UNC has seen pockets of success in recruiting over the years. This is the same university that defensive greats Julius Peppers and Lawrence Taylor call home. Former head coach Butch Davis brought in players who currently liter NFL rosters before his tenure was cut short amid an NCAA investigation. Carolina has since found it hard to keep top in-state talent and ward off in-state rival programs from encroaching on their recruiting territory. Now, coming off of the program’s first 10+ win season since 1997 when a guy named Mack Brown roamed the sidelines, coach Larry Fedora has seen an uptick in recruiting.
Carolina started bearing the fruits of 2015’s success late in the recruiting cycle. True freshman Tomon Fox, a ESPN 300 recruit, was one of Fedora’s late signings that should pay dividends in the continued renaissance of the program. Cornerback Patrice Rene and Chazz Surratt were equally important, as the coaching staff was able to flip both recruits’ former commitments to Carolina. Rene, initially committed to Rutgers, had a change of heart late in the process that more than likely was related to head coach Kyle Flood’s ouster from the “birthplace of college football.”
Surratt, successfully flipped from Duke, could pan out to be the most important prospect of the past cycle. The lefty signal caller earned both Mr. Football and Gatorade Player of the Year honors in the state of North Carolina last fall. The Denver, NC native also earned the high acclaim from Parade magazine when he was named both an All-American and the National Player of the Year. Surratt becomes the first player from the state of North Carolina (Chris Leak) to earn such honor, and joins a list of 15 Heisman trophy winners who received the honor before him. Obviously, Surratt is not expected to win a Heisman but just being in the same breath as Hershel Walker, Charles Woodson, and Marcus Allen, is rather impressive for a UNC recruit.
North Carolina currently has the 14th rated recruiting class according to ESPN’s Recruiting Nation. The class features four ESPN 300 recruits, signifying the top 300 players in the country, in receiver Ryan Jones, defensive end Jake Lawler, guard Ryan Melton and recent commit offensive tackle Billy Ross. In whole, the class currently boasts eight four-star recruits.
What sticks out the most is how Fedora and his staff have recruited the states of North Carolina and Georgia. The 2016 class boasted 11 from the states combined. Thus far in 2016, nine players from the Tar Heel and Peach State’s have committed their services to Carolina. The success in both of these areas is critically important for the continued growth of the program for a myriad of reasons. First, Carolina needs to bring in the top talent from its own state to show that it is the power program in the state. Yes, the SEC and other power programs in the region have been able to pluck the likes of Todd Gurley and Will Grier, but the more Carolina wins and continues to enhance their facilities the better the odds are of keeping in-state talent.
Right now, Fedora can offer something that no other program in North Carolina can promote: recent success in a Power 5 conference and a trend toward national relevance. Yes, Duke won the Coastal division back in 2013, even with that the Blue Devils hadn’t won a bowl game, until last December, since 1960. The story still remains, what have you done for me lately? Add that to the elevated academic standards and nonexistent football culture and its hard to see Durham a destination for the state’s top talent.
Likewise, NC State has yet to win the ACC’s Atlantic division. Carolina’s ginger-haired cousin may try to complain about having to play Florida State and Clemson every year, yet Wake Forest, who is in the same division, has brought home an ACC title in the last decade. Even the ever so lauded Russell Wilson wasn’t able to get it done in Raleigh. Add all that up against them and once again Carolina is the most attractive landing spot. East Carolina may be in the process of trying to get itself added to the Big 12, but then again have you been to Greenville?
Tearing down our rivals aside, Carolina needs to gain that image of being the “it” program in the state. Once that is achieved all highly touted North Carolinians will look at the Tar Heels before searching elsewhere. The “build a fence” around the state mantra may also be something that Fedora may wan to employ in his quest to continuing the recruiting success.
Secondly, Georgia is one of the most fertile recruiting grounds in the country. With that much talent, particularly in the Atlanta area, and only two Power 5 schools within its borders there’s plenty of talent to go around. It will never be easy for Carolina to convince a home grown kid to not go to Georgia, Georgia Tech, or an SEC school but as long as the Tar Heels are contending for ACC titles like in 2015, the task won’t be as difficult.
Already in the 2018 class, cornerback Deonte Burton of Lawrenceville, Georgia has committed to the Tar Heels. Burton should not be last from the state to commit, especially if Carolina is able to knock off Georgia in the Chick-fil-a Kickoff Game come September 3rd. To add another reason why the Carolina should be motivated heading into the Georgia game: neutral site games have grown to become pivotal in recruiting. Why else would Alabama seemingly start every season in the Dallas area? A win in the Georgia Dome against the school that boasts the famed G as its logo would go a long way toward convincing other 2017, 2018, and future recruits to look towards playing their college ball in the Old North State. Even with a strong showing followed by a loss, potential recruits who didn’t have the Tar Heels on their radar may consider the program.
One thing that I would like to see Larry Fedora’s program to do is to regain ties in the Virginia Beach/Hampton Roads area of Virginia. Nationally it is known that some of the best high school talent across sports is found on that part of the Commonwealth’s coast. At one time, the Carolina football program was one that benefitted from the talent in the area. Program greats like Ronald Curry, ‘Famous’ Amos Lawrence, Dre Bly, and of course LT all hailed from the Peninsula. Recently, the area has sent players like Tajh Boyd, Josh Sweat, and E.J. Manuel to competing ACC schools. Were Carolina to get a footing back in the region and continue the momentum going back home and in Georgia the ceiling for the program could be higher than it ever has been.
Wins and losses are what fans will always focus on the most, but don’t shy away from the recruiting trail (no that is not an open invitation to tweet at recruits). Should the Tar Heels have another strong season in 2016 and gain potential recruiting landmark victories in Atlanta and at Florida State, Carolina will only grow closer to becoming a perennial contender in the ACC and nationally.