CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – It’s been four years since Brandon Fritts and Mitch Trubisky paired up as one of the top high school quarterback-receiver options in Ohio. The location has since changed, as well as Fritts’s position, although the familiarity and chemistry remain.
When Trubisky was winning Ohio’s Mr. Football honors at Mentor High School in the fall of 2012, his favorite target was Fritts, then a 6-foot-4, 210-pound split end. During that junior season, Fritts caught 69 passes for 1,068 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Less than three years after that run to the state semifinals, Fritts took the field once again with Trubisky in the shotgun, catching the first pass of his Tar Heel career for a two-yard touchdown against N.C. A&T last September.
Fritts, who enrolled at UNC with the understanding that he would transition to tight end, appeared in all 14 games in 2015 as a redshirt freshman, pulling in 16 passes for 203 yards and four touchdowns. Now weighing 240 pounds, he has assumed starting tight end duties with the graduation of Kendrick Singleton and finds himself back on familiar terrain as one of Trubisky’s primary receiving options.
“I’ve known Mitch my whole life, so it’s a lot of fun,” Fritts said recently. “We’ve played together before, so we’re out there helping each other, communicating. He picks me up, I try to pick him up. Obviously, it’s a lot of fun. We have a lot of good chemistry.”
Eric Ebron played the “Y” position during Larry Fedora’s first two years in Chapel Hill, although his first-round draft status was built upon his combination of size, athleticism and pass-catching ability. In the years since, Jack Tabb and Kendrick Singleton assumed more traditional tight end roles for the Tar Heels due to their blocking abilities.
Fritts offers an ideal balance of both attributes, although catching passes has been a lifelong skill. Blocking, on the other hand, has been a work in progress.
“It’s still relatively new to me,” Fritts said. “I’m still working at it, trying to get better at it. Just becoming more of a complete tight end. Just trying to be able to do everything out there.”
The hard work is evidently working. Trubisky immediately highlighted Fritts’s blocking skills as the one area where his high school teammate had developed most since enrolling at UNC.
“He’s going to do his job,” Trubisky said. “He’s a hard-nosed guy. He creates great mismatches for us in the run game as well as the pass game. I don’t think any linebacker can cover him 1-on-1. He can get behind people, he uses his body really well, and he goes up and gets the ball. He’s just got really reliable hands. He’s a reliable guy.”
With speed receivers on the perimeter (Mack Hollins) and inside (Ryan Switzer), opposing defenses will be tasked with choosing how best to cover Fritts and flanker Bug Howard, who has tight end size at 6-foot-5, 220 pounds. Fedora’s offense utilizes the versatility of its “Y” receivers, choosing at times to attach the tight end with the line of scrimmage for traditional looks while other times detaching him to create a mismatch in open field.
The complexity of the position can be daunting, although Fritts seeing snaps in every game last season eased the learning curve.
“I feel a lot more comfortable out there,” Fritts said. “From the first time I played last year to the last time, it was like a complete 180. I felt like I belonged out there, as opposed to the beginning of the season when I was fresh and nervous. I grew more comfortable as the season went along and I think that’s going to help me tremendously this year.”
It also helps that his former high school quarterback will be throwing balls his way once again.