After a historically winless ACC postseason, could a record 19 local ACC products spark a turnaround in 2021?

By Richard Walker

British Brooks

There were lots of reasons the 2020 ACC football season was unusual.

Not only did Notre Dame join the conference for league play for the first time, but every school had its schedule altered and affected as games were postponed and cancelled due to COVID-19 issues.

But, in the end, a dubious historic oddity was set as the league had its worst postseason finish in history.

The ACC had endured winless bowl records before, but none since 1983 and none for more than two defeats.

Including Notre Dame as a conference member, the ACC went 0-6 in bowl games in the 2020-21 college football bowl season. That included each of the College Football Playoff semifinal losers in Clemson and Notre Dame; Miami, North Carolina, N.C. State and Wake Forest also lost bowl games.

The ACC went 0-2 in 1983 bowl games, 0-2-1 in 1974 bowl games, lost their only bowl game in the 1953, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1969, 1970 and 1971 and failed to be invited to a bowl game after the 1961, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1966 and 1968 seasons.

Since the Bowl Championship Series began in 1998 to determine a national champion, the ACC’s worst record in bowls was 1-4 in 2000 when former South Point High and NFL standout Koren Robinson led N.C. State to the league’s only postseason victory that year in the MicronPC Bowl in Miami, Fla., over Minnesota.

Next season, when the league looks to bounce back on the national stage, players from Cleveland, Gaston and Lincoln counties are almost certain to have an impact in the turnaround.

Among them could be a recruited walkon who made his first career collegiate start in the Orange Bowl – North Carolina junior British Brooks.

A 2018 Ashbrook High graduate, Brooks has become Tar Heels’ special teams captain and in North Carolina’s 41-27 Orange Bowl loss to Texas A&M, he had a career-high 53 yards rushing in 15 carries; Brooks was filling in after 1,000-yard rushers Michael Carter and Javonte Williams opted out of the bowl game to focus their attention on the 2021 NFL Draft.

“British did his thing,” Tar Heels senior wide receiver Dazz Newsome said of Brooks after the Orange Bowl. “British deserves everything’s he got. He’s been working hard since he got here. He’s still a walkon but he brings it every day in practice. He’s the special teams captain for a reason.”

Brooks is expected to return for his senior year next season along with three other current teammates – 2020 South Point High graduate Ray Rose, 2020 Shelby graduate Spencer Triplett and 2020 Stuart Cramer graduate Kendall Karr. Three other local products – Hunter Huss’ Dontavius Nash, Kings Mountain’s Kobe Paysour and Mountain Island Charter’s Gabe Stephens are incoming Tar Heels recruits.

Elsewhere in the league, N.C. State is expected to have five local products on its roster, Clemson three, Virginia Tech two, Duke one and Wake Forest one. (And that doesn’t include Nick Sciba, a third team All-ACC kicker for Wake Forest, from nearby Clover.)

N.C. State has 2019 Shelby graduate Jaylon Scott, former East Lincoln standout Jalen Frazier and incoming recruits Travali Price and Jayden Tate of North Lincoln and Zo Wallace of Hunter Huss on its projected roster, while Clemson will have 2017 Crest graduate Justin Foster, 2018 North Lincoln graduate Matt McMahan and 2019 Crest graduate Lannden Zanders, Virginia Tech will have 2018 Shelby graduate Dax Hollifield and incoming recruit Jack Hollifield from Shelby, Duke will have 2019 Hunter Huss graduate Tony Davis and Wake Forest will have incoming recruit Nick Sharpe from Hunter Huss.

That’ll mean 19 players from Cleveland, Gaston and Lincoln counties are projected to be on ACC rosters in the fall of 2021.

And those numbers will give the area a chance to surpass a local record of 10 ACC letterwinners set during the 2018 season.