TarHeelIllustrated - Grimes Shows Brown Gratitude, But It Goes Both Ways
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Grimes Shows Brown Gratitude, But It Goes Both Ways

Tony Grimes unexpectedly had his freshman season at UNC this fall, so Monday he thanked his coach for the experience.
Tony Grimes unexpectedly had his freshman season at UNC this fall, so Monday he thanked his coach for the experience. (USA Today)

CHAPEL HILL – When Tony Grimes announced his commitment to play football at North Carolina on June 30 last summer, the thinking was he had a chance at getting on the field 13 months later when fall camp for his freshman season was slated to begin.

A planned early enrollee for January, Grimes would have spring practice to learn the ropes and seven months of conditioning at Carolina to aid in that quest. But it didn’t work out that way.

Instead, with Virginia postponing its high school season until the spring, Grimes and his family worked out another plan. With just one academic credit left to technically graduate, Grimes got to work and made it happen, and five weeks after committing, he was officially a Tar Heel. In pads, at practice and getting that grind going a full year ahead of schedule.

Now, 187 days after telling Mack Brown he would play for him, Grimes reached out to his head coach to thank him for a rewarding and successful freshman season. One that essentially came unexpectedly but was quite productive.

Grimes, the should-be-senior, is one of UNC’s starting cornerbacks, and last Saturday night in the Orange Bowl, he graded out a team-best 77.9, according to PFF. On Monday, he called Brown.

“Tony Grimes, who called me this morning by the way, out of the blue to thank me for him having such a wonderful experience in, he called it his, ‘freshman year,’” Brown said during a press conference later that afternoon. “I said, 't’s really your senior in high school year. I guess we've got to quit calling you that now. You'll be an 18-year-old sophomore here in a couple of weeks.’”

Grimes' play in the Orange Bowl had him and the rest of the Heels excited.
Grimes' play in the Orange Bowl had him and the rest of the Heels excited. (USA Today)

Grimes started UNC’s last four games, three of which were against teams ranked in the top-10 at the time: No. 2 Notre Dame; No. 10 Miami and this past weekend versus No. 5 Texas A&M. For the season, he saw action in 11 of UNC’s 12 games paying 317 snaps on defense. His season grade: 68.4.

“He covers the guys like a blanket,” Brown said. “The corner blitz that he made to run (Texas A&M quarterback Kellen) Mond down from behind was a freakish play. So, I think we're seeing one of the great corners, potentially, in this country moving forward.

“He's going to be fun to watch this spring and he's gained maybe 20 pounds already and he's getting some strength… and not only put him on a college team, having to handle COVID, new roommates, a preseason that he didn't know he was going to have till probably late summer. And here he is, being one of the bright spots moving forward for our team.”

The course of Grimes’ season changed during Carolina’s 59-53 victory over Wake Forest on Nov. 14.

Sam Howell and the Tar Heels’ offense had stalled some while the defense was having its worst day since Brown returned to Chapel Hill and the Tar Heels trailed 45-24 in the third quarter. So defensive coordinator Jay Batement went to a youth movement, inserting true freshman Ja’Quarious Conley in at nickel and Grimes at one of the corners for the game’s final 29 plays.

Everything changed for Grimes (20) and UNC's defense late in the Wake game.
Everything changed for Grimes (20) and UNC's defense late in the Wake game. (Jacob Turner, THI)

Over Wake’s next five possessions, the Demon Deacons ran 18 offensive plays gaining just 29 yards. Five straight possessions without a point. In the meantime, UNC’s offense scored 35 consecutive points. One fed off the other and the Heels earned what was a crucial win at the time and looking back.

Other true freshmen Myles Murphy, Kaimon Rucker, Desmond Evans and Clyde Pinder also saw their playing time increase. But for Grimes, the kid who was supposed to still be in high school, it was a seminal moment.

He took over one of Carolina’s corner spots that day and won’t let go until he’s off to the NFL. But that will have to wait a couple more years. Grimes still has some developing and learning to do, and soon will have his buddies from UNC’s class of 2021 around.

That’s Grimes’ class. He was a 5-star and one of the top players in the nation in the class, and on Jan. 16, 12 members of the 18-player class – with Grimes it would be 19 players – will be in Chapel Hill as early enrollees.

“He's so excited about his signing class coming in,” Brown said. “He doesn't have a signing class. He came by himself. So, he's already got his roommate set up. He'll be here when those guys come in on the 16th because he can't wait to see them.”

Fourteen tackles, one sack, 3 PBUs, one interception, a QB hurry and stabilizing one of the all-important corner spots. That was Grimes’ introductory season to college football. And as grateful as the Virginia Beach native is to Brown, rest assured the Hall of Fame coach shares the same thoughts toward Grimes.