After North Carolina’s season ended, Chazz Surratt gave up on playing for the Tar Heels and left for Florida to train for the 2021 NFL Draft with his brother Sage Surratt, who was already living there. Both were on the verge of fulfilling their dreams. Chazz, 24, is one of the best linebackers out there and will likely be selected in the first rounds. Sage, a tall, physical 23-year-old catcher with good hands, was considered a mid-late career pick.
The joint training was appropriate. So they grew up in Lincolnton, North Carolina, equal in age and ambitious on the soccer and basketball courts, and even competed together in national chess tournaments.
It’s been years since the two lived under the same roof, as Chazz at UNC and Sage at Wake Forest, but they’ve quickly picked up familiar habits.
Chazz: It’s still dirty.
Sage, shaking his head: Wow. Really? Is that so?
Chazz always enjoyed his role as conscience guardian. Sage grew up in the shadow of his older brother, but he found a way to stand out.
On his high school basketball team, Chazz was a reliable point guard. Sage was a counting machine. In football, Chazz was the star QB who threw bombs at Downfield Sage. Their mother, Brandi, remembers giving both boys pocket money when they were little, but Chazz always felt obligated to pay for his little brother. Before she went to college, Sage gave her mother more than $1,100 in bank deposits.
Where did this come from? asked Brandi Surratt.
It turned out that Sage had been taking money from her since sixth grade because her brother paid all the bills.
The Surratt’s have always been incredibly close-knit and incredibly competitive, but through the twists and turns in their careers, they’ve always relied on each other to find their way. In Florida, they are reunited, though evenly matched at the end – both looking forward to the next chapter.
There was a time in Florida when we prepared together for military service, Chazz said. There are so many things that can throw you off course, but we both got there. It’s surreal.
From football to baseball to basketball, the Surratt brothers – Chazz, Left and Sage – have always competed together as kids, even in national chess tournaments. Polished Surratt Family
Chazz Surratt could play almost anywhere on the football field. In fact, as a freshman in high school, he almost succeeded: He played six different positions during the season and finished a game with four touchdowns – two receptions, one by the run and another by a pick-six. But Chazz wanted to play quarterback. It was a dream.
He was good too. Chazz received Parade All-America honors and was voted National Player of the Year as a senior, and set state records for yards and touchdowns during his prep career. At UNC, he was drafted to replace Mitchell Trubisky, selected #3 overall in 2017. Surratt decided to follow the same path.
I wanted to be three years old and be an NFL quarterback, Surratt said. It was an old dream of mine.
An old dream began to fade shortly after Surratt got his first chance at the starting job. UNC began 2017 with five losses in six games with the unsafe Surratt at the helm, and after a dismal performance against Notre Dame in which he completed just 19 of 42 passes, he was benched. He appeared in just one game in 2018 and handed out 10 assists in the loss against Miami and suffered a wrist injury that ended the season. UNC finished the season at 2-9 and head coach Larry Fedora, who had recruited Surratt, was fired.
As his wrist heals, Chazz begins to think about his future. Mack Brown is going to put together a new coaching staff and a new offensive plan. Surratt still dreamed of the NFL, but wondered if quarterbacking would be a viable option. Linebacker was UNC’s biggest need. He picked up the phone and called his father.
I’m looking to go to linebacker, he said.
Kevin Surratt didn’t blink. Of course, Chazz can also play as a defender – according to his father, that suits his physique and skills best.
Chazz’s next call was to his younger brother.
In high school, their roles were clearly defined. Coach Mike Buce remembers working with a couple one day after practice to get a result. Chazz threw a laser. Sage fished the ball into the trap and then threw the ball back to Buss. The coach gave it to Chazz, and the scene repeated itself. Eventually Buce stopped the work with the idea of eliminating the middleman.
Sage, Buice said, why don’t you send him back to Chazz?
Sage smiled as she returned to the formation.
No, Coach, he said. Chazz throws it and I catch it. This is how it works.
When Chazz said he didn’t want to be a pass rusher anymore, Sage understood. They had a dream – two brothers, a QB and a receiver, playing in the NFL – but their roles on the field were never the roles that really mattered.
It’ll be okay, Sage told his brother.
A few days later, Chazz walked into the office of linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen, hoping to convince the staff of his decision.
Just in time, Thigpen said. I was waiting for you to come.
Thigpen joked that by going to the NFL, the former QB would make a lot of money. This is exactly what Chazz needed to hear.
After the meeting, Chazz called home and talked to his mother. When she hung up, Brandi turned to Kevin, almost in tears.
Chazz hasn’t looked this happy in three years, she says.
Still, the transition was not easy. Chazz Surratt was six feet tall and weighed 200 pounds. He looked athletic, but the track was brand new. He learned the ropes all season, and because UNC had so few linebackers, Thigpen had no choice but to give Chazz all the reps he could get. When the 2019 season began against South Carolina, Surratt was the starting middle linebacker.
On the Gamecocks’ second move, fullback Tavien Feaster took a pass, got in the hole and found Surratt out of position. Fister struck out, coming through on a tackle attempt and throwing 34 yards for a touchdown. Chazz looked like a QB who plays defense.
He missed some assignments that were big, big mistakes, defensive coordinator Jay Bateman said. But at the end of the game, he made them.
He finished the game with 12 tackles and a sack, helping UNC hold off an SEC opponent and earn an overwhelming victory.
A month later, Surratt was arguably the best player on the field, while the Tar Heels completely disappointed Trevor Lawrence and Clemson. Surratt finished the game with seven tackles (two for loss), three QB hurries and two passes broken up. Only a missed two-pointer late in the game prevented UNC from winning.
