CHAPEL HILL — Torn between two rival college football programs, Chazz Surratt decided to follow his heart rather than his head.
That’s why he’ll be wearing the lighter shade of blue on Saturday when he starts for North Carolina against Duke at Kenan Stadium in their annual battle for the Victory Bell.
Surratt, Parade Magazine’s national prep Player of the Year as a senior at East Lincoln High School, originally committed to play for the Blue Devils.
It was a decision he made for all the right reasons, including coach David Cutcliffe’s history of developing successful quarterbacks. But as a lifelong UNC fan, the fit just didn’t feel right. So he flipped his commitment and became a member of the Tar Heels.
“The biggest thing was that in my heart, I felt like I wanted to end up at Carolina,” Surratt said earlier this week. “Ultimately that’s where my heart was going. I loved it every time I visited. I built a relationship with (quarterbacks coach Keith Heckendorf) when I was a freshman in high school. Those were two big things.”
Surratt committed to Duke in April 2015, but almost immediately began to give off vibes that he still might not be sure if that’s where he wanted to go.
UNC’s Larry Fedora sensed it and asked the young player and his family if it was okay to keep pursuing him.
“We just felt like if they want us to continue to recruit them we would and they said they would,” the Tar Heels coach said. “So we continued to do that and eventually this is where he decided he wanted to be.”
Though his decision to flip to UNC was a disappointment to Cutcliffe, it didn’t come as a complete surprise.
“Sometimes you can just tell it doesn’t sit completely well with young people,” the Duke coach said. “In football, we all know more and more it’s gotten earlier and earlier, so you’re going to see that from time to time. He obviously made a decision that he’s very happy with, ended up where he wanted to be.”
For all the effort Fedora and Heckendorf put into helping Surratt change his mind, it was a phone call from another — even higher profile — UNC coach that may have been the clincher in winning the highly coveted quarterback over in June 2015.
Roy Williams promised Surratt, who is also an accomplished basketball player, a spot on his roster if he joined the Tar Heels.
If Mitch Trubisky hadn’t left a year earlier than expected for the NFL draft, Surratt would have been a reserve on UNC’s national championship team. But because the timetable for his development was accelerated by Trubisky’s departure, he decided to attend spring practice and concentrate on football.
He won the starting job in a four-way competition with sophomore Nathan Elliott, fellow redshirt freshman Logan Byrd and graduate transfer Brandon Harris during preseason camp. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound left-hander has improved with each game he’s played, completing 69.7 percent of his passes for 588 yards and four touchdowns. He has yet to be intercepted in 66 career attempts.
“He was important to us,” Fedora said. “He was the guy that we had picked from within the state that we felt could help us win a championship. So, especially at that position, when you have one in the state, you’ve got to find a way to get him.”
While the Tar Heels got the quarterback they wanted, Duke didn’t exactly get left out in the cold. The Blue Devils ended up with Daniel Jones, who threw for 2,836 yards and 16 touchdowns as a freshman last season and has been even better through the first three games this year.
Because of the circumstances that led to both getting their current jobs, the head-to-head competition between Surratt and Jones on Saturday will undoubtedly be closely watched and highly scrutinized — even though their surrounding casts are vastly different.
But that doesn’t mean the young Tar Heel quarterback will feel as though he has anything to prove in his first game against a group of players that were almost his teammates.
“I don’t think there’s any extra pressure,” he said. “Every game comes with pressure. I try not to think about the outside story lines coming into the game. I just prepare myself for the game.”
Although the circumstances surrounding Surratt’s recruitment will only enhance an already heated rivalry, it isn’t likely to elicit any ill will.
The youngster said he still has “a lot of respect” for Cutcliffe and his program and would have played with the same amount or pride had he gone to Duke as he does every time he pulls on his current jersey in the lighter shade of blue.
As for Cutcliffe, the sting of missing out on a top recruit has long since worn off.
“You don’t ever worry about the ones you don’t get,” the Blue Devils coach said. “There are too many things that you can do to help the ones you do get. The ones you do get, you’re with them every day for the next four or five years. The ones that go somewhere else, one day a year you’re dealing with having to compete against them.”
In the case of Surratt, that day is Saturday.
“I’m an old bass fisherman. You’ll never hear me talk about the one that got away,” Cutcliffe said. “Rarely, though, with this bass fisherman, when I really set the hook do they get away.”