In March 2018, Kellen Mond and Chazz Surratt were both young college quarterbacks looking to take a big step. They met and bonded in San Diego at a training camp run by quarterback guru George Whitfield Jr.
Mond, then at Texas A&M, went on to become one of the nation’s top quarterbacks and is now a rookie for the Vikings. As for Surratt, well, he took a different path.
Three years ago, Surratt was coming off a 2017 season in which he was North Carolina’s primary starting quarterback as a redshirt freshman, throwing for 1,342 yards and eight touchdowns in the nine games he played. But 2018 would turn out to be a disaster.
Surratt was among 13 Tar Heels players suspended for selling school-issued sneakers, getting a three-game penalty. In his first game back, he threw three interceptions in 10 passes against Miami and suffered a wrist injury that ended his season.
Then in 2019, the Tar Heels brought in highly touted freshman quarterback Sam Howell to be the starter. Rather than transfer or be reduced to a likely backup role to finish his college career, Surratt decided to switch to linebacker.
That was a good decision. The athletic Surratt quickly adjusted to his new position and was taken by the Vikings in the third round of the 2021 NFL draft in April with No. 78 pick overall. He was excited to become teammates with Mond, who also was a Vikings third-round draft pick, No. 66 overall.
“We hung out down there and I got to know him pretty well,” Surratt said of his time with Mond at the Whitfield Academy. “And our dads (Kevin Surratt and Kevin Mond) kind of clicked. … So I’ve known Kellen for quite a while now, and we actually trained at the same training center (in South Florida earlier this year) for the combine and pro days, so I’ve got a pretty good relationship with Kellen. I’m excited we’re both on the same team.”
Since the Vikings’ training camp began on Wednesday, there has been and there will be plenty of competition between Mond and Surratt in practices. Mond is competing with Nate Stanley and Jake Browning to be the backup quarterback behind Kirk Cousins, and Surratt is battling to get playing time at linebacker alongside Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr, who play every snap unless they’re hurt.
To get an idea how far Surratt has come at linebacker in such a short period of time, ask Mason Laurence, a receiver at North Carolina when Surratt was there. Laurence also is good friends with Mond, a fellow San Antonio native, and once played youth football with him.
“It’s a cool story,” Laurence said. “He was a quarterback at UNC and he had some tough games, and he made that tough decision to switch to linebacker, and then becomes one of the top linebackers in the draft. You might think of a running back moving to linebacker, but you don’t think of a quarterback switching to the most physical position would work out. But look at him now.”
Surratt, who grew up in the Charlotte, N.C., suburb of Mount Holly, played some linebacker early in his career at East Lincoln High School in the suburb of Denver. But once he began to develop into one of the most highly recruited quarterbacks in the nation, he played only at that spot.
Surratt didn’t look rusty in college when he returned to linebacker. He led the Tar Heels in tackles in 2019 and was named first-team Atlantic Coast Conference. He repeated both those feats in 2020 while serving as a team captain.
“For sure, (it was frustrating),” Surratt said of being replaced as starting quarterback. “I came in as a quarterback, so obviously my goal was to get to the NFL as a quarterback. But for me, I just turned the page and I was excited for the next step of my career. Luckily, I had teammates and coaches that helped me do that because ultimately my goal was to play in the NFL.”
Surratt said he did not transfer to another school because he wanted to remain loyal to the Tar Heels and he believed he could help them with his “athleticism to do other things.” His father commended him for that decision.
“He wanted to be part of that turnaround at Carolina,” Kevin Surratt said. “They were 2-9 the year he got hurt. He was part of that process that turned it around, so he’s really proud of that.”
After that 2-9 season, Larry Fedora was fired as head coach. In came Mack Brown, who led the Tar Heels to records of 7-6 in 2019 and 8-4 in 2020, which included a 41-27 loss to Mond and Texas A&M in the Orange Bowl. But Surratt didn’t play in that game, electing to sit out to prepare for the NFL draft.
Surratt will have many more chances to face Mond in Vikings practices. And in games this season he could find himself going against his brother, Sage Surratt.
After being a star receiver at Wake Forest, Sage signed in May as an undrafted free agent with the Detroit Lions. If Sage makes the team, he could face his brother in NFC North games on Oct. 10 at Minnesota and Dec. 5 in Detroit.