At the end of the season, Surratt scored six more points than usual and was named All-ACC. He was one of the league’s best defensive players in 2020 and led the Tar Heels with 91 tackles.
I think it’s the best story of the year, Brown said. What he learned as a quarterback really helped him when he learned to defend. And he just felt.
He’ll be one of the best linebackers in the draft, but his potential is incredible having only played two years. We don’t know how good he can be.
Midway through his time at UNC, Chazz Surratt changed from quarterback to linebacker and excelled at that position. AP Photo/Chris Seward, File
According to Chazz Surratt, if he had been an inch or two bigger, he could be preparing for the NBA instead of the NFL right now.
At 6-foot-1, Sage could reach the rim and show a great outside shot, but according to his coach Neil Hodges, he really excelled at mid-range jumpers.
Hodges said he made a nice jump shot from 3 or 4 feet away.
Hodges loved the brothers’ trust. They had guts, he said, joking that Chazz and Sage both thought they were better shooters than Stephen Curry. During gym class, they used different teammates to arbitrate their dunk contests. And when the game was on the line, they wanted the ball in their hands.
Sage is still second in North Carolina State history with nearly 3,000 points. Wake Forest football coach Dave Clawson saw Sage play basketball in high school and joked that the perfect statistic was 58 points and no assists. Passing the ball was Chazz’s job.
He always talks about how many assistants he had, Sage says. And I’ll tell him: It’s easy to get an assist when someone gives me the ball to score a goal.
Even Chazz admits that there was a clear difference in talent between them.
He can play shooter in the NBA, Chazz said. I’m a football player, but Sage was so good.
Clawson thought so too. He was hoping to recruit Sage to Wake Forest, but the boy’s basketball talent was so uncommon that he decided it was a risk. Harvard gave Sage the chance to play both sports, and although he ultimately chose football, Clawson decided that Sage would follow his brother to UNC.
Sage considered Harvard’s offer, but a month before signing, he called Clawson.
Thinking again about my plans, he told Clawson. Are you still interested?
That fall, with his brother’s departure from college, Sage finally got the chance to play football on his own terms, a season where he was just Sage and not Chazz’s little brother.
In his first collegiate appearance of 2018, Sage caught 11 passes for 150 yards in the win over Tulane. He finished his first year with 41 catches and nearly 600 yards, both second on the team.
A year later, Sage has established himself as one of the most prolific pass catchers. Sage crossed the 1,000-yard mark this season with a 14-yard pass in the fourth quarter against Virginia Tech with four plays to go. After the catch, however, Sage was hit in the shoulder by a Hokies defender. The injury required surgery. The season was over, and after the KOVID-19 pandemic threatened to end the 2020 college football season, so was his college career.
In mid-August, Sage Clawson announced he was quitting the season. At the time, it seemed doubtful that the ACC would play football after the Pac-12 and Big Ten retired (they will return to action in a few months). While his brother was still building his resume as a linebacker, Sage hoped he had already shown enough on tape to impress NFL scouts.
Sage was viewed favorably by NFL analysts, but he was not considered a trailblazer. Dozens of other players dropped out, some of them far less protected than he was in their professional actions. And there was so much we didn’t know about the virus, his father said. But sitting still was not at all the way Sage approached the sport.
It was a difficult time, says Brandi Surratt. It has been very difficult for our family. We’ve been lying awake over it.
Sage moved to Florida full time to prepare for his recruitment, but still took online classes to get his degree and made it to the dean’s list. Still, he was away from his family and teammates for the first time in his life.
I think a lot of people got the idea that Sage was having fun because he was in Florida, Brandi said. It wasn’t a good time. From September to December, he was alone.
However, Sage has a brother who still plays college football, and Chazz’s 2020 season proved to be a necessary distraction.
I’ve seen the Waking Games and the Chazz Games. It was hard not to be there on Saturday, but I’ve been talking to Chazz all week and it’s great to have someone like that around.
Sage Surratt was one of the most productive pass catchers in the country in 2019. He waived in the 2020 season to train for the draft. AP Photo/Steve Helber
that Chazz and Sage will be on the same NFL team. You thought of that. The last three months of joint preparation for the project have reminded us how nice it is to share the dream and the roof.
I would just say to people: Kevin Surratt said they didn’t lose many games when they were on the same team.
Surratt’s parents won’t mind if it happens again. Maneuvering through the overlapping college careers was no easy task.
In 2019, Kevin was in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, when Sage and Wake Forest played against Boston College, while Brandi watched Chazz and the Tar Heels almost win over Clemson, texting every few minutes with news. When UNC scored a potentially decisive point late in the fourth quarter, a number of texts from Chapel Hill in New England discussed the merits of a go for two.
If there was any leeway, it was in 2019, when UNC and Wake met and the Friars faced off for the first time ever. The two ended up making big plays. Sage finished with nine catches for 169 yards and a touchdown in Wake’s 24-18 victory. Chazz had eight tackles, including one for a loss, and helped the Heels’ defense to a nearly flawless second half. And the Friars even got their one-on-one when Chazz made a tackle after one of Sage’s catches on the sideline.
He tried to give me a cheap shot, Sage said. I had to talk to him about it.
But the odds of them ending up on the same NFL team means that those three months in Florida will likely be the last time the Surratt brothers share a room. That’s okay, Sage said.
They weren’t always on the same wavelength, but they always traveled together.
No matter who goes first, we won’t be happy until both names are called, Chazz said. We’re still on the case.
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