It’s been a disappointing year for the Tar Heels, who are 4-4 heading into this weekend’s clash with undefeated Wake Forest.

North Carolina has also lost a significant amount of depth during the season. It has had five players leave the program for potential opportunities in the transfer portal. Defensive lineman Kristian Varner and receiver Emery Simmons are the most recent players to do so.

Quarterback Sam Howell took time to comment on UNC’s recent string of transfers earlier this week. He defended their decisions and indicated he would be supportive moving forward.

“I think everyone is going to have their opinion on guys leaving midseason, but you never really know what someone is going through…” Howell told reporters, via 247Sports. “I have a lot of respect for those guys. A lot of those guys are some of my best friends on the team. I just trust that they are doing what God is trying to tell them to do. I know there is a lot of prayer behind it, a lot of conversation behind it. They are all team players. They all love the team. They just feel like that’s what’s best for them.”

“And as a friend to them, I’ve just got to respect their decision. To me, the relationships and stuff on this team are bigger than football. I am going to support these guys in anything they do in their life. If that’s what they feel is best for them, if that’s what they feel God wants in their life right now, all I can do is respect them and support them.”

In addition to Varner and Simmons, receiver Khafre Brown, defensive lineman Clyde Pinder Jr. and running back Josh Henderson have also entered the portal during the season.

Despite UNC’s rough start, Howell is having another productive season under center. He’s completing 63.2 percent of his passes for 2,192 yards and 19 touchdowns cross 8 games.

Howell has also been very efficient as a runner, gaining 595 yards and 6 touchdowns on 114 carries. He leads all ACC quarterbacks in rushing yards per game.

Howell and the Tar Heels will face No. 9 Wake Forest at 12 p.m. ET on Saturday.