It’s been a tough year for Will Grier.
After beginning the season as the starting quarterback and leading Florida to a 6-0 start, he was hammered by the NCAA with a one-year suspension for testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug. Unable to travel with the team for games — only allowed to practice — and spending the last two months as an afterthought gave the redshirt freshman plenty of time to console with himself and reflect on his future as a gifted student-athlete.
That’s ultimately resulted in a decision to leave the program and transfer, which was officially announced over the weekend. According to SEC Country’s Zach Abolverdi, Grier informed head coach Jim McElwain of his plans on Friday after final exams.
“He came in and asked for a release,” McElwain said. “We obviously thought he was coming back, that’s what we had a couple weeks ago. But in this case, that’s a choice.”
“The one thing I’ll never do is make someone do something they don’t want to do,” he continued. “In life, sometimes change of scenery is good. In this case, he’s going to go have a successful career and go on to play in the NFL. We’ll help him in every way we can.”
Despite the baggage as a one-time PED user along with eligibility complications, Grier will be a top free agent for programs in the market for a talented quarterback down the road. And although it’s certain that more than one team will take some sort of interest in Grier’s services, it’s North Carolina that could prove to be the most ideal landing spot for both parties involved.
Grier lived up to his billing as a 4-star recruit and the No. 2 overall pro-style gunslinger for the class of 2014, completing 106-of-161 (65.8 percent) pass attempts for 1,204 yards, 10 touchdowns and three interceptions in his six starts this season. That includes a memorable performance against then-No. 3 Ole Miss, when he completed over 80 percent of his passes, amassing 271 yards and four touchdowns to no picks.
He became the first Florida quarterback since Tim Tebow in 2009 to pass for more than 200 yards in three consecutive games. Grier’s completion percentage, passing yards per game and TD-to-interception ratio are also the best by a Gator since 2009.
“Let’s not forget all the things that he’s been through,” McElwain said of Grier. “We wish him nothing but the best moving forward. It was hard.”
Grier still has six games to serve on his suspension, which would follow him to any NCAA institution (FBS or FCS) he transfers to. Things get a little tricky now that he’s adding “non-graduate transfer” to his current hiatus; it’s expected that he will have to serve the remainder of his suspension following his NCAA-mandated transfer year, meaning he may not be able to take the field until mid-October 2017.
In other words, it’s likely that he won’t be able to compete for a starting job until the months leading up to the 2018 season when he’s a redshirt senior. That’s a tough pill to swallow, but it makes his decision all the more important — and though he should take his time during this process, it’s within his best interest to end up with the Tar Heels.
Reason No. 1 is simple: It’s close to home. Chapel Hill is just over a two-hour drive to where Grier went to high school (Davidson Day), which could appeal to someone in his situation.
Comfort and familiarity might be two driving factors behind his thought process; current co-offensive coordinator Gunter Brewer was Grier’s main contact during his recruiting stages in 2013, and the Tar Heels were one of the many programs to offer him a scholarship.
Reason No. 2 goes without saying: Marquise Williams, UNC’s current starting quarterback, is a redshirt senior and will be gone after bowl season. Backup Mitch Trubisky has experience in the system with 125 career attempts, but is a redshirt sophomore and won’t be around by the time Grier will be looking to take over.
North Carolina has four other quarterbacks on the roster who are first- or second-year players — Nathan Elliott (Fr.), Caleb Henderson (RS Fr.), Manny Miles (Fr.), and Anthony Ratliff-Williams (Fr.) — and boasts two more in its incoming recruiting class, but none have the same accolades or success against SEC competition like Grier does.
Reason No. 3 has to do with both the setting and timing.
Grier would be walking into a good situation at North Carolina.
Head coach Larry Fedora just received a contract extension to keep him with UNC through the 2020 season, after leading the team to an 11-2 (8-0 ACC) record and a conference championship game appearance. That means Grier could use the next few years to learn his playbook without having to worry about instability (e.g. coaching/scheme changes).
He’d get the opportunity to thrive in Fedora’s up-tempo, spread offense, which reached new heights in 2015. The ‘Heels have averaged 486.9 yards per game (t-19th in FBS) and 40.9 points (10th). Even with Williams under center — a quarterback more known for his ability to scramble, rather than throw the ball around — UNC ranks 34th nationally in passing yards (264.0) with just 373 total attempts (80th).
Lastly, Grier would also get the chance to compete for a title.
It’s difficult to tell where the program will be two years from now, but North Carolina seems to be on the upswing after Fedora led it through multiple NCAA sanctions. With the No. 4 most talented roster in the ACC (247Sports) and a potential Top-25 recruiting class coming in, the Tar Heels should be able to continue contending with the rest of the Coastal members for more division championships down the road — and there’s plenty of reason to believe that they’ll have the ability to win the ACC in its entirety.
One could imagine that with Grier’s services as a pass-first quarterback who owns a quick release and adds excellent touch to his ball for ideal accuracy, those last two statistics (at the least) mentioned above would only inflate with him running the show.
But first, he has to finish up his second (and hopefully, his last) recruiting process before making the best decision he can make as a potential future NFL prospect: transfer to North Carolina.