During his time as a wide receiver at the University of North Carolina in 2009, Greg Little had a few head-scratching displays of on-the-field bravado.
In a November game against North Carolina State, Little was blocking defensive back Jarvis Byrd and drove him into the turf before standing over and taunting Byrd, who had to be helped off because of an injury. The following month against Pittsburgh in the Meineke Car Care Bowl, Little caught a 15-yard touchdown pass then punted the ball into the stands.
“He is cocky,” said Greg Barnes, who covers UNC for Scout.com’s Inside Carolina. “He’s a big kid, great looking physically and even in high school he had the best looking body out of everybody and he was happy to let people know it.”
There was no 2010 season for Little who, along with defensive tackle Marvin Austin and defensive end Robert Quinn, were suspended for receiving extra benefits.
Despite the red flags, the Cleveland Browns selected Little with the 59th overall pick in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft.
“I think I’ve gotten (a bad reputation) just from what people have seen on film, and then kind of not getting to know me as a player or as a person off the field,” said Little during a conference call last April. “Meeting with (the Browns) at the combine and coming on that visit, I think they got to know exactly the person who I was. Having worked with (Browns tight ends) coach Steve Hagen also on the staff, he kind of saw me develop as a person and as a player as well. He knows exactly the guy that I am right now.”
Little grew up 20 minutes from the UNC campus, but verbally committed to Notre Dame before changing his mind to play for the Tar Heels’ new coach Butch Davis in 2007. Three years later, UNC was poised to have a big 2010 season, but the suspensions of Austin, Quinn and Little derailed any national-championship hopes.
“Little started to developing a persona of a guy who likes a lot of attention,” Barnes said. “He’s been that guy ever since he arrived at UNC. Little and Austin were the two main guys. They lived larger than they should and brought other players into it.”
Little was poised to have a big 2010 season. As a junior, Little caught 62 balls for 724 yards and five touchdowns.
“At the end of 2009, he’d really developed and was really looking good as a wide receiver,” Barnes said. “A lot of people thought he would have blown up and been first-team all-ACC if he would have played.”
Instead, the 6-foot-2, 230-pounder was relegated to catching 100 balls a day on his own to stay sharp.
“I learned a tremendous amount of how to deal with success,” Little said. “Just being able to deal with it at such an adverse time, I think I’ve grown a lot from it. A lot of my morals and values have changed so much just from sitting out that year. I’m so hungry and ready to get back and play. It just baffles me sometimes.”
After talking with those close to Little, as well as Little himself, Barnes thinks the newest Browns wide receiver has matured.
“He’s shown a good bit of humility,” Barnes said. “He’s not happy he ruined would could have been a great season for UNC last year. He’s said all the right things.”
In addition to character concerns, Little must deal with his relative inexperience at the wide receiver position. He started his career at UNC as a running back.
“He’s got the talent no question,” Barnes said. “He has to get better catching the ball. One knock is his hands are not as good as they should have been. Once he works on the mental side of things, the sky is the limit for him.”