ACC Football: Salisbury's Morris, Rankin stay true to UNC
By Ryan Bisesi
SALISBURY — Darien Rankin and Romar Morris returned to a place where everything seemed simpler on Saturday morning.
Less than two months after graduating high school, last week was a sobering entrance to the real world for two of the key cogs in the Hornets’ 2AA championship run last year.
With the dawn of their collegiate careers approaching, the pair headed for UNC returned to Salisbury High to make a cameo at the first official football practice for the Hornets.
The start of Salisbury’s defense of its first state championship helped Rankin and Morris get their minds off the controversy that currently plagues Chapel Hill. Carolina coach Butch Davis was dismissed Thursday after a tumultuous year in which the football program was ridden with scandal and allegations of players receiving improper benefits from agents. Davis finished his four-year stay with UNC 28-23 and 15-17 in the ACC. One day later, athletic director Dick Baddour stepped down subsequently because of the football turmoil.
Despite all that, Morris and Rankin’s loyalty to their hometown school has run parallel with their college decision. Each said they would remain Tar Heels despite the fact the coach that recruited them is no longer there.
“I ain’t going nowhere,” Morris said while watching his former teammates. “I love Carolina.”
Morris was the Central Carolina Conference’s offensive player of the year and the MVP of the state championship game, a 30-0 win against Elizabeth City Northeastern. A 2010 state champion in the 100 and 200-meter dash, he says the UNC staff wants him to utilize that speed as a slot receiver, hoping he can put on weight to acquire pass blocking skills.
“I played a little bit of slot here so it’ll be a good transition,” said Morris, who holds four offensive records for Salisbury.
Oddly enough, Georgia Tech, who came under NCAA fire earlier this month and had to surrender its 2009 ACC title, was also hot after Morris.
Carolina team members are forbidden to speak to the media about their coach’s dismissal, which led to defensive coordinator Everett Withers being named interim coach. Rankin carries no trepidation about staying at UNC either, sporting baby blue garb throughout his 6-foot, 195-pound frame. Rankin says he’s added about 10 pounds during the summer and hopes to gain more weight to ready himself for the strain of ACC football.
“It was unexpected,” said Rankin of Davis’ firing. “It was like a punch in the gut. We had a good relationship and to see him go…he was one of the main reasons I went there.”
Withers liked Rankin when he saw him at a UNC camp in June 2010 and offered the safety his first FCS offer. Rankin, who dreamed of playing at UNC in his youth when he dunked the ball as a sixth-grader, made the no-brainer to say yes.
“We became close when I went to the camps,” Rankin said of Withers. “Me and him did one-on-one sessions and that really gave me confidence.”
Rankin and Morris enrolled in summer school in June and have been training with Carolina for about a month. The two have stayed close as roommates, which is only natural considering they’re two of the better athletes in Salisbury history. Thursday afternoon, they both attended a team meeting that was called to inform the players about Davis.
“The only thing I question about it, I think that’s very poor timing,” Salisbury coach Joe Pinyan said. “Of course, my opinion’s worth about as much as the 25 cents that buys a Salisbury Post, I guess.”
Carolina has the ACC’s fourth-ranked 2011 class according to rivals.com.
“I think once you make a commitment, you make a commitment, you’re there,” Pinyan said.
Both Morris and Rankin echo their former coach’s sentiment.
“I was a little shocked at what happened, but I know everything’s going to be alright,” Morris said.
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