When Noah Turner pledged to North Carolina in July and Garrett Walston switched his commitment to UNC in October, both cited their relationship with expected position coach Seth Littrell among the significant reasons. When Littrell was officially named North Texas's head coach over the weekend, Turner’s and Walston’s feelings once again mimic one another.
“I’m definitely still 100-percent committed,” Turner said. “In the first place, my dad always told me, ‘You commit to the school – don’t commit to the coach, because they always leave and stuff can happen.’ I would love to have him as my coach and I’m sad to see him go, but I’ll still be playing football at a great university.”
“I’m 100-percent a Tar Heel,” Walston said. “I’ve already signed [scholarship papers]. I’ve already started getting furniture [for my dorm].
“Obviously, it’s great news for Coach Littrell. I’m happy for him. He’s always wanted to be a head coach and be close to his family down there – North Texas is close to his hometown in Oklahoma. But obviously I had a great connection with him and that was one of the big reasons why I committed there, but I know Coach [Larry] Fedora will find a guy just like him.”
Turner, a 6-foot-3, 237-pound tight end from Mundelein (Ill.) Carmel, conversed with Littrell on Sunday.
“He gave me the layout of everything that’s going to happen,” Turner said. “Nothing much is changing – he said the offense is going to be the same, they’re still going to utilize me the way they planned, and the coaching staff still loves me.”
Since Littrell’s departure became official, Walston, a 6-foot-4, 213-pound tight end from Wilmington (N.C.) New Hanover, has spoken with Fedora.
“Coach Fedora has already told me that he’s going to find the best possible candidate for the job,” Turner said. “He never told me a name or anything.”
Coincidentally, Walston dealt with a coaching change at his high school a year ago. Earl Smith replaced Kevin Motsinger as head coach, which led to low expectations for the 2015 season. To the contrary, New Hanover reached – but lost – the NCHSAA 4A Regional Final on Friday.
“We didn’t make the ultimate goal, the state championship, but at the beginning of the year if you would have told me that my team would make it to the Eastern Championship with a new coach and injuries, I would have probably laughed at you,” Walston said. “It just shows how Coach Smith got our team to buy in and really come together.”
One of those injuries occurred in the regional final. Starting quarterback Burke Estes left the game at halftime and Walston, who hadn’t played QB since ninth grade, replaced him.
“Obviously, it threw me off that game a little bit,” Walston said. “But, I knew that when our quarterback got hurt that [offensive coordinator] Coach [Darryl] Raynor was going to look to me to come in and do the job. I didn’t have anything to lose, so I did what I could. I told my teammates we were going to be fine – and it looked like we were for a little while, but the wheels kind of fell off.”
Walston has one final high school game remaining. He’ll represent NC in the Shrine Bowl on Dec. 19.
“I’ve heard from a couple of people that it’s a great experience and obviously it benefits a great cause,” Walston said. “So, I’m excited to get up there.”
Meanwhile, Turner’s senior season was cut short by a stress fracture in his foot. Following October surgery and staying off his foot for six weeks, he’s been cleared with no limitations for nearly three weeks.
“My foot healed perfectly,” Turner said. “It actually healed better than they expected.”
To celebrate, Turner and his father attended their first football game in Kenan Stadium. They watched as UNC crushed ACC Coastal Division rival Miami, 59-21.
“That place blew me away,” Turner said. “I didn’t really expect it at all. There’s always a lot of talk about a lack of attendance with the football there, but that wasn’t the case. It was unbelievable and I can’t wait to be on that field playing there.”
Being the furthest commitment from campus, Turner also made sure to mingle with his future teammates while in town. In particular, he spent time with Logan Byrd, Luke Elder, Chazz Surratt, and Walston.
“We all have the same dreams and aspirations – we’re all trying to make it to the NFL and win at North Carolina,” Turner said. “That’s kind of one way you can always connect with those guys – talk about our goals. It makes it easier to relate. From there, you try to see their personalities and who they are off the field. All those guys have great personalities.”
Turner plans to continue building relationships when he returns to Chapel Hill on Jan. 16 for his UNC official visit.
Walston took his UNC official visit that weekend. His focus now is enjoying his final few weeks before his January enrollment.
“I don’t think it has quite hit me yet, but I do think about it daily,” Walston said. “Especially this week, because my last day of high school will be on Thursday.”