CHAPEL HILL North Carolina’s 2005 recruiting class may be viewed two or three years from now as a successful one. But in the hours just before and after national signing day, the talk centered most upon whom the Tar Heels didn’t get. There were some good reasons for that.
Namely, Montario Hardesty, Jonathan Hannah, Toney Baker, Cade Thompson, Derek Nicholson, Jose Cruz and Bryan Payton. Those are the players UNC fought for but lost at the end of the recruiting process, or who committed to the Tar Heels at some point but later backed off for one reason or another.
The key losses first Baker (N.C. State), then Hardesty (Tennessee), Hannah (South Carolina) and Nicholson (Florida State) on signing day understandably diminished the class in the eyes of national recruiting analysts. All four players were four- or five-star prospects. Baker, Hardesty and Nicholson grew up rooting for the Tar Heels, and Hannah visited Chapel Hill at least 20 times. Nicholson’s dad played football at UNC.
The result was a class that failed to crack any national top-25 rankings and was rated by some analysts behind Duke in the ACC. That may be an indication that the Blue Devils did something special, rather than an indictment of the Tar Heels, but from a perception standpoint, it clearly was bad news.
Outside of Georgia tailback Richard Rich, in-state quarterback Cameron Sexton and perhaps one or two others, UNC’s signees weren’t nationally touted or heavily recruited. But especially Sexton, a mobile, strong-armed passer from Scotland High, was a major coup for the Tar Heels.
Darian Durant’s graduation, combined with the program’s failure to acquire a big-time quarterback prospect since coach John Bunting’s arrival in 2001, made that position even more significant than usual for UNC this year. The Tar Heels lost out early on the state’s top-rated passer, Jonathan Crompton from Waynesville, who committed to Tennessee in June.
Even then, UNC’s focus went to other quarterbacks, including Tennessee’s Thompson and Kentucky’s Chris Todd. Thompson committed to the Tar Heels in early August, leaving Sexton, another lifelong Carolina fan, frustrated that he still had not received a scholarship offer from Bunting.
“There were some problems early and some things going on that I wasn’t happy about, but they were following procedure,” Sexton said. “It had me feeling they were not interested in me. I found out when I went to camp that they like to evaluate players in person before they offer. As soon as I learned that, things did a complete turnaround.”
Still, the Tar Heels had to fight off some heavyweights to sign Sexton. In the 48 hours leading up to the player’s commitment to UNC in late November, Florida State’s Bobby Bowden and South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier visited Sexton for face-to-face meetings. It was one of Spurrier’s first visits with a prospect after being named the Gamecocks’ head coach. He even had one of his former Florida quarterbacks, Rex Grossman of the NFL’s Chicago Bears, telephone Sexton.
Sexton, whose father Brent played in the NFL with the Pittsburgh Steelers, was impressed but not swayed by his high-profile visitors.
“Definitely, to have those men in your home makes you sit back and go, ëWow!’” Sexton said. “I was thankful for the experience. But I always had a special comfort level with North Carolina. My parents and I had always talked about choosing a place that, God forbid, if I was injured and couldn’t play football, that I would still be happy. Carolina was that place for me.”
Spurrier eventually did lure one of UNC’s quarterback prospects away, convincing Thompson to switch to the Gamecocks in January. The loss was tempered by Sexton’s commitment and the fact that the rail-thin Thompson probably won’t be physically ready to contribute at the Division I-A level for at least two years.
Sexton, on the other hand, already has begun competing for playing time at UNC. An early graduate from high school, he was able to participate in the Tar Heels’ practices at the Continental Tire Bowl in Charlotte, and he enrolled at UNC in January. Although rising senior Matt Baker figures to be the starter this fall, Sexton has a chance at the No. 2 spot.
Almost an afterthought in UNC’s quarterback hunt was Bobby Rome, a 5-11, 220-pounder from Virginia. Most schools recruiting Rome wanted him to play another position, but the Tar Heels gained a commitment by offering to start him out behind center. Bunting paid Rome quite a compliment on signing day, calling him “a Darian Durant clone.” Durant, a three-year starter, departed as the school’s all-time passing leader.
Filling needs at most of the offensive skill positions was one of the strengths of the class.
Charlotte private school stars Nick Starcevic and Mark Paschal should help soften the loss of Madison Hedgecock at fullback, where the Tar Heels will return only one experienced player (Rikki Cook) this fall. Paschal, the son of ex-UNC fullback Doug Paschal, probably will begin his career at linebacker, but the 6-2, 235-pound Starcevic has the size, skill and bulldog temperament to earn some early playing time in the backfield.
Wide receiver signees Tony Engram, Brandon Tate, Kenton Thornton and Richard Quinn may find it difficult to crack the veteran rotation of Jarwarski Pollock, Mike Mason, Derrele Mitchell and Jesse Holley, but they bring some unique talents to the table.
