “that was not why the rule was written.”

Through team spokesman Kevin Best, Fedora declined to comment about Linton’s case. Best did say that UNC made its argument to uphold the conference rule, not specifically against Linton.

In end, it worked out

As for Linton, he doesn’t hold any grudges against UNC. He has come to grips with the ACC’s decision.

“You never want to be hurt, but it does help matters out that I know I would have to sit out regardless,” Linton said.

Linton will lose a year, but there’s still a chance one dream he never thought could happen could come true.

Linton’s brother, a senior at Charlotte Christian, has drawn the interest of the Wolfpack. Trey Linton will actually play in the slot receiver spot where Hines did at Charlotte Christian.

Just the chance of being on the same team as his brother – who is also an exceptional lacrosse player – makes all that has happened easier to take for Linton.

And after all he has been through, Linton still has faith it will all work out.

“God always has a plan,” Linton said. “We’ll see what happens.”

Giglio: 919-829-8938

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