Rhode Island: Eric Ebron
(Note: THI is naming the greatest former UNC football or basketball player from each of the 50 states. The criteria is the player had to live in the state he represents at some point before arriving at UNC. The duration doesn’t matter, he just had to live there. College and pro careers were factored with a lean toward their UNC accomplishments.)
Eric Ebron was recruited to North Carolina out of Smith High School in Greensboro, NC, but he first attended North Providence (RI) High School, making him the Rhode Island representative in this series.
He was born and raised in Newark, NJ, but moved to Rhode Island for a couple of years to be near his ill grandfather. From there, Ebron moved to Greensboro.
Ebron played three seasons at UNC before leaving for the NFL. In 34 career games as a Tar Heel, he caught 112 passes for 1,805 yards (16.1 yards per reception) eight touchdowns.
As a sophomore, Ebron caught 40 passes for 625 yards and as a junior he hauled in 62 passes for 973 yards, which is an ACC single-season record for most receiving yards by a tight end, 348 more than the UNC record he set the year before.
He was named second-team All-ACC as a sophomore and first-team All-ACC as a junior along with AP second-team All-American. Ebron was also a Mackey Award finalist in 2013. In addition, three times he amassed more than 100 yards receiving in a game that fall. He also had two plays that went more than 70 yards and one that went 58.
One of Ebron’s most explosive plays of his UNC career came during the first ever Thursday night game at home for UNC, a blackout versus Miami. Ebron scored on a 71-yard pass play from Marquise Williams en route to his career-best 199-yard performance. Ebron never missed an opportunity to boast, but he also took losing hard, especially so that night.
“This is a family, and I feel like I played one of the best games a tight end could ever play,” he said, after the game in which the Tar Heels lost, 27-23. “But for my family and for my teammates, I still feel like I could’ve done something better or I let them down. We came up short, and I don’t plan on doing that anymore.”
Former UNC Coach Larry Fedora gushed with praise any time Ebron’s name came up, even a few years after he’d played his last game as a Tar Heel.
“Eric, when we got here, we realized that he was going to be a pretty special talent…,” Fedora said in 2016. “He’s a big-bodied guy that is very, very skilled, very talented. He can run routes like a wide receiver. He obviously can catch the ball like a wide receiver.
“He is the best pass-catching tight end that I’ve had, when you combine his body control, his ability to focus on the ball and his speed, because the guy can really run. He can run away from people.”
Ebron agreed with Fedora, and before the 2013 season told the Raleigh News & Observer that guys his size with his speed should be “illegal.”
Ebron was the No. 10 overall pick in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft. In five seasons, four with the Detroit Lions and last fall with the Indianapolis Colts, Ebron has caught 252 passes for 2,820 yards (11.2 average) with 24 touchdowns.
In four playoff games, he’s caught 13 passes for 121 yards and a touchdown. He made the Pro Bowl in 2018.