Engram and Tate are fast, big-play athletes who also excel at returning kicks, while the 6-5, 225-pound Thornton is a faster version of former UNC wideout L.C. Stevens. Thornton’s size is an element the Tar Heels lack in their receiver corps, so he could be an asset next year, especially near the end zone. Quinn could grow into a tight end.
North Carolina suffered its most frustrating recruiting setbacks at running back and tight end, where Hardesty and Hannah play.
Hardesty, a slashing runner from New Bern with track-star speed, became the prize of the UNC class on Jan. 17 when, after returning from an official visit to Tennessee, he announced plans to join the Tar Heels. The decision helped offset the disappointment UNC was feeling over losing Baker to N.C. State. But within days of his announcement, Hardesty had second thoughts. On signing day, he chose Tennessee.
A silver lining had occurred for UNC by then, however, in the form of Rich. A quick, darting runner, he was ranked the No. 5 all-purpose back in the nation by Rivals.com and the 24th-best prospect in Georgia by SuperPrep. He should be a candidate this fall to fill the role of UNC’s big-play back, in a style similar to what senior Chad Scott provided in 2004.
Power runner Kennedy Tinsley from Greensboro and shifty James “Cooter” Arnold from Mocksville were the other in-state backfield signees, but both could wind up being switched to other positions at some point.
Defensively, the Tar Heels signed in-state linemen with excellent potential in end Darrius Massenburg and tackle Camaron Thomas. They also claimed three defenders from South Florida power Norland High in Miami, led by linebacker Garrett White.
Finally, one player who did stick with his commitment to the Tar Heels through some significant duress was in-state cornerback Jordan Hemby. After making a pledge to UNC in early January, he resisted strong overtures from Florida and N.C. State right up until signing day.
“This past week, a Chuck Amato and an Urban Meyer are either in the school or the house, and we got (Hemby) at Carolina,” Bunting said. “That’s exciting.”
Exciting, indeed. The Tar Heels just hope that, in the future, more of their exciting signing-day stories have the same kind of happy ending.
Thomas Followed Through On Early Pledge
CHAPEL HILL Camaron Thomas was an oddity in the world of football recruiting, and not just because he stands 6-4, weighs 315 pounds and played fullback in high school.
Thomas was committed to the same school North Carolina for 364 days before signing a national letter of intent with the Tar Heels on Feb. 2. That’s rare in this day and age, when so many prospects seem to switch their allegiances on an almost daily basis.
“It’s like a family there,” Thomas said on signing day. “They showed me love.”
In Thomas’ case, there’s a whole lot for UNC to love. Thomas was a fixture at North Moore High in North Carolina for three seasons. If coach Bryan Lee had his way, there would have been an extra year added to that figure. Lee arrived at North Moore when Thomas was a freshman.
“I come in, and the year before they had maybe 12 kids on the varsity,” Lee said. “There were probably only about 30 kids in the entire program. So I got here, and one of the first players I met was Cam. I was thinking, ëWhat’s wrong with this picture?’ They had like a 25-game losing streak going, and here is this kid who is an NFL-size lineman. It was jaw-dropping to see him when we first met. I was hoping there were others around like him. But there was a catch. His mother didn’t want him playing varsity as a freshman.”
Once Thomas did join the varsity, he was a dominant force in the Yadkin Valley (Class 1A) Conference, earning all-league honors three straight years while playing fullback and defensive tackle. As a senior, he collected 62 tackles, including 19 for losses, and rushed for 798 yards and 12 touchdowns. Florida State and South Carolina were among the schools that continued to pursue Thomas long after his commitment to UNC.
“There was a lot of pressure,” Thomas said. “At first I did think about those schools. But then I thought about my family and friends, and especially my mom, and I decided staying closer to home was more important. I want her to be able to come to all my games.”
Lee said North Carolina is getting a tremendous prospect.
“It’s hard to believe, but he runs about a 5.0 40,” Lee said. “But it’s not all about physical abilities with Cam. He’s not grown up with a silver spoon in his mouth, so there’s a lot of desire there.” Sammy Batten
Who Got Away?
The following prospects had firm scholarship offers from North Carolina and/or took official campus visits to Chapel Hill but signed with other programs: Jamestown (NC) Ragsdale RB Toney Baker (NCSU), Chesapeake (VA) Smith QB Greg Boone (VT), Wilson (NC) Beddingfield DE Everette Brown (FSU), Waynesville (NC) Tuscola QB Jonathan Crompton (Tennessee), Columbia (SC) High RB Mike Davis (South Carolina), Fayetteville (NC) Britt DB Brandon Ghee (WF), Hope Mills (NC) South View TE Jonathan Hannah (South Carolina), New Bern (NC) High RB/DB Montario Hardesty (Tennessee), Birmingham (AL) Briarwood Christian TE Charles