The ACC Coastal has undergone a lot of change heading into spring football of the 2019 season. I wrote about that change last week, but we will take an in-depth look into the five biggest newcomers on the field for the spring slate.
The freshman listed are all early enrollees and besides Tate Martell (his NCAA appeal is still in the air), the transfers can play right away at their new locations. The Coastal played an all around bad brand of football in 2018 and needs a big-time bounce back season in 2019.
With all of the change in the division the new players could turn around what was expected to be a competitive brand of football between Miami, Virginia Tech, North Carolina and the former ACC Champion Yellow Jackets.
Here are the top-5 newcomers to the ACC Coastal that we can watch this spring.
Tate Martell, Miami Hurricanes, Quarterback
Miami fans know all about Tate Martell at this point, except the biggest factor which is whether he can play in 2019 or will have to sit out the season. Martell comes to Miami via Ohio State University where he sat behind Dwayne Haskins and was positioned to sit behind Justin Fields, the UGA transfer. Fields received immediately eligibility per the NCAA but Martell is still awaiting his fate at Miami.
Either way, Martell has to be the biggest transfer to the Miami Hurricanes, and if he’s eligible immediately he’s the biggest transfer to the Coastal. Martell is a dual-threat passer from Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas where he was a four-star prospect and a feature performer for the documentary “QB1: Beyond the Lights.” Martell brings immediate competition and legitimacy to the ‘Canes quarterback room where N’Kosi Perry, Cade Weldon and Jarren Williams had spent time in former head coach Mark Richt’s doghouse.
Sam Howell, UNC Tar Heels, Quarterback
Sam Howell is a four-star pro style quarterback out of Sun Valley High School in North Carolina. Howell was slated to sign with Florida State University before UNC offensive coordinator Phil Longo flipped him to the Heels. Howell is slight in stature, like Martell, at six-foot even but has a strong arm and blue chip ability.
Howell is a top-5 newcomer because Coach Longo needs an elite passer to run his Air Raid style system that includes run-pass options. Longo’s 2018 offense at Ole Miss finished 6th in the country per the S&P+. Howell is an immediate boost to the quarterback room in Chapel Hill which has seen Chazz Surratt change positions and Nathan Elliott choose coaching over football.
Howell has enrolled early and will participate in spring drills, and I will be in attendance at their spring game to take a look at the young man in person. Larry Fedora’s biggest weakness was signing an elite quarterback and the duo of Mack Brown and Longo has already landed a top-ranked passer in year one.
J.R. Walker, Virginia Tech, Safety
For all of the turnover at Virginia Tech on offense, the defense returns a lot of high quality football players who got playing time as freshmen and sophomores in 2018. Bud Foster has coordinated the Hokies defense since 1995 and has been lauded as one of the best defensive minds of the BCS and Playoff eras. However, in 2018, Foster’s defense slid to 77th per the S&P+. In 2017, the defense finished 9th in S&P+ with a squad loaded with NFL talent on defense.
While Foster has lost defensive end Trevon Hill to Miami, he returns a skilled group of defenders. The Hokies have always had a legitimate pass rush and strong cornerback play with a hard-hitting safety cleaning up in the box. Freshman J.R. Walker could be that safety in 2019. Walker is a four-star athlete out of North Carolina where he scored 30 touchdowns on offense and logged 150 tackles and 10 interceptions through his high school career. Walker could make an immediate impact for the Hokies as they look to rebuild to a top-25 defense and return to being a top squad in the Coastal.
Alex Gellerstedt, Virginia, Offensive Tackle
Bronco Mendenhall has turned the UVA defense around as the Hoos had the S&P+’s 31st ranked defense in 2018. However the offense sputtered to a 62nd rating per the same analytics and needs a boost to compete in the division. Every offense starts and stops with the offensive line and Alex Gellerstedt is a graduate transfer that should make an impact for Mendenhall’s Cavaliers.
Gellerstedt has transferred to UVA from Penn State where he served as a back up lineman the past three seasons. Gellerstedt played in seven games as a redshirt freshman but only one game as a redshirt sophomore in 2018. The six-foot-six, 311 pound Ohio-native had originally been a Virginia commit before heading to PSU in 2016.
As a grad transfer Gellerstedt can play right away for UVA and will be on the field this spring to get acclimated with the system. Another bonus for Coach Mendenhall is that Gellerstedt also has two years remaining of eligibility which is rare for graduate transfers.
Tony Davis, Duke, Cornerback
Four-star Duke early enrollee Tony Davis comes to Durham from Hunter Huss High School in North Carolina. Davis, who played wide receiver, cornerback and basketball- is expected to be a cornerback at the next level. He’s an early enrollee which puts him on campus for Duke’s spring football season.
The Blue Devils will need the help in their pass defense as they line up across from Coach Longo’s advanced passing attack at UNC, Miami’s elite wide receiver Jeff Thomas, an improved passing attack at Georgia Tech under Geoff Collins, and an improving offense in general at UVA.
Davis also marks the rare four-star prospect for Duke football. The Devils sign about one four-star per class and the past two have been on the defensive side of the ball. The Devils offense is in good hands with Coach Cutcliffe but they might need to rely on the defense as the Devils break in a new quarterback in 2019.