It was at the spring game this past April when North Carolina receivers coach Lonnie Galloway said he noticed something was off with Dazz Newsome.
Newsome, a junior wide receiver, ran a breaking route, Galloway said, and when Sam Howell threw it to him, the ball went right through his hands and hit his chest with a loud thud.
Galloway thought the ball seemed to be getting to Newsome quicker than Newsome was expecting.
“I asked him, ‘Dazz, can you see?’” Galloway recalled in a phone interview with The News & Observer last week. “And he said ‘Yeah.’ You know how Dazz talks. He was like ‘Yeah I can see.’ I said ‘Well, we’re going to get your eyes checked.’”
Newsome went to the eye doctor over the summer and came back with a prescription for contacts. He was nearsighted, the doctor told him. And he had been playing the last two seasons at wide receiver with bad eyes.
“I didn’t know,” Newsome said in an interview with the N&O. “Until I just noticed the ball was getting close. It would get close real fast. It would be slow from far away, but when it would get close, it would zoom.”
Newsome, who is 5-11 and 190 pounds, is one of the Tar Heels’ best weapons on offense. And he’ll be counted on Saturday, when UNC (2-1) plays Appalachian State (2-0) at home.
In 2018, he led the team with 44 receptions, to go with 506 receiving yards and four total touchdowns. He’s a threat to opposing defenses whenever he touches the ball.
But last season, he dropped more passes than he would have liked.
This season, with his new contacts, the drops haven’t been an issue. Newsome, once again, leads the team with 13 receptions through three games. He is second with 182 receiving yards, and caught the game-winning touchdown pass against Miami on Sept. 7 with 1:01 left in the game, giving the Tar Heels the 28-25 win.
UNC offensive coordinator Phil Longo said he’s noticed an improvement in Newsome since he’s gotten the contacts.
“Sometimes you can catch the ball a little better when you can see,” Longo said.
Too many drops
Newsome, who is from Hampton, Va., comes from a family of football players. His dad, Myron Newsome, was a standout linebacker at Virginia Tech from 1995 to 1996. And his older brother, Deon Newsome, was a defensive back at Virginia Tech from 2014 to 2017.
Newsome also played defense and entered UNC in 2017 as a defensive back.
But with his ability to make defenders miss, the coaching staff thought he could better help them at receiver. The move from defensive back to wide receiver was an adjustment for Newsome. He wasn’t used to running routes in high school. He had to learn how to read defenses, and learn the playbook.
By the time he was sophomore, though, he was one of UNC’s best offensive players. He also served on special teams, and returned a punt for a touchdown in 2018.
However, he still had a tendency to drop passes — a few that would have gone for touchdowns last year. He said dropping passes he knew he should have caught was tough.
“You never want to drop the ball as a receiver because that’s what you get paid for,” Newsome said.
Part of it was playing a new position. Part of it was concentration. Part of it, unbeknownst to him, was not being able to properly see the ball.
‘I’ve got my eyes in’
When Newsome learned he was nearsighted, he said he was shocked. No one else in his family had glasses or contacts, he said.
“If they wouldn’t have said anything, I would have never went (to the doctor),” Newsome said.
Even when Newsome got the prescription for his contacts, he said he wasn’t entirely convinced he needed them, so he didn’t wear them at first.
Plus, he hated putting the contacts in and he hated taking them out.
But at the suggestion of his coaches, he finally relented. He decided to wear them at August training camp, and immediately noticed a difference.
Newsome said he went seven consecutive days without dropping a pass. Galloway said he caught 36 of 36 passes in the first part of camp.
His coaches and teammates noticed.
“His hands have definitely improved since he got his contacts,” Howell said. “I mean I had no idea when they told me that. But the difference was incredible.”
Galloway said Newsome hasn’t been perfect, but he’s become more a consistent catcher. He added that he’s noticed a boost in his confidence as well, with Newsome going around telling his teammates, “I’ve got my eyes in,” and “I can see!”
Newsome hopes that his new eyes will mean better success this season. He’s currently on track to set career highs in catches, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns.
“Allow me to catch everything,” he said, when asked what he hopes the contacts will do for him. “But really that’s on me too. It’s on me to focus on the ball, focus on the angles, focus on where the ball is about to drop.”
So far, he’s doing that. He can finally see.
APPALACHIAN STATE AT UNC
When: 3:30 p.m., Saturday
Where: Kenan Stadium, Chapel Hill
Watch: Fox Sports South
Listen: WTKK-106.1 Raleigh; WCHL-97.9, WCHL-1360 Chapel Hill; WBT-99.3, WBT-1110 Charlotte