North Carolina might be best known for its college basketball. And for good reason.
But it’s also produced its share of top football talent over the years, a fact validated by recent inductions into the College Football Hall of Fame.
At least one player or coach from a state school has been included in each of the past five and seven of the last eight classes elected into the shrine that is now located in downtown Atlanta. It’s a group that consists of North Carolina’s Mack Brown, William Fuller and Dre Bly, NC State’s Torry Holt, Ted Brown and Dick Sheridan, former Duke coach Steve Spurrier and Appalachian State’s Jerry Moore.
There’s a good chance North Carolina’s Hall of Fame streak will continue this year, with six nominees with state ties on the 2021 ballot that was announced last week.
The most likely candidate for election is former UNC and Carolina Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers, who barely missed out in his first year of eligibility in 2019. Also eligible are offensive tackle Harris Barton, a fellow Tar Heel, Elon running back Bobby Hedrick, Winston-Salem State running back Timmy Newsome, Western Carolina kicker Kirk Roach and coach Clarence Stasavich, who served tenures at both East Carolina and Lenoir-Rhyne.
Clemson defensive back Donnell Woolford, a native of Fayetteville, is also on the ballot.
Here’s a look at each candidates’ credentials:
Winner of the 2001 Bednarik and Lombardi awards as the nation’s best defensive player in 2001, Peppers was a unanimous first-team All-American that junior season. He led the ACC with 15 sacks and 24 tackles for loss in 2000 and finished his career with the Tar Heels ranked second on the school’s all-time sacks list with 30.5. He also recorded 167 tackles, 53 for losses, five interceptions and five forced fumbles before becoming the second overall pick in the 2002 NFL Draft.
Recruited as a defensive lineman, Barton switched to offense during his freshman season. After a year at center, he moved to left tackle, a position at which he earned first-team All-America honors as a senior in 1986. He was also named the ACC’s most outstanding offensive lineman that season. Like Peppers, he was a first-round NFL Draft pick who enjoyed a successful professional career, winning three Super Bowls as a member of the San Francisco 49ers.
Hedrick led Elon to the first of its two straight NAIA national championships by accumulating the second-most rushing yards in college football history to that point. Only Heisman Trophy winner Tony Dorsett of Pittsburgh surpassed his career total of 5,604 yards — 196 of which came in the 1980 national title game against Northeastern Oklahoma. Hedrick was a four-time all-conference selection who twice earned small college All-America honors.
Hertford County’s entry into the North State Journal’s 100 in 100 countdown of the best athletes produced by North Carolina’s 100 counties, Newsome was a first-team small college All-American in 1978. He finished his career at Winston-Salem State as both his school’s and the CIAA’s all-time leading rusher with 3,843 yards. A three-time All-CIAA selection he led the Rams to consecutive undefeated regular seasons and CIAA titles in 1977 and 1978.
A three-time first-team All-American and a four-time first-team all-conference pick at WCU, Roach holds five FCS kicking records — field goal percentage in a season (1.000, 17 of 17), most 50-plus yard field goals in a season (seven) and career (11), longest career average field goal attempt distance (40.5), and most career games with two or more field goals (25). He also holds 18 school and 10 conference records, and he missed only one extra point in his four-year career.
Lenoir-Rhyne’s all-time winningest coach, Stasavich led the team to the 1960 NAIA National Championship, one of his three undefeated seasons at the school. He was also the 1959 NAIA National Coach of the Year. At ECU, Stasavich guided the Pirates to their most successful three-year stretch in school history, going 27-3 from 1963-65.
A two-time first-team All-American who helped Clemson to three ACC titles, he holds the Tigers school records for career pass breakups with 44. He was also a dangerous kick returner, returning two punts for touchdowns during his college career.
The 2021 ballot lists 78 players and seven coaches from the Football Bowl Subdivision, along with 99 players and 33 coaches from the NCAA’s other divisions. Voting is held among 12,000 members of the National Football Foundation and current Hall of Famers.
To be eligible for the ballot, a player must have been a first-team All-American by one of the five organizations used by the NCAA to determine the consensus All-America team: The Associated Press; the American Football Coaches Association, the Football Writers of America Association; the Sporting News; and the Walter Camp Football Foundation. Coaches must have coached a minimum of 10 years and 100 games and won at least 60 percent of their games.
The next class will be announced early next year and formally inducted in a ceremony in New York on Monday, Dec. 7, 2021.