LSU graduate transfer Harris eager for shot at UNC's QB job
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By AARON BEARD
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) Brandon Harris left LSU looking for a clean start in his final season as a college quarterback. The graduate transfer figures he's found the perfect opportunity at North Carolina, from the open starting job to a fast-paced scheme known for putting up big numbers.
"Anytime you're making a transition like this . you want to make sure you get it right," Harris said, "just because this is the last go-around."
That's why Harris is here in Chapel Hill, competing with other quarterbacks in preseason camp as Mitch Trubisky's successor at the helm of Larry Fedora's spread attack.
Fedora said the team is spreading practice reps between four players: Harris, redshirt sophomore Nathan Elliott, and redshirt freshmen Chazz Surratt and Logan Byrd. The winner will get the keys to an offense that tries to squeeze in as many plays as possible while letting the quarterback throw the ball an average of 35 times per game in the first five seasons under Fedora.
Fedora won't specify a timeline for naming a starter ahead of the Sept. 2 opener against California. He's the type willing to keep a decision under wraps as late as possible, too.
"I'd like to know as soon as possible just like you guys want to know," Fedora said. "The sooner the better, because then that guy can zero in on leading the team. Right now, they're all competing trying to earn a job. And it's hard to really just take over the team when it's not your team yet."
It's easily the highest-profile position change for an offense looking for new playmakers. The biggest loss was Trubisky, who went from never starting a college game to the No. 2 overall pick in the NFL draft in less than a year. But the Tar Heels also lost their top three receivers and top two tailbacks.
That means Harris or whoever else wins the job will rely on first-timers in leading roles.
"Cal's not going to come in here and say, `Hey, you're a freshman, you get a pass,'" senior receiver Austin Proehl said. "It's not like that. So they don't care, and we can't care. At the end of the day, we're on the field because we believe you can play - whoever it may be. And we need you to help us produce and win a game."
Elliott played as Trubisky's backup last season, completing 8 of 9 passes for 55 yards, and is entering his third season in Fedora's system.
"Whenever I was younger, I would just go out there and play," Elliott said. "Now I try to think more like a coach. ... What do we get right here? What do we have to do in this situation? I think that's helped me a lot this fall camp."
Then there's Surratt and Byrd. Surratt is a former Associated Press offensive prep player of the year for North Carolina, while Byrd was a four-star prospect out of Georgia.
Harris doesn't sound deterred by a position battle. He offers the most experience with 15 starts and 25 games played at LSU, throwing for 2,165 yards and 13 touchdowns with six interceptions in his best season as a sophomore.
But Harris was pulled after a struggle-filled day in a season-opening loss to Wisconsin followed by a bad start against Jacksonville State in Week 2 of his junior year.
"I graduated with a degree form LSU, which in three years was incredible," Harris said. "They were very, very beneficial toward me. I have nothing but respect for the program and the people that were over there. . But I've moved on. I'm glad to be here in North Carolina."
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Updated August 11, 2017