Receiver on Tap

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Sean Tapley has made a habit out of surprising people. First he shocked Steve Spurrier on Signing Day 2010 by breaking a 16-month commitment to South Carolina to sign with North Carolina. Now he's ready to surprise the ACC with his play at wide receiver this fall.

The 6-foot-1, 185-pounder excelled on the scout team in 2010 before capitalizing on a depth chart in flux in spring ball to take a significant number of reps with the first team offense alongside Dwight Jones. Former head coach Butch Davis raved on Tapley's hands and his ability to run after the catch, as well as his tendency to come up with big plays, in late May.

Veteran Erik Highsmith regained his starting role at the ‘Z' wide receiver – a position that lines up farthest from center on the tight end side of the formation, typically off the line of scrimmage to avoid jamming – but Tapley has remained in the mix with freshman T.J. Thorpe.

"We have a lot of competition on this team at wide receiver," Tapley said. "I feel like we have one of the top wide receiver corps in the nation right now. Everyone's good so I feel like everyone's going to play because we're deep. So just compete and when your time is called, the best person has got to show up."

Tapley's versatility makes him an attractive option for offensive coordinator John Shoop. His size allows him to work in at the ‘X' position when needed, while a personal-best 21.9 mark in the 200-meter highlights his speed. Tapley also lines up in the slot when Shoop goes four wide.

The Jacksonville, Fla. product points to his route running and ball skills as his strengths and admits that his blocking is a constant focus point to improve on.

"I like Tap – he's a quick little fast receiver," Jones said. "He's a good slot [receiver]. He's got good moves and everything. He's impressive. If he just keeps working hard, he'll continue to develop and the coaches will give him packages. But right now, he's looking very impressive."

Tapley is quick to send the compliments back Jones's way as well.

"He's a great help," Tapley said. "When I first got here, I started looking at him and things that he does and the way that he carries himself. He's helped me a lot in learning the little things."

Starting quarterback Bryn Renner is another Tar Heel that has helped Tapley develop during his time in Chapel Hill. It was Renner throwing passes to Tapley on the scout team last fall, and the chemistry between the two intensified during OTAs, 7-on-7s and 1-on-1s during the offseason.

"What stands out to me about Bryn is his passion," Tapley said. "It seems like he wants it more than anybody on the team. So if anyone makes a mistake, he's always on the person that makes the mistake. He's a good leader."

Tapley has shown flashes of brilliance in a variety of ways since enrolling at UNC. If he's not making plays at wide receiver in practice, then he's turning heads with his work in the classroom. The red-shirt freshman was named to The National Society of Collegiate Scholars during the spring semester and plans to earn his degree in business.

He's also become a critical piece of the special teams puzzle. Tapley is currently on the kickoff coverage, kickoff return and punt pressure units, while also challenging for both returner spots.

"My goal is just to know my role," Tapley said. "I know I might not be the starter, or even if I am the starter, whenever my time comes I want to go out there and perform the best that I can and help the team out… When it's time to play, I'm going to be ready."

Tapley may not run out onto the Kenan Stadium field for the first offensive play of the 2011 season against James Madison, but don't be surprised if he makes his presence felt sooner than later. After all, he's developed that habit quite well over the past 18 months.

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