Football seasons come and go but recruiting season never stops, and for the Tar Heels, that begins close to home.
Every UNC coach in living memory, Larry Fedora included, has acknowledged that the long-term success of the Tar Heels football program depends upon getting as many of the best players from the state of North Carolina as possible. Although not as talent-dense as places like Florida and Texas, North Carolina produces plenty of great players and, on paper, enough to compete nationally.
Ah, yes. On paper. No matter what anyone else has ever told you, no UNC football coach has ever “put a fence around the state” and attracted all of the best talent in North Carolina. Not Fedora, not Butch Davis, and not even Mack Brown, despite his well-earned reputation as one of the better recruiters in the modern era. There is simply too much local competition—Tennessee, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Clemson and South Carolina all poach North Carolina talent in any given year—plus the pull from the Alabamas and Ohio States of the world, who consider their recruiting footprint to be the United States of America.
Then, of course, the Tar Heels must compete with three other North Carolina-based ACC schools. By historical standards, a good UNC recruiting class in an ordinary year would consist of something like between 4-6 of the 15-20 best players in the state. Anything better than that would be great; anything less is a little disappointing, depending upon the composition of any given year’s North Carolina seniors (in years with leaner talent pools, the staff may be perfectly happy to live with 2-3 select players and focus more outside the borders; in talent-heavy years they may focus more in-state).
2018 shapes up as a relatively strong talent pool, with two consensus 5-star football players and 11 more consensus 4-stars (by comparison, the 2017 class had no 5 star players and only 8 consensus 4 stars – of whom the Tar Heels signed 3). These are the players to track:
1. Zamir White, 5 stars, RB, 5’11”, 195, Laurinburg, NC. It’s as simple as this: White is very possibly the hottest recruit in the country at the running back position. There’s not a program in the country that wouldn’t take him. UNC will undoubtedly try to persuade White to stay home, and offers him a good fit. With the departures of T.J. Logan and Elijah Hood and the transfer of Ty’son Wiliams, plus the continued recruitment of highly-touted offensive line prospects, Fedora can present White with an attractive package, complete with early playing time and a drive of less than two hours for his family to come see him play.
The last opportunity North Carolina had to get a player at White’s level was Dexter Lawrence, who ultimately signed with Clemson and proceeded to be a key player on a national championship team. It’s too soon to say how strong the mutual attraction between White and the Tar Heels is, but landing White would be a signature recruit for the UNC staff.
2. KJ Henry, 5 stars, DE, 6’5”, 230, Clemmons, NC. Henry is another player at a position of need for UNC’s improving defense. One of the persistent struggles for the last two seasons on defense has been consistently holding the edge. Henry would be a very good piece in completing the Tar Heels’ defensive rebuild, and is from the same high school as current UNC defensive lineman Jalen Dalton.
3. Rick Sandidge, 4 stars, DT, 6’5”, 273, Concord, NC. Sandidge is regarded as a high four-star recruit along the defensive line. There is enough space between Sandidge and some of the recently recruited talent along the defensive line that he would slot in nicely in terms of his opportunity to quickly break into the lineup. But like most recruits of his caliber, the Tar Heels will have to beat out a lot of traditional powerhouses to land Sandidge. It is also unclear whether the change from Tray Scott to Deke Adams as the Tar Heels’ defensive line coach will affect UNC’s recruitment of Sandidge.
4. Dax Hollifield, 4 stars, LB, 6’1”, 220, Shelby, NC. Although UNC is in good shape numbers-wise at the linebacker position, it’s been a while since UNC had a linebacker who was clearly NFL caliber. It’s early yet, but Hollifield could prove to be that guy. He’s also an exceptional student who can write his ticket both academically and athletically. He recently received an offer from LSU, and again, UNC will have to overcome offers from elite football powers to pull him in.
5. Tre Turner, 4 stars, WR, 6’4”, 185, Greensboro,NC. It’s no secret that UNC is rebuilding its elite wide receiver corps. Although there are candidates who will step up to replace Mack Hollins, Ryan Switzer, and Bug Howard for the 2017 season, more will be needed and Turner fits the mold of successful Tar Heel receivers during the Fedora era: big, lanky guys who can go get a jump ball (see Howard, Bug; Davis, Quinshad).
6. Avery Jones, 4 stars, OT, 6’4”, 270, Havelock, NC. Over the last several seasons offensive line coach Chris Kapilovic has been one of UNC’s best recruiters, and it will increasingly show up in the depth and quality of the UNC offensive line (don’t let last year’s rash of injuries fool you). Jones looks likely to be picking between UNC and NCSU, but he’s good enough that this could change quickly.
7. Jordyn Adams, 4 stars, ATH, 6’2”, 175, Cary, NC. He’s the son of new UNC defensive line coach Deke Adams, and moved from South Carolina, where his dad once coached, to Cary. You shouldn’t assume, though, that this makes Adams a lock to attend UNC.
Putting aside his status as an elite football recruit, Adams is one of the best baseball players in the country. He also plays basketball, and although he isn’t likely to play basketball in college, he did this. There are far too many variables to assess the probability of the Tar Heels landing Adams, not least of which is whether Adams will play football, baseball, or both, or even enter the MLB draft early. Assuming he wants to play college baseball, though, UNC offers an attractive destination to someone proficient in both football and baseball.
8. Dyami Brown, WR/ATH, 4 stars, 6’2”, 180, Charlotte, NC. Brown has already attracted attention from elite national powers, including Ohio State, and will have a broad set of choices available to him. He’s reputed to have a very strong interest in North Carolina, and if that results in a commitment, the Tar Heels will be able to plan on starting a recruiting class with a player who has the speed to step into the defense-stretching role Mack Hollins occupied in recent years.
9. Jamal Elliott, RB, 4 stars, 5-10”, 180, Durham, NC. A smaller back in the mold of T.J. Logan, Elliott will have a lot of options for college football. He’s not as highly rated as Zamir White, but the Tar Heel staff would be positively giddy to combine White and Elliott as double threat in the Tar Heel backfield. Like Logan and Hood, White and Elliott would make preparing for the UNC running game very difficult.
10. Jordan Davis, DT, 4 stars, 6’6”, 300, Cary, NC. A kid with this kind of size as a high school junior tends to grab attention. He’s being recruited by Miami, Ole Miss, Georgia, NCSU and Clemson, among others. Davis was being recruited by Tray Scott, but there is plenty of time left for him to get acquainted with new DL coach Deke Adams.
11. Charles Johnson, DT, 6’4”, 310, Charlotte, NC. Another beast-sized DT like Davis. His interest in UNC is at present questionable, as he seems to prefer NCSU, but there’s a lot of time to persuade him that this is insane.
12. Devon Lawrence, RB, 5’11”, 203, Wake Forest, NC. Lawrence’s preferences aren’t yet clear, but his recruitment by the Tar Heels seems likely to depend on whether the Tar Heels are successful with Zamir White and/or Jamal Elliott. Lawrence has had consistent contact with the Tar Heels and is firmly in their sights.
Dream, if you will, of the Tar Heels landing all 12 of these. I hope you get what you ask for. But if the 2018 class includes even 5-6 of this group, Fedora and his staff will be well on their way to a “statement” class for 2018.