Chapel Hill, North Carolina North Carolina has chosen its starting quarterback after a game that lasted from the start of Spring Ball to the end of Fall Practice.
Head coach Mack Brown announced Monday morning that freshman Drake Maye will center Saturday night (8:15 PM, ACC Network) for Tar Heels’ opener against Florida A&M.
“Drak has earned the right,” Brown said.
Maye and sophomore Jacolby Criswell compete for the top job as UNC plans to replace three-year-old starter Sam Howell, who left for the NFL. Brown is entering his fourth season in his second stint as head coach of the Tar Heels.
Brown said he has confidence in both quarterbacks. Brown said the decision was very close, but would not reveal details as to why Maye deserved the job.
“All that matters is who we think gives us the best chance of winning right now,” said Brown, who has had a 6-7 season. “Nothing else matters.”
Brown said both quarterbacks could play against the Rattlers on Saturday. He even said, after Maye’s announcement, that the competition could expand into this week’s training sessions.
“If one quarterback doesn’t move the ball, we put the other one in,” said Brown. “We’ve done that in the past. We just don’t have a plan other than, you score touchdowns, you stay in. You’re not, then – it’s not going to be a three-and-a-half and we’re jerking you off, we’re going to give everyone a give it a chance – but if you don’t, give the other a chance.”
Offensive coordinator and quarterback coach Phil Longo said the quarterback’s decision was made over the weekend and that he spoke to Maye and the quarterback’s father Sunday night and Criswell Monday morning. He, too, left open the possibility of playing both quarterbacks.
“Drake goes on the field first and then we let the game determine what we do,” said Longo, calling it a very difficult decision.
Maye’s family has deep ties to UNC and Tar Heel athletics. His father, Mark, started as a quarterback in 1986 and 1987 and led the Tar Heels in total offense in both years. His brother, Luke, was a basketball star in late 2010. His mother, Aimee, went to UNC. His brother, Beau, is currently enrolled. His brother, Cole, won an NCAA baseball title in Florida.
Maye, 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, appeared in four games in 2021. He went 7-for-10 and passed 89 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed six times for 62 yards. Most of his action came in the Tar Heels’ win against Wofford, a game started by Criswell.
Longo said Maye was working on cleaning up his footwork to become a more accurate passer.
Criswell, 6-foot-1 and 225 pounds, played in 10 games in his first two seasons with the Tar Heels. He has completed 16-of-25 passes for 195 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He also rushed 16 times for 94 yards and one touchdown.
“We have two very, very good quarterbacks and both have been impressive in the spring and pre-season,” Brown said. “And we’re excited about both of their futures.”
The Tar Heels lost two projected starters to injury in the preseason. Running back British Brooks is out for the season and wide receiver Antoine Green is expected to miss up to two months.
Howell was drafted in the fifth round of the NFL Draft by the Washington Commanders.
UNC went 6-7 in 2021 and all six wins came home. Florida A&M, which plays in the Football Championship subdivision, went 9-3 in 2021.