Today, North Carolina is set to host Zamir White, a five-star textbook-built running back from Laurinburg, North Carolina. Back in February, following the close of the 2017 football recruiting cycle, we offered an early look at UNC’s chief targets for 2018. White, who some call “Zeus,” topped the list. He is the kind of elite talent that this program needs to recruit if it ever wants to take the next step in development.
It won’t be an easy task, either. When local talent like this comes around, all too often the story plays out the same way. When there’s a kid good enough to play anywhere he wishes, he takes a visit to UNC and other local schools, but ultimately decides the allure of a more established football program is too much to pass up. And so off to Florida State or Alabama or LSU or Georgia he goes, and once more the Tar Heels lose out on the kind of player that can change the perception of what North Carolina football can be. This happens with frustrating regularity.
Most recently, it was Wake Forest’s Dexter Lawrence, who won a national championship at Clemson that they probably wouldn’t have won, or even played for, without him. Other players of similar caliber who escaped include DJ Humphries (Charlotte/Florida), Keith Marshall (Raleigh/Georgia), Todd Gurley (Tarboro/Georgia – in the same year as Marshall), and Jonathan Bullard (Shelby/Florida). Every one of those players is in the NFL, and Lawrence soon will be.
You may have noticed that the two running backs mentioned above ended up at Georgia, and it seemed that White would take a similar route. So much so, in fact, that when we ran a recruiting update three weeks ago, White didn’t even make the list of players to watch because his commitment to Georgia seemed to be a certainty. He had made an unofficial visit to UNC on March 4, but that felt perfunctory by comparison to four separate unofficial visits to Georgia between January and April, to say nothing of visits with Ohio State and Alabama being sprinkled in. There was simply nothing pointing in North Carolina’s direction but White’s home address.
Ah, yes; home. Home is the one thing that North Carolina can offer White that Alabama, Ohio State and Georgia cannot (Clemson will argue the point, but they can’t either). It’s where friends and mothers tend to live, and this seems to matter to White. He is close friends with UNC linebacker and Scotland County product Jonathan Smith (keep an eye on this name in 2017, and he plans to announce his commitment on June 27, his mother’s birthday.
As that date approaches, the sands seem to have shifted considerably. White is visiting UNC on Sunday, where staff will get a last, best opportunity to make their pitch. This last second visit came as something of a surprise, but Scotland County locals are stirring with word that a Georgia commitment is no sure thing (word of which Georgia is no doubt also aware and will work to fix).
Maybe this is just the same story with the same sad ending UNC fans are used to. But maybe, just maybe, White has noticed that playing college football at North Carolina offers not only a short trip home, but a program that has more active NFL backs than any program other than Alabama, has recruited successfully along the offensive line, and happens to have a wide-open need for running back that he could step in and fill immediately without being required to carry an offense by himself.
Oftentimes, a program can change its narrative from good to great when a difficult recruit says yes. When he performs at that school, it can attract others to follow (see Ford, Phil; Walker, Herschel). White is that kind of recruit—the kind so big that recruitniks have taken to calling him the “White Whale.”
Football is the ultimate team sport, and one player, even a great one, cannot create a great football team. However, a great player added to a program that has shown it can build a mix of depth and talent good enough to be an ACC contender. . . that’s another story.
I’m saying there’s a chance.