Each year the question is asked to North Carolina football coach Larry Fedora: Who is leading the quarterback competition?
And each year the answer is the same.
He’s not telling. That’s how Fedora is. He’s isn’t interested in tipping off his opponents. Even then, it’s likely unclear. Its only April, and there are still four months until the regular season starts.
The Tar Heels will have their final spring practice on Monday. Heading into the offseason, the biggest question is who Fedora should go with at quarterback.
Redshirt sophomore Chazz Surratt or junior Nathan Elliott.
Both quarterbacks played last season. Surratt, who is 6-3 and 215 pounds, started in seven games last season. He missed three games after suffering an undisclosed injury in UNC's Oct. 28 game against Miami. He took a hard hit late in the first quarter of that game. He finished the season having completed 58.5 percent of his passes, with eight touchdowns to only three interceptions. His record in games he started was 1-6.
Elliott, who is 6-1, 215 pounds, started the final three games of last season after Surratt's injury. He completed 51.4 percent of his passes, and recorded 10 touchdowns and five interceptions. He also won two of the three games he started in, including a 65-10 win over Western Carolina.
The Tar Heels finished 3-9 in 2017, a big dip from its previous two seasons when it finished 11-3 in 2015 and 8-5 in 2016. UNC experimented with three different quarterbacks last season, two of which had very limited experience.
But this year is supposed to be different. Having two quarterbacks with game experience is a big improvement for UNC, and a good problem for Fedora to have when deciding who will start. In trying to find the right quarterback, though, Fedora said he’s looking for one to separate from the other.
“They’ve got to be able to lead the football team,” Fedora said. “So they’ve got to be able to influence the guys around them and raise the level of the players around them, and hold themselves to a high standard.”
That’s something Surratt said he has been working on this offseason. He’s trying to be more of a vocal leader and talk more. Last year, he struggled with that, he said. He wasn’t used to talking when he played at East Lincoln High School in Denver, about 21 miles northwest of Charlotte.
“In high school we didn’t really have to talk a lot because we were always winning by 50 points,” Surratt said.
There were some low points for Surratt last season, including UNC's 33-10 loss at home game against Notre Dame on Oct. 7 when he had 17 pass completions on 42 attempts. He had a 14.2 quarterback rating (QBR). He would sometimes get down on himself. He wasn't used to losing. But UNC’s coaches have told him that how he responds to the low points will define him.
“I’ve got to be more open and help everybody out, not just look at myself,” Surratt said. “Try to be a leader for our team when things aren’t going good. That’s really been a focus for me in the spring.”
Elliott said he feels more confident this spring than he did a year ago. He said having game reps has helped slow down the game for him.
“You really can’t mimic game reps,” Elliott said, “so the confidence in that has really helped me this year.”
Elliott said he’s been working on and will continue in the summer to work on throwing the deep ball.
“I feel like I can really get a lot better there,” Elliott said. “Just to help back defenses off a little more.”
UNC will not have a spring game this season. Fedora said his team will scrimmage instead. He expects the team to get twice as many plays as the spring game.
“Both of them want that position, so both of them are competing every single day in every aspect,” Fedora said. “In the film room, in the dining hall. I don’t mean they’re eating, I’m talking about the way they are around their teammates. “You’re competing on how you lead and how your teammates respond to you.
"That’s part of the competition.”