“It’s kind of funny,” said Sage, who opted out of last season due to the coronavirus pandemic after catching 66 passes for 1,001 yards in 2019. “We were laughing about ending up in the same division, and it’s kind of like in college in that we were rivals in the (Atlantic Coast Conference).”
Chazz, 24, and Sage, 23, played against each other just once in college. On Sept. 13, 2019, Sage caught nine passes for 169 yards, including a 51-yard touchdown, in Wake Forest’s 24-18 home win over the Tar Heels. Surratt had eight tackles that game, including one for loss, but didn’t cover Sage.
“They ended up winning that game, so I have to get him back a couple of times a year as we go forward,” Chazz said. “So I’m looking forward to getting some payback.”
Chazz and Sage are 14 months apart in age. They grew up playing football, basketball and soccer together, and once were on the same wrestling team at Mount Holly Middle School.
“They’re so close they can finish each other’s sentences like a married couple,” said Kevin Surratt, who was a defensive back at Winston-Salem (N.C.) State. “They were always on the same teams, and Sage played receiver, and in basketball, Chazz was the point guard and Sage the two-guard. So they were a tandem for a while, until they got to college.”
When Chazz was 5 and Sage 4, Kevin Surratt was their first football coach, leading the Coul-Oak Steelers. Sage said by the time he was 9 and Chazz 10, they had developed a “great passing game” together for the Mount Holly Hawks.
That continued when the two got to East Lincoln High School. As a senior in 2015, Chazz threw for 3,536 yards and 51 touchdowns and was the Parade National Player of the Year and North Carolina Prep Player of the Year for the second straight season. Many of Chazz’s throws went to Sage, who caught 96 passes for 1,772 yards and 23 touchdowns in 2015.
“We were always pushing each other to be better,” Sage said. “We won a lot of games.”
Chazz helped lead the Mustangs to high school state championships in 2012 and 2014, the first coming the year before Sage played. But Sage also had a big season without Chazz on the team, catching an amazing 129 passes in 2016 for 2,104 yards and 28 touchdowns, and following Chazz as North Carolina’s offensive player of the year.
The two also excelled at East Lincoln in basketball. Chazz averaged as many as 21 points and 8.2 assists in a season. Sage was a scoring machine, averaging 31.1 points as a junior and 35.7 as a senior. He remains the second-leading scorer in North Carolina high school history with 2,951 points.
The two grew up regularly battling each other in basketball, and they continue to argue about who is the better player.
“I would say I am,” Sage said.
“I am, hands down,” Chazz said.
Both decided to pass on college basketball and focus instead on football since it seemed to be a better route to the pros. When Chazz signed with North Carolina, he was given an opportunity by then-Tar Heels coach Roy Williams to join the basketball team as a walk-on.
Chazz redshirted in football as a true freshman but decided not to play basketball at UNC in 2016-17 in order to compete for the starting quarterback job in spring drills. And after he moved to linebacker, basketball was out in order to focus on learning that position and on bulking up. He went from 205 pounds to 225 in his final college years.
The Vikings list the 6-foot-2 Surratt at 230 pounds now. Tight end Irv Smith Jr., who recalls Surratt’s days as a quarterback, is impressed with how far he has come at linebacker.
“It just shows the type of athlete he is,” Smith said. “He’s definitely a smart guy coming from quarterback, so it’s going to be awesome to see him making plays out there for us.”
Barr knows what it’s like to change positions in college, moving from running back after his first two years at UCLA to linebacker, where he became a Vikings first-round draft pick in 2014. He likes what he’s seen so far from Surratt.
“He’s doing great, and I think he has a lot of potential,” Barr said. “It’s early but I think he’s going to be important for us this year.”
Competition should be fierce at linebacker for playing time alongside Barr and Kendricks. The Vikings also have veterans Nick Vigil and Ryan Connelly; Troy Dye, who started five games last year as a rookie; and Cameron Smith, who sat out last season after undergoing heart surgery.
Surratt missed a good bit of time in spring drills because of an undisclosed condition, but he seems to be making up for that in a hurry in training camp. After all, he’s already shown the ability to quickly pick up nuances of playing linebacker.
“It’s definitely a unique path to get to this point,” Surratt said. “From the outside looking in, it’s crazy to think a quarterback could go play linebacker and be any good at it. But I’ve had a lot of people helping me along the way, my coaches and teammates, and a lot of work went into it. I’m still scratching the surface. I know how good I can be as a linebacker, so I’m just going to continue to put my head down and work and learn.”