UNC football secondary adds strength via transfer portal

North Carolina’s Javonte Williams (25) turns the corner on Virginia Tech’s Armani Chatman (27) in the third quarter on Saturday, October 10, 2020 at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill, N.C.

North Carolina’s Javonte Williams (25) turns the corner on Virginia Tech’s Armani Chatman (27) in the third quarter on Saturday, October 10, 2020 at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill, N.C.


Cornerback Armani Chatman prides himself for not backing down from a challenge. In fact, by transferring to North Carolina, he was determined to run toward it.

Chatman (Virginia Tech) is one of four players the Tar Heels brought in via the transfer portal this offseason to boost the Tar Heels’ secondary. Carolina also welcomed Jason Jones as a new position coach for its corners.

UNC coach Mack Brown hopes the new additions will strengthen one of units that was a weakness last season.

“They’re hungry,” Jones said. “They want to do everything they can to continue to take the program to the next level and also to take their game to the next level.”

That was part of the appeal for Chatman, who said his mother even bought into the vision.

“That’s the exciting thing here. If you come here and shut this side of the field down and you can create turnovers, you can make plays, and then you could be that link that we missed and we could get those five games back,” said Chatman, referencing Carolina’s five losses last season. “You’re looking at a national championship team or College Football Playoff team. So overall that’s what Mack Brown wants to get back to, so I just want to help him do it.”

Chatman is joined by cornerback Alijah Huzzie (East Tennessee State) and safety Derrik Allen (Georgia Tech) as the newcomers to the secondary. Safety Antavious Lane (Georgia State) is committed and will enroll in the summer.

Carolina lost three starters to the transfer portal from the secondary: cornerbacks Tony Grimes (Texas A&M) and Storm Duck (Penn State) and safety Cam Kelly (Virginia).

Chatman said he was unaware that Grimes and Duck were leaving

“I’m a natural competitor, so anywhere I go, I was asking coaches who’s gonna be there, who’s not,” Chatman said. “I didn’t even know the guys were gonna hit the portal at all until a couple of days later.”

Huzzie said he felt like UNC would be the best fit for him to try to play immediately given their losses at corner. But he also was excited about the potential of the program.

“This program is going to be great in a few months,” Huzzie said. “It’s going the right direction. They finished good last year, but we can do way better.”

Jones thinks so, too. He joined the staff after a stint at Indiana during which he teamed with UNC’s current safeties coach Charlton Warren. Brown said it allows Jones to begin with a working knowledge of some of the terminology the Heels use on defense.

Jones replaces Dre Bly, who had a Hall of Fame career at UNC from 1996-98 and coached the first four seasons of Brown’s return. Jones was optimistic that the Heels don’t have a long way to go to get better, despite finishing last in the ACC in total defense, scoring defense and pass defense efficiency.

“One of the things I’ve been talking to coach (Gene) Chizik and coach Brown and coach Warren, the biggest thing was just technique, just playing with better technique,” Jones said. “At times when the ball is in the air as a corner, if you’re in position, you got to be able to play the ball, get your eyes around — you got a chance to intercept it. Go intercept it or get the pass breakup.”

Allen knows what Carolina’s reputation on defense was better than most because his younger brother, Marcus Allen, was a freshman cornerback with the Heels. Marcus Allen started the last three games of 2022 for UNC, thanks in part to injured starters.

The Allen brothers have never played together on a team before because Derrik is four years older. But when their personnel changed, he was fixed on playing for UNC, and alongside Marcus.

Derrik said he didn’t think the secondaries problems last season would carry over to this one.

“I don’t really think there’s much pressure, I think more like, we want to set that high expectation,” Derrik Allen said. “Set that bar and make sure that we just keep hitting it each week and just making sure that we just keep working together and just boom, boom, boom, everything’s clicking.”

C.L. Brown covers the University of North Carolina for The News & Observer. Brown brings more than two decades of reporting experience including stints as the beat writer on Indiana University and the University of Louisville. After a long stay at the Louisville Courier-Journal, where he earned an APSE award, he’s had stops at ESPN.com, The Athletic and even tried his hand at running his own website, clbrownhoops.com.

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