CHAPEL HILL — Slowed by a knee injury throughout another disastrous season, Myles Dorn wasn’t exactly sure what he wanted to do last November, but one thing was clear: he needed a fresh start either in the NFL or at another school for his senior year.
“I’m a fighter,” Dorn said. “I’m OK with being 2-9 if we’re doing everything right and we’re doing the things we’re supposed to be doing and that’s how the dice rolls, but it was a few things that everybody just felt needed to change and we knew needed to change, and it just wasn’t getting done.”
With a redshirt year available, Dorn would have been coveted on the transfer market as an experienced safety capable of playing both spots, or he could have tried his chances in the NFL.
One problem: a knee injury that cost him six weeks of his junior season was lingering — ultimately requiring two surgeries — and that would complicate finding a new opportunity.
It certainly didn’t feel like it at the time, but it might have been one of the best things to ever happen to Dorn.
“I think it was God,” he said. “I don’t want to say he got me hurt, but being hurt really made me stay and it made me come back and gave me a chance to be a part of what’s going on now.”
Not only has Dorn been a part of what’s going on at North Carolina, but he’s a key player in laying the foundation for Mack Brown’s program — just like his father, Torin, did 30 years ago.
“It’s really special or me to coach Myles Dorn because of his dad,” Brown said. “How cool is that? I would think that very few — if any — coaches have been able to coach the dad and the son and have both of them start and both of them be really good players.”
Around the time of all that uncertainty last year, it was a call from Torin that helped calm Myles as he tried to navigate his future in the wake of Carolina firing Larry Fedora.
Torin’s message was a simple one: stick around, trust Brown and let things fall into place.
And it didn’t take long for Myles to realize his dad was right about Brown.
"The first day he got here, my mind and everything was at ease," Myles said. "He’s been nothing but amazing. He brought fun back to the game for a lot of us. I think that’s big.”
Needless to say, Dorn’s journey at Carolina hasn’t always been fun.
When he arrived in January 2016, the Tar Heels had just won a Coastal Division title and pushed Clemson to the limit in the ACC Championship Game behind Fedora’s innovative attack and a defense that had suddenly become a strength under coordinator Gene Chizik.
Not only had Carolina just reached one of the high-points in the history of the program, but it had loads of NFL talent coming back.
“The next year, we had a lot of talent coming back, then we had a pretty good recruiting class that year, so you only think it’s going to go up or we’re going to maintain or get better,” Dorn said.
What happened from there is well-documented and would require more time and words than anyone wants to spend reliving, but in short, Carolina fell short of expectations in 2016, experienced what felt like a fluke down-year in 2017, then hit rock bottom in 2018 as Dorn was forced to watch from the sidelines for half the season.
“When you’re in it, you’re just trying to figure out how to get a win. You don’t really sit down and realize it until the end,” Dorn said. “When it’s written at the end of the season — 2-9 or 3-9 — whatever it is, it’s, ‘Wow, it just really happened.’”
All of that was washed away when Brown arrived. The issues that he saw in the program during the down years were fixed and the stress that had taken the fun out of football were gone.
“He’s just there; he’s around,” Dorn said. he’ll come to the player’s lounge, he’s eating with us, he’ll be in the lunchroom all day. I think that’s big just having a personal connection with your players."
That connection also came with his position coach, defensive coordinator Jay Bateman, who quickly realized Dorn was what he calls “elite smart.”
Standing on the field during spring practice, Dorn was taking notes on index cards — something that caught Bateman off-guard.
“I’m like, ‘This dude. Man, how about a notebook?’ and I realize there’s like a stack of these things and he’s going through them like he would prepare for a class,” Bateman said. “’These are my flash cards, I’m going to review when I’m in study hall.’ So, pretty quickly I could tell that football made sense to him.
“My relationship with him is one that I really value. I think he’s a really cool kid.”
Dorn values those relationships, too, just as he values everyone and everything he’s encountered at Carolina. The good, the bad and the days he wondered where he’d end up this season — all because those moments brought him here, to his Senior Day in Kenan Stadium.
This season hasn’t been perfect, but it’s been a step for the Tar Heels as they remain in contention to play in a bowl game and there’s just as much optimism surrounding the program as when he committed to the Coastal champions.
Someone asked him this week, if he had a chance to do it all over, whether he’d still come to Carolina and endure the pain of two losing seasons again.
“I definitely would,” Dorn said. “I think the trials and tribulations we been through here have only made me a better person and a better player. I don’t think I could have got that anywhere else; just to be able to have as much fun as I’ve had my senior year. I couldn’t have asked for anything better.”
Those trials and tribulations aren’t unlike those that his father experienced at Carolina, playing on two 1-10 teams as Brown worked to get the program off the ground.
Dorn’s decision to stick around and play for Brown has added another dimension to his relationship with his father, too.
“Being able to relate to my dad is really big,” he said. “It’s that point where you get older and it’s not like your dad is your dad … he turns into your friend.”
Brown sees those similarities a little too much sometimes.
“They’re so much alike,” Brown said. “I have to be really careful that I don’t call him Torin … that’s been really cool.”
Bateman believes the Dorns will have a little more in common soon, with Myles following in the footsteps of Torin, who played seven seasons in the NFL.
“I tell all the NFL scouts, ‘I’ve sat in enough of those secondary rooms; Myles Dorn will make your team,’” Bateman said. “He’s going to be able to play both safeties, he’s going to know what to do at nickel, he’s going to know what to do at speed linebacker, he’s going to cover every kick. He’s going to show up every day.
“He’s a pretty special kid. I wish he had another year.”