After the Early Signing Period, the new chance for recruits to lock in their collegiate destination in December, North Carolina football fans were rightfully concerned with the Heels’ trajectory. Carolina’s 14 early signees included some headliners in WRs Jordyn Adams and Dyami Brown, OL Avery Jones, and QB Jace Ruder, but the haul graded as ‘incomplete’ at best. At worst, the defections of top-100 recruits Payton Wilson and Tyler Shough left a bitter taste in the mouth of recruitniks.
Well, Larry Fedora and staff responded. The big official visit weekend in January saw a lot of big names and major targets make their way through Chapel Hill, and gave the Heels legitimate hope of closing with some targets that had long been written off.
While North Carolina natives Rick Sandidge (South Carolina) and Dax Hollifield (Virginia Tech) ended up backtracking to their perceived leaders, and late arrivals to the board such as Jamarcus Chatman and Anthony Grant (Florida State), Kavoisey Smoke (academics, Kentucky) ended up elsewhere, the Heels still finished strong and are now firmly in the nation’s top 25 classes for 2018.
How did the Heels finish strong and rise up the rankings?
Committed previously, signed today
Two of Carolina’s lower-ranked commitments waited until today to sign with UNC.
Longtime commit DeAndre Hollins, a 6’2 corner from Tampa, decided to wait to sign at a ceremony at his school today. He is the lowest-ranked guy on the 247 composite, but has the range to become an interesting Cover-2 corner or strong safety as he matures.
Speaking of projectable frames, OT Joshua Ezeudu from Georgia is the platonic ideal of a raw tackle. Standing at 6’4 295, Ezeudu only recently realized that his athleticism could net him a free education. The Lawrenceville, GA native had a late flurry of offers, but chose the Heels over overtures from Vanderbilt and Virginia, among others.
In addition to Hollins and Ezeudu, linebacker Matthew Flint enrolled early at Carolina after an interesting twist to his recruitment. The nation’s #36 outside linebacker was long committed to Tennessee, and flipped to UNC (and enrolled in school) the day after his official visit to Chapel Hill. Hat tip to new staffer Tommy Thigpen, who recruited Flint to Tennessee, on this one. The Alabama native was not on the radar previously.
Head(O-)Liners out of Florida
William Barnes, the #53 overall player in the class of 2018, was long connected to UNC because his mother attended Carolina— and to Florida due to his proximity to Gainesville and connection with former coach Jim McElwain.
When McElwain was fired in November, Carolina again became a realistic option for Barnes. With Carolina’s offer to close friend and linemate Ed Montilus, the pair began to contemplate attending school together.
After their visit to UNC in January, it looked like the Heels would have to sweat out OV’s to Ole Miss, Auburn, and...yes, Florida. The pair shut it down after Ole Miss, and the Heels closed out a strong four-man offensive line class today.
Gavin Lewis, another Tommy Thigpen find
At around 2:30, defensive tackle Gavin Lewis signed with UNC over UCLA. The Madison, AL native had a late start to his recruitment, but could’ve committed to one of the Mississippi schools among many other suitors.
In Lewis, the Heels make up for the loss of Chatman. At 6’4 275, he will likely fill out and occupy a DT spot. As of right now, however, he is listed as a strong side DE.
Closing strong with another 4-star receiver
Florida native Antoine Green decommitted from Florida State when Jimbo Fisher left for Texas A&M. Upon his decommitment, it still looked like a long shot that the 6’2 speedster would choose UNC, as his list still included the Noles in addition to Georgia, Florida, and Ohio State.
Well, the Heels have their deep threat in the 2018 class. The nation’s 350th-ranked player boosts Carolina’s class to 21 total players, vaults the Heels over Virginia Tech for #4 in the ACC (behind Clemson, Miami, and Florida State), and over the Hokies, Tennessee, and Nebraska to #21 overall for the time being.
We’re not expecting anyone else to be added to the class, but the Heels finished with a flurry. Barnes, Green, and Flint add some star power to the top of the class, Montilus and Lewis add much-needed depth in the trenches, and Ezeudu and Hollins help add to the best class of the Larry Fedora era.
With the 2019 class set to be the first one with no time wasted defending North Carolina against NCAA-sanctions-scare-tactic negative recruiting, the Heels can ride today’s wave of momentum to continue to upgrade the talent in Chapel Hill.