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May 1, 2011A school-record nine Carolina players were selected in the 2011 NFL Draft, including five on Saturday.
Safety Da'Norris Searcy, running back Johnny White, quarterback T.J. Yates, linebacker Quan Sturdivant and tight end Ryan Taylor were picked in final four rounds of the draft to give the Tar Heels nine overall selections.
"It's an exciting day to be a Tar Heel," Coach Butch Davis said. "I'm thrilled for the guys who were selected and I'm hopeful a few others will get an opportunity as a free agents. I think several of our players, like T.J., Johnny and Ryan, benefited from playing in our pro-style offense.
"It should make their transition to the NFL that much easier. Our assistant coaches and our program did a great job preparing our players for the next level."
North Carolina and USC tied for the most picks in the country with nine. It is the highest total for UNC since seven players were chosen in the 1998 draft. Buffalo took Searcy in the fourth round and White in the fifth. Houston selected Yates in the fifth, Arizona chose Sturdivant in the sixth and the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers took Taylor in the seventh.
A four-year starter and holder of 37 school records, Yates became the first Carolina quarterback taken since Ronald Curry in 2002. Yates passed for a single-season record 3,418 yards and led the Tar Heels to the Music City Bowl win over Tennessee as a senior.
"I was sitting at home and it gets annoying watching it and not knowing when or if you are going to be picked," said Yates. "My oldest brother, my nephew and I finally decided to watch a movie, but I kept getting calls from my friends asking me about the draft. Finally, my agent called and said Houston was going to take me. The GM called and asked me if I was ready to be a Texan. It feels really good."
Yates holds every school record for pass completions and yards (single-game, single-season and career) as well as the school record for career pass attempts. He is also the most accurate passer in school history and the only Tar Heel quarterback to throw for 400 yards in three different games.
"I hadn't worked out specifically for them, but Greg Knapp is the quarterback coach who worked me out at the combine," Yates said. "Coach (John) Shoop had been in contact with Knapp a lot through this process. He kept telling me I wouldn't get past the Texans. He was right."
Yates received high praise from ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer, who called Yates the "only one sleeper starter" at quarterback in the draft.
"This guy is a special player," said Dilfer, who played 14 years in the NFL and quarterbacked the Baltimore Ravens to a Super Bowl title. "You look for a couple of things for a future starter -- unique physical traits and a tremendous will and intangible makeup. T.J. Yates has both. This kid is the toughest kid in the draft at quarterback outside Jake Locker. I would love to coach me some T.J. Yates."
Yates is the first North Carolina player ever selected by the Houston Texans.
Searcy was the first Tar Heel selected on Saturday when the Buffalo Bills picked him with the 100th overall pick in the fourth round. Searcy was a two-year starter at strong safety and was Carolina's top return man the last two years. Last year, he led the team and ranked 15th in the country with four interceptions, and also had 37 tackles.
"It felt real good to get that call," said Searcy, who watched the draft in his hometown of Decatur, Ga. "The room erupted when my named came on the board, and it was a huge relief. I knew the Bills were interested after my pre-draft visit and I can't wait to get to Buffalo and start playing football."
Buffalo selected another Tar Heel in the fifth round when White went to the Bills with the 133rd overall pick. White is a versatile performer who played running back, wide receiver and cornerback at UNC and has always been a key special teams performer. He was having a career year in 2010 before breaking his clavicle against Florida State. He finished the season with 130 carries for 720 yards and seven touchdowns, all team highs.
"I wasn't really sure where or when I'd go," White said. "It was just the motto, when I go saying hopefully it's the best situation for me and I just feel like God has a plan for me. Wherever he puts me, that's where I'll be a good fit.
"Me and Searcy are real great friends, not just with football. Off the field he's one of my best friends from the team. I'm just happy to have somebody I'm familiar with up there in a new town and just ready to get to work."
White is the first Tar Heel tailback taken in the NFL Draft since Jonathan Linton in 1998.
Sturdivant was a first-team All-ACC pick and a semifinalist for the Butkus Award as a junior in 2009. A hamstring injury limited his playing time last year, and he finished with 61 tackles, including 8.5 tackles for losses and three sacks. He posted a season-high 12 tackles and picked off a pass in the second overtime of Carolina's 30-27 win over Tennessee in the Music City Bowl.
A native of Winston-Salem, Taylor was a versatile player at UNC, playing offense, defense and special teams during his career. As a senior, he set the UNC single-season school record for most receptions by a tight end with 36.
Both Yates and Searcy credited Davis and his staff for preparing them for the NFL.
"Our offense is extremely similar to the Houston Texans," said Yates. "That was one of the main reasons they said they took me was because they knew the transition would be easy for me. Coach Davis handles the program with an NFL mentality. He brought in NFL coaches, installed NFL offenses and defenses and it paid off."
"Coach Davis did a wonderful job turning around our program and installing an NFL mentality to our practices and schemes," Searcy said.