Alright folks. The early signing period for college football’s class of 2019 is upon us. It’s been a whirlwind three weeks since Mack Brown was hired. Where does recruiting stand heading into the Early Signing Period, what can you expect, and where does North Carolina go from here?
Impact of Coaching Change
As we all know, Mack Brown was hired just over four weeks ago. Known as the consummate recruiter, the first question many fans had was how soon would he get on the recruiting trail? At the time of Larry Fedora’s firing, North Carolina’s 2019 class was ranked 61st in the nation. In the days following Brown’s hiring, that ranking would dip into the 80’s as some of Fedora’s commitments announced they would look elsewhere.
In the good old days (every season prior to 2017-2018), a new coach would have until February to evaluate talent, establish relationships with recruits, and salvage under-performing recruiting efforts of their predecessor. Now that an additional early signing day is being utilized for a second season, more players are trying to shut down their recruitment before they open their Christmas presents.
That usually leaves a depleted talent supply for the new coach to target, and part of the reason the school moved so quickly to bring Mack back on board. Fedora’s staff closed exceptionally well last year in February to finish with a top-25 class, but that’s not the position most programs want to be in. It almost certainly will not be the case for the class of 2019. Can Mack and his staff do anything to make UNC’s 2019 class “respectable” and steady the ship?
On November 27th, UNC had received verbal commitments from 13 recruits. By December 2nd, five of those recruits announced their plans to de-commit and look elsewhere. They are:
WR Jerrod Means 6-2/205, Hampton, GA. (3-stars, Uncommitted)
LB Allen Smith, 6-3/205, Loganville, GA (3-stars, Uncommitted
S Brendan Harrington, 6-1/205, Pittsboro, NC (3-stars, Appalachian State)
LB Coleman Reich, 6-0/185, Ledford, NC (3-stars, Coastal Carolina)
CB Raykwon Anderson, 5-9/167 Folkston, GA (3-stars, Uncommitted)
On December 10th, cornerback Kenan Johnson (6-0/175, Lake Minneola, FL) also switched his allegiance, deciding to stay in the ACC at Georgia Tech.
That brought the total number of de-commitments up to six in less than two weeks. Whether the players were encouraged to look elsewhere or had a legitimate change of heart, it’s clear the new coaching staff was looking to go in a very different direction.
Fedora’s Verbal Commits
That left seven remaining recruits who stayed committed to UNC through the coaching change. We stress verbal commitments, because these are subject to change on signing day. Barring any unforeseen surprises, they are:
RB Josh Henderson, 6-0/205, Princeton, NJ (3-stars)
S Giovanni Biggers, 6-1/180, Baltimore, MD (3-stars)
WR Welton Spottsville, 6-0/195, Havelock, NC (3-stars)
OL Asim Richards, 6-5/285, Haverford, PA (3-stars)
TE Kamari Morales, 6-3/232, Tallahassee, FL (3-stars)
CB Storm Duck, 6-1/180, Boiling Springs, SC (3-stars)
LS Drew Little, 5-11/230, New London, NC (2-stars)
Aside from the lack to top-tier talent, the most glaring concern is the lack of in-state players from North Carolina. Just two products of the Old North State remain from the old coaching staff’s 2019 efforts. In some states, that doesn’t matter. In North Carolina, it does.
Mack’s Verbal Commits
Brown’s staff didn't waste any time using the available scholarships to find players they wanted. After receiving five verbal commitments after a huge recruiting weekend on December 8th, it was clear the football program was reestablishing a prominent role on the trail. Brown’s commits are:
WR Khafre Brown, 6-0/175, Charlotte, NC (4-stars)
DE Kevin Hester, 6-6, 230, Kennesaw, GA (3-stars)
WR Justin Olson, 6-2/182, Huntersville, NC (3-stars)
DE Kristian Varner, 6-4/240, Hiram, GA (3-stars)
P Ben Kiernan, 6-0/205, Raleigh, NC (2-stars)
WR Emery Simmons, 6-0/185, Hope Mills, NC (3-stars, Penn State)
S Khadry Jackson, 6-2/190, Windermere FL (3-stars, Pittsburgh)
OL Wyatt Tunall, 6-5/270, Chester, SC (3-stars, Appalachian State)
CB Obi Egbuna, 5-10/170, Charlotte, NC (3-stars, Richmond)
There’s no way to sugarcoat the lack of high-profile talent, but at this stage most of those recruits can’t be swayed in a month. That’s what January and February is for. The staff just had to upgrade within a somewhat limited talent pool and stop the bleeding on the recruiting trail. Nine new commitments in 23 days should achieve those goals.
Heading into signing day, North Carolina has risen to 51st in 247 Sports recruiting rankings, with nine available scholarships remaining. That’s solid work for just three weeks. As a bonus, five of those nine commits are from the state of North Carolina.
What is a “Flip”?
For the newer football fan, or if you’re reading this because Mack Brown has re-energized your love of Tar Heel football, a “flip” is a recruit who was verbally committed to one school and then decides to attend a different school. Quarterback Chazz Surratt is an example, as he was committed to Duke and then “flipped” to North Carolina with little warning. These tend to happen quickly and are usually a surprise.
This is different from a player who de-commits from a program, takes a couple of weeks or months to look at other options, and then pick a new school. Those situations are dictated by a coaching change or the recruit being a teenager. Take your pick.
Of Mack’s new verbal commitments, three of them flipped from their former school to UNC within a matter of days. A fourth, Kristian Varner, was originally committed to Louisville but re-opened his recruitment due to the dumpster fire that has overtaken that entire athletic department. I wouldn't technically classify him as a flip, but he is a product of Mack Brown’s efforts.
There are a few high-profile targets still remaining for the Early Signing Period. Some are still committed to other schools, some have recently de-committed, and others may wait until February to make a decision.
QB Sam Howell, 6-1/225, Monroe, NC (4-stars, FSU commit)
DT Jaden McKenzie, 6-3/280, Wake Forest, NC (3-stars, uncommitted)
OL Triston Miller, 6-6/275, Charlotte, NC (3-stars, NC State de-commit)
DE Tomari Fox, 6-3/250, Suwanee, GA (3-stars, uncommitted)
LB Octavius Brothers, 6-2/210, Rockledge, FL (3-stars, uncommitted)
DE Raymond Vohasek, 6-4/255, Glen Ellyn, IL (3-stars/JUCO, College of DuPage)
In a perfect world, UNC would land all of these targets and be knocking on the door of a top-30 recruiting class. That’s unlikely, but it’s good to have dreams. If a man doesn’t have dreams, then a man has nothing.
There had initially been hope for more flips of in-state recruits. Some of that hope was justified and some of it was driven by delusion. Regardless, the likelihood of truly flipping any more players on signing day is low. There could be a few surprises, but signing day announcements have become increasingly rare. If any of State’s, Duke’s, or Wake Forest’s high-profile athletes were even contemplating switching allegiances, there would be rumors less than 24 hours away from signing their LOI.
Tomorrow morning, football recruits from around the country will fax or scan their National Letters of Intent to their respective schools. By noon, UNC should know who is coming to Kenan Memorial Stadium, who is not, and who needs a little more time to make a decision. Then they can focus on junior college prospects, potential transfers, late de-commitments, and other targets that require further evaluation. Tomorrow is not the end of the recruiting cycle.
The Early Signing Period runs from December 19-21.