TarHeelIllustrated - UNC Adapting To Players Hitting The Portal In-Season
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UNC Adapting To Players Hitting The Portal In-Season

Players entering the transfer portal in-season has become a way of life in college football, to which UNC has adapted.
Players entering the transfer portal in-season has become a way of life in college football, to which UNC has adapted. (USA Today)

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CHAPEL HILL – A source confirmed to THI on Monday morning about two hours before Mack Brown’s weekly press conference that junior running back Josh Henderson was entering the transfer portal.

Maybe 15 minutes later, the Rivals portal Twitter feed that tracks all entries posted the Henderson news. Henderson is the third North Carolina player to enter the portal since the Tar Heels went into their bye week following a win over Miami on Oct. 16, which shouldn’t come as a great surprise to most people who closely follow the program.

Brown said two weeks ago one of the missions during the open week was to meet with each player on the roster to discuss where they are within the program and their futures. The gain here is twofold: The program gets a leg up on roster management for next season knowing what players will still be around, and the players that choose to move on can get a head start on finding their new schools.

Once seemingly unthinkable a player would up and leave in the middle of the season, and certainly a week before making a trip to historic Notre Dame, but that is where things are now with college football, so Brown and his staff are handling it accordingly.

“We said last week we’d sit down with every young man and go over exactly where we feel like he is right now in our program, and the projections for him,” Carolina’s coach said. “Most of the guys that leave are leaving because they want to get more playing time or they want to be the featured player at their position.

“And it’s our job to be honest and tell them exactly how we feel about where they are right now and where they are moving forward.”

Khafre Brown caught just one pass this season after grabbing 15 a year ago for the Tar Heels.
Khafre Brown caught just one pass this season after grabbing 15 a year ago for the Tar Heels. (ACC Media)

Henderson came to UNC as a 4-star prospect from New Jersey, but he struggled breaking through in a crowded running backs room. His career totals – 41 carries, 209 yards, three receptions for 10 yards – show how far down he was on the depth chart. And given that UNC was looking for someone to step up into the number two role in the backfield and he had only run the ball five times this fall, perhaps the writing was on the wall for Henderson.

That said, there isn’t any ill will, at least from Brown’s perspective. College football is a sometimes-brutal business where tough love and total honesty usually rule. But instead of pushing Henderson out the door as no longer mattering, the UNC staff will help him find a landing spot.

“Josh is a great young man and he’s done everything right in this program, and I told him (Sunday) that I understand completely, and that we will help him go where he would like to go,” Brown said.

Last week, sophomore wide receiver Khafre Brown and sophomore defensive tackle Clyde Pinder also entered the portal. Brown had struggled this season catching just one pass to go with a few drops, and Pinder was well down the depth chart having played just 28 defensive snaps through the first seven contests.

UNC’s Hall of Fame coach once believed players shouldn’t be allowed to transfer until after the last game of their seasons, and they could then have a couple of months to decide. But the positive effect of players entering the portal during the season is that it helps with roster management, which has become a bear in recent years.

The NCAA gave every athlete last year back, thus not counting it against their eligibility. On top of that, there is the one-time transfer policy which allows players the freedom of leaving a school one time and not having to sit out as a transfer at the new school.

UNC snapped up Ty Chandler from the portal in January, and he's on pace for 1,000 rushing yards.
UNC snapped up Ty Chandler from the portal in January, and he's on pace for 1,000 rushing yards. (Kevin Roy/THI)

This has caused some headaches for staffs around the nation, so when a Henderson, Pinder, and Brown depart in the middle of a campaign, it gives the staff more time to adjust and plan accordingly. That is certainly better for UNC than scrambling in December or even January to fill those spots.

“If someone leaves now, you’ve got other guys that you need to get prepared to play,” Brown said. “If someone’s not completely bought in, and it helps you know at the end of the year how many scholarships you’ve got available.”

Plus: “If a guy is not totally into trying to win the game at Notre Dame, he shouldn’t be on the trip, either.”

This also effects recruiting. UNC originally set out to land a smallish class of 14 prospects, but that number has gone up some, and could increase more given recent departures and possibly more coming. Plus, the staff isn’t going to turn away certain talents. They could also use some spots to find a player in the portal that left another program, as was the case when the Heels picked up former Tennessee running back Ty Chandler last January.

That said, this likely will increase the size of UNC’s class of 2022, which currently has 15 members and ranks ninth in the nation.

“We think so,” Brown said. “We look at it every day, and we are not going to take a player that we really didn’t want and just take him because we’ve got one available, because we’ll look at the transfer portal more openly this spring, this January, than we have in the past.

“You want to see what’s available at two or three positions there that we might upgrade.”

The portal hit the UNC program quite a bit in the last week, but it could be for the better for Carolina and the players seeking new homes.