Coastal Carolina football: Likely, Gunter are NFL prospects

Coastal Carolina tight end Isaiah Likely (12) participates in a drill at the 2022 NFL Combine in Indianapolis, Thursday, March 3, 2022. (AP Photo / AJ Mast)

Coastal Carolina tight end Isaiah Likely (12) participates in a drill at the 2022 NFL Combine in Indianapolis, Thursday, March 3, 2022. (AP Photo / AJ Mast)

AP

Before Jeffrey Gunter could slip out from behind side podium B in the conference room on the south side of the Indiana Convention Center, he had a quick request of the overseeing NFL media relations staffer stationed by his spot.

“Can you get a picture for me?” Gunter asked. “I need to send it to my mom.”

Gunter smiled as the staffer snapped a shot of him behind his perch.

The North Carolina native is one of two Coastal Carolina University players at this week’s NFL Scouting Combine, along with tight end Isaiah Likely.

Weeks like this shed some light on the stigma smaller-school prospects face when making the jump from Group of Five schools to the professional ranks – even a program like Coastal Carolina’s that has won 22 games over the past two years. Still, amid a room filled with Power Five athletes, Gunter and Likely are cherishing the moment.

“It’s great for them and the hard work they put in,” Chanticleers head coach Jamey Chadwell told The State on Friday. “And plus that our current team saw what they put in, that helps raising the standard (here).”

That Likely and Gunter even landed at Coastal Carolina, let alone in the wings of NFL scouts, is a weaving narrative in itself.

Becoming Chanticleers in South Carolina

Likely’s story is the more straightforward. He played his high school football at Massachusetts powerhouse Everett High School. It’s there that he teamed with former South Carolina defensive back Carlins Platel and Georgia safety Lewis Cine.

Chadwell had just made the jump from FCS Charleston Southern to Coastal and the FBS. Scouring the nation for any kind of projectable prospect he and his staff di lui could find, they landed on Likely, whose only other reported FBS offer was Southern Miss.

Likely committed to the Chanticleers and quickly evolved into one of the nation’s best pass-catchers, and among the more intriguing prospects in the 2022 NFL Draft. He finished the 2021 season second in the nation in receiving yards among tight ends. His 12 receiving touchdowns of him also ranked tied for eighth nationally among all receivers.

Chadwell joked that he called Likely on Thursday night after he wrapped up his workouts to gauge his interest on withdrawing from the draft and coming back for another season at Coastal Carolina.

“I guaranteed him he’d be a first-round pick,” Chadwell said in jest. “But he wouldn’t go for it.”

Then, of course, there’s Gunter.

Seated behind his podium Friday, he cracked a grin when asked how he landed in Conway.

He’d grown up playing defensive back and safety during his first two-plus years of high school in Durham, North Carolina. As Gunter explained it, he “woke up one day” and sprouted to 6-foot-5 seemingly overnight. He was moved to defensive end as a result, sealing edges and sacking quarterbacks with a 200-pound frame. Coastal Carolina, though, was his only FBS offer of him.

“I took that opportunity and I ran with it,” he said, “and the rest is history.”

Gunter graduated high school early and enrolled at Coastal Carolina in the spring of 2017. He camped out at the cafeteria on campus most days, doing homework and scarfing down whatever food he could.

There were six stations with varying options in the cafeteria, Gunter explained. He would fill a plate from all six as often as he could to add mass quickly.

His breakfast order? T.wo omelets, three pancakes, six pieces of sausage, four pieces of bacon, two glasses of chocolate milk and a bowl of cereal.

Gunter added 50 pounds during that first spring on campus. He was quick to note it was “good weight.” He said he’s still only 8% body fat.

“I really feel like I was made to do this,” Gunter said. “That’s almost unheard of – gaining 50 pounds in a semester. Just the fact that I was able to do that and play at a high level my freshman year (meant) a lot. “

While Gunter evolved into a star pass rusher by the end of his time at Coastal Carolina, his mother was navigating a divorce ahead of his third season in Conway. Gunter transferred home to NC State, just a short drive from his home, to support his mom di lui.

After sitting out the 2019 season in Raleigh due to since-changed NCAA transfer rules, Gunter transferred back to his old teal-and-white stomping grounds for his final two seasons of eligibility.

He joined the Chanticleers in time to help guide them to back-to-back 11-win seasons. Gunter was named an All-Sun Belt performer in each of his final two years of college football. His six forced fumbles in 2021 led the nation. He also earned a spot in the East-West Shrine Bowl last month.

“I think after he left, the maturity piece started happening – he really started growing,” Chadwell said. “I think, he realized, ‘Hey, you know what? This was the better place for me. ‘ And I think once he came back, there’s no doubt we wouldn’t have been as good if he wasn’t here. He that’s the type of player he was. “

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Coastal Carolina’s Jeffrey Gunter in 2021. JASON LEE

Coastal Carolina and the exposure of the NFL Combine

Likely and Gunter are almost certainly going to hear their names called when the NFL Draft takes place next month in Las Vegas. The feedback to Chadwell is that Likely ought to be chosen somewhere in the second or third rounds, while Gunter projects somewhere between the fourth and sixth.

For Chadwell, the prospect of having two players drafted the same year – and three over the last two seasons – stands to boost recruiting interest and give the program players to point to as success stories.

“I want them to do well because I want that for them, and I know the work and the sacrifices they and their families put in,” he said. “But also hopefully that’s a great representation of Coastal football and where other people come here (and see) you can get to where you want to go to.”

Gunter was asked Friday about the lone interception of his college career – a deflected pass he corralled from Kansas quarterback Miles Kendrick in 2020. Gunter elaborated that he dropped into the seam in coverage on the play. He said he thought Kendrick didn’t think he could jump high enough to tip the pass.

“That highlight will be on my Instagram forever,” Gunter quipped, coaxing a roar of laughs from a handful of reporters.

Likely and Gunter have made plenty of highlight-worthy plays over their time in Conway. It’s part of why they earned invitations to this week’s NFL combine festivities in Indianapolis.

The pictures of their appearances over the past few days will become cherished possessions. If all goes well, they’ll fill a new photo album with shots from their NFL careers in the not-too-distant future.

This story was originally published March 5, 2022 5:00 AM.

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Ben Portnoy is The State’s South Carolina Gamecocks football beat writer. He’s a five-time Associated Press Sports Editors award honoree and has earned recognition from the Mississippi Press Association and the National Sports Media Association. Portnoy previously covered Mississippi State for the Columbus Commercial Dispatch and Indiana football for the Journal Gazette in Ft. Wayne, Indiana.

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