From quarterback to linebacker: UNC’s Chazz Surratt experiences success in first game

Former UNC QB Chazz Surratt reflects on his first game at linebacker

Former UNC quarterback Chazz Surratt converted to linebacker in the spring. He played in his first game on Saturday and led the team with 12 tackles.
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Former UNC quarterback Chazz Surratt converted to linebacker in the spring. He played in his first game on Saturday and led the team with 12 tackles.

Before playing in his first ever college game at linebacker, Chazz Surratt prepared just as he’s always done.

The 6-3, 230-pound redshirt junior stretched with the training staff, and after he said he walked onto the field, he took in the scene and tried to focus. He pictured what might happen in the game, and imagined what it would be like to be successful. And he remembered some of the tips his coaches and teammates gave him about the formations they would run.

Consider this:

It was about this time last year that Surratt was playing quarterback for the Tar Heels. He was preparing to take big hits, instead of dishing them out. He was preparing to run from defenders. Now he’s one of them.

“You know, a lot of people questioned if I could play or not,” Surratt said Saturday night. “So that was definitely on my mind, a little chip on my shoulder just to show I could go out there and play at this level.”

In North Carolina’s 24-20 win over South Carolina, Surratt showed he belonged.

He recorded the first tackle of the game and finished with a team-high 12 tackles, a sack, and a pass breakup. He narrowly missed recording a sack on the first possession of the game, but South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley managed to break free from his grasp.

Surratt expected to get playing time coming out of training camp. But he made the start Saturday after UNC senior linebacker Dominique Ross was suspended for the game. Ross was suspended for the first half for a fight he was involved in last year’s season-finale against N.C. State, and was held out of the second half for violating team rules.

Surratt didn’t miss a beat, though. He and the UNC defense held South Carolina in check for 270 yards, the fewest yards the Tar Heels had allowed in a game since 2016.

Surratt’s biggest play came on second-and-8 with three minutes remaining in the game and the Tar Heels leading 24-20. Surratt rushed Bentley and forced him to make an errant throw. The pass was intercepted by UNC junior safety Myles Wolfolk.

North Carolina linebacker Chazz Surratt (21) pressures South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley (19), forcing him to throw an interception in the fourth quarter at Bank of America Stadium on Saturday, August 31, 2019 in Charlotte, N.C. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

Surratt’s play had both his teammates and coaches impressed.

“He’s probably made the smoothest transition I’ve ever seen,” UNC senior safety Myles Dorn said. “And he’s already fast individually. Physical. Once he puts it together, the sky is the limit for him.”

UNC defensive coordinator Jay Bateman said the game was moving a little fast for Surratt at first, but once he settled into the game, he played “really well.”

Playing linebacker wasn’t totally foreign for Surratt. He played it some in high school at East Lincoln in Denver, N.C., as well.

Surratt, who is 15 pounds heavier than he was last season, made the decision to convert from quarterback to linebacker after a disappointing 2018 season. He was one of a nine players suspended for three games in 2018 for selling team-issued sneakers. And when he returned to the field for the first time against Miami on Sept. 27, 2018, the game did not go as expected.

He ran for 69 yards and a touchdown, but threw three interceptions. On the final interception, he injured a ligament in his right (non-throwing) wrist attempting to stop a Hurricanes defender from scoring a touchdown.

Miami’s Joe Jackson (99) forces a fumble and sacks North Carolina quarterback Chazz Surratt (12) in the second quarter on Thursday, September 27, 2018 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

That night, Miami beat UNC 47-10. It was an embarrassing defeat on national television for the Tar Heels, which went on to finish the season 2-9.

Nearly a year later, the two teams will play again, this time in Chapel Hill, on the ACC Network at 8 p.m. Saturday. It will be UNC’s home-opener, and on Tuesday, the school announced tickets were sold out.

With Ross returning to the field against Miami, Surratt likely won’t start against the Hurricanes. But he is expected to see a lot of action, as the Tar Heels try to slow Hurricanes running back DeeJay Dallas, who had 94 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries against Florida.

“We have some packages with all of three of them in the game,” Bateman said of the inside linebackers. “So there’s a lot of things we’re going to be able to expand upon once Dominique is back.”

Having Surratt play well seems to be a plus.

“We’re excited about him, moving forward,” Bateman said.

Injury news

North Carolina could be without two defensive backs against Miami.

UNC sophomore defensive back Trey Morrison, who suffered a concussion after making a tackle in the first quarter of last week’s game against South Carolina, practiced Wednesday morning. However, he is still questionable for the game against Miami.

UNC sophomore Tre Shaw, who suffered a lower body injury last week, is also questionable.

The Tar Heels will have freshman Cam Kelly available. Kelly, who transferred from Auburn in the spring, will likely play safety, UNC coach Mack Brown said on Monday.

ACC players of the week

UNC senior offensive lineman Charlie Heck won ACC offensive lineman of the week honors. He had a key fumble recovery that extended a drive and led to a field goal.

Wolfolk, the junior safety, won ACC defensive back of the week, for his two fourth-quarter interceptions against South Carolina.

And UNC freshman Sam Howell won ACC rookie of the week for his 245 yards passing and two-touchdown performance.

Miami at UNC

When: 8 p.m., Saturday

Where: Kenan Stadium, Chapel Hill

Watch: ACC Network

Listen: WTKK-106.1 Raleigh; WCHL-97.9, WCHL-1360 Chapel Hill; WBT-99.3, WBT-1110 Charlotte

Jonathan M. Alexander has been covering the North Carolina Tar Heels since May 2018. He previously covered Duke basketball and recruiting in the ACC. He is an alumnus of N.C. Central University.
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