Representing the 757

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Mack Brown lifted the North Carolina football program to national prominence in the mid-1990s in part by raiding the talent-rich Tidewater area of Virginia. Todd Harrelson was Butch Davis' first recruit out of the 757, and the red-shirt freshman is now ready to represent.

Entering the Virginia high school Division 6 state semifinals in 2007, Harrelson had put up solid numbers for Oscar Smith's football program – 31 catches for 538 yards and 10 touchdowns. But on that cool December evening against Chantilly Westfield, the Chesapeake native exploded for 354 yards and three touchdowns on 15 receptions.

If you're looking for a glimpse of potential, that kind of performance on that kind of stage should answer any of your questions. Now, 20 months later, Harrelson is ready to bring that playmaking ability to Kenan Stadium.

"I think I can do that – not saying that I can get 354 yards – but I try to be that type of player every single game," Harrelson said on Friday. "Just be a person that the quarterback can rely on and just be one of those players that can make plays for the team."

The 19-year-old took advantage of his red-shirt season last fall, soaking up every ounce of information he could acquire from the triumvirate of future NFL draft picks in Hakeem Nicks, Brandon Tate and Brooks Foster.

"It was a good learning experience – they were some of the greats," Harrelson said. "Especially with Hakeem, because he did everything right in practice. He showed me how to practice like a pro. Just watching them made me a better player."

But those players, along with two other seniors, departed after the '08 season, leaving a huge void in production at the wide receiver position. Junior Greg Little's 11 catches for 146 yards represent the lone returning statistics for Charlie Williams' receiving corps.

Harrelson indicated that the game has slowed down for him considerably since he first stepped foot on campus last summer, and his efforts have moved him up the depth chart to the No. 2 option at "Z" receiver behind Little, as well as into a starting role when the offense moves into a three-wideout set.

"Todd Harrelson continues to do a very good job," head coach Butch Davis told reporters on Friday morning. "… He's more familiar with the offense than some of the other guys, so his ability to make some of the adjustments to coverages is very evident."

The lack of experience at wide receiver has raised concerns about North Carolina's passing offense this preseason, and while Harrelson admits that his position group "still has a lot of room to improve," he is firm in his belief that playmakers are readily available.

"We know the talent we have on our team, so we're just waiting for the season to start to show that we're ready to replace the guys that left," Harrelson said. "We'll step up to the plate."

The 6-foot-2, 190 pounder describes himself as a "shifty" player, which provides some insight as to why the coaching staff has him working as a punt and kickoff returner with the second-team special teams unit.

"They basically want people that have a lot of explosiveness once they get the ball in their hands, and I picture myself as one of those players, so they want me back there, but they just want me to get the technique right," Harrelson said.

There's no denying that Frank Beamer and his Virginia Tech coaching staff has a stranglehold on the Tidewater area when it comes to recruiting, but Harrelson is intent on proving that success extends beyond his home state's borders.

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