“I love you no matter what, man.”
Those were the last words I said to Nick Weiler, our kicker, before he trotted out for his game-winning, 54-yard field goal against Florida State earlier this season. We all believed in Nick, and not just because he had been kicking beauties all year. He’s a great teammate. Whenever I threw a bad pick or made a mistake this season, he was always one of the first people to have my back. He’s also a sincere person, which is emblematic of our entire team. Everybody genuinely cares about the brothers they line up next to. The relationships we have run much deeper than wins and losses, and they make winning that much better.
Up until that point, it had been a wild game. I don’t think anyone expected our team to be competitive against the No. 12 team in the nation. Except for us. We knew we could go into Doak Campbell and grind out a win. Down 35–34 with just four seconds left, we had more confidence than anybody knew. We had battled to get to that point.
As I knelt on the sidelines, repeating a prayer in my head and gripping the hand of wideout Ryan Switzer (who was having a monster day with 158 receiving yards), I literally felt 77,000 fans shaking the stadium with their voices. I looked over at Switz — his face as calm as ever — then back to Nick near midfield. I kept repeating the same thing in my head:
This has to happen. This kick’s gotta go in.
The snap was good. The kick was gorgeous. As the stadium fell silent, our sideline erupted. We chased Nick around the field. I tried to soak in the moment because I knew, one day, that it was all going to come to an end.
After a lot of prayer and thought, I have decided to forgo my senior year and enter the NFL draft. This has been the most difficult decision I’ve ever had to make. But no matter what happens next, I know I’ll never experience something as special as being a Tar Heel.
Back when I was trying to decide where to go to college, I asked myself a simple question: If I took football out of the equation, where would I want to go to school?
This is where I always wanted to be.
Like a lot of freshmen, my first few days on campus were a little rough. I’ll admit I was homesick. But a week or so into my first semester, things started to change. And it was all because of a couple of guys I had met on the football team. Their names were Jordan Fieulleteau, Khris Francis and Ryan Switzer. They happened to be my roommates. What I didn’t know at the time was that they’d also become my best friends.
I experienced a lot of great memories on the field during my four years at North Carolina, but I think what I’ll miss the most are the nights we spent sitting in the common area of our dorm, talking football, playing video games and cracking jokes until the sun came up.
I’ll never forget how nervous we were before our first Blue Dawn — those mornings during spring practice when we would watch film at 5:15 a.m. and then go out for practice 45 minutes later — and how we woke up to snow on the ground and realized how brutal it was going to be. I’ll never forget our conversations about wanting to leave a mark on this program. Heck, I’ll never forget giving Switz grief for always putting up a Christmas tree and decorating our entire dorm with lights. (It looked good, bro, we promise.)
For me, I’m going to miss that sense of brotherhood the most, because I know I would not have been nearly the same caliber player or person without it. There are a lot of things about playing at the next level that excite me, but my decision to forgo my senior season was one that I agonized over because it really killed me to know that I wouldn’t be suiting up with everybody in Carolina blue any longer. Being a part of the UNC GunClub — what the UNC quarterbacks call our position group — was nothing short of awesome. It was an honor being a part of that group and constantly challenging ourselves to improve. It’s pretty cool to be able to say that I’ll be a member of the GunClub for the rest of my life.
I want to say thank you to every single coach I’ve ever had, from my dad when I was just seven years old and I got excited every time I made the ball spiral, to Coach Fedora and his staff, who improved my skills and pushed me to a higher level as a player. My high school coaches played a huge role in my development as a quarterback. I’m lucky to have had them by my side, because they really set the groundwork for my confidence as a football player. It’s hard to get very far without the right mentors. To all of you: Thanks for being my guiding lights for so many years.
And to the UNC training staff and strength staff, and particularly to Coach Heckendorf, our quarterbacks coach: Thank you for trusting me and believing in me. I’ve developed into the quarterback I am because of you. (And a special shout-out to Coach Heck and his incredible wife, Ms. Mia — another amazing source of support and inspiration — for having twins this year. You better believe Uncle Mitch is gonna come back to Chapel Hill as soon as I can to see those boys!)
And finally, to the fans and my fellow students: Playing in front of you guys was a dream come true. You have made me smile and picked me up when I needed it the most. I’ll never forget how much you’ve done for me. We’re family. I’m proud to be associated with you.
The people at UNC will always be close to my heart for how they molded me into the young man I am today. But I would never have had such an amazing opportunity if it hadn’t been for my parents. From an early age, they challenged me and my brothers Manning and Mason and sister, Mariah, to work hard, and to value family, friends and faith. (We grew up in the great town of Mentor, Ohio, which is a place I’ll always return to — I have to thank everybody there for helping me along this journey.) Throughout my football career, my parents have supported me in invaluable ways by coming to all my games. Everything I do is for them. My goal has always been to make them proud.
Going to the NFL has been my goal ever since I was a little boy. And now that I have that chance, I’m incredibly excited.
I don’t know where I’ll end up or what’s in store for me. But I’m going to tell Tar Heel Nation the same thing I told Nick just before he kicked the game-winning field goal:
No matter what happens, I love you guys.
Thank you for the greatest experience of my life. God bless.
Number 10 for the Tar Heels,