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Sticking with Tar Heels paid NFL dividends for Eric Ebron

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Eric Ebron’s mother, Gina Jackson, will occasionally ask her son if he has a preference of where he plays professionally.

The former North Carolina tight end is a lock for the first round, and he will likely be the first tight end taken in May’s draft. Mock drafts have him going ninth to the Bills, or 12th to the Giants or 17th to the Ravens.

“I say, ‘No, ma! I just want to play football. This is what I love to do,’” Ebron said in a phone interview Friday. “And I want people watch me do it. I want people to watch me embarrass other people. That’s my joy. That’s where I get my fun from.”

With a combine featureing a position-sizzling 4.60-second 40-yard dash, Ebron can rest assured he will soon be a featured, pass-catching tight end for an NFL team. And even though he doesn’t care where he lands, where he played in college was more of a question.

Ebron committed to UNC in 2010 with offers from Alabama, Clemson, Missouri, Tennessee and others. But Butch Davis was fired by North Carolina amid an academic and agent scandal before Ebron could play a down for him.

Ebron considered transferring, but his mother told him to be patient. When North Carolina hired Larry Fedora to bring his spread offense from Southern Mississippi to Chapel Hill, Ebron did some research. He decided to stay after he saw Fedora’s tight ends featured prominently in the passing game.

“After I thought about it I was like, ‘Hmm, OK. Well I know what to do,’ ” Ebron said. “So I stayed with Coach Fedora, we had a talk, I introduced myself. I told him the first day, ‘Hi, my name is Eric Ebron, and I have a feeling we’re going to get along fine.’ 

In Ebron’s junior season – his second under Fedora – he set school records at tight end for receptions (55) and single-season receiving yards (895). His 895-yard mark also stood as the best in the history of the ACC, topping ex-Terp Vernon Davis, who Ebron molds his game after.

Ebron’s speed, agility and pass-catching abilities have him atop his class, but his biggest knock is blocking ability. He didn’t have to block much in Fedora’s spread offense. He put up 24 reps of 225 pounds in the bench press, which was tied for sixth among tight ends.

But in the NFL, blocking tight ends are being phased out and passed over in favor of athletic, basketball-type bodies like Ebron’s 6-foot-5, 250-pound frame.

As he views it, NFL tight ends are rarely asked to block, and when they do, “they’re (darn) good at it.” If there’s any knock on Ebron, he said it’s that he’s too aggressive.

“I’ve talked to NFL head coaches and they’ve said, ‘If I had to watch anybody that was blocking at the college level I would watch you because you were the most exciting blocker because you would always get after your block,’” Ebron recalled. “And I would tell them that that’s my problem: I’m an aggressive blocker. If I’m going to put my hands on you, I want to destroy you. But that can also be my downfall, because as I’m over-aggressive I may lose you.”

Ebron likely would have had more opportunities to improve his blocking abilities in Davis’ pro-style offense. But he made his name with Fedora.

So when Ebron hears him name called in the first round on May 8, no matter where he goes, he will have his mom and coach to thank.

“He coached me like I was his son,” Ebron said. “Even if I did great he said I did bad. He was hard on me as if I was his son. My experience at Carolina was great. I wouldn’t trade it in for the world, and I’m glad I didn’t give it up or transfer.”

Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9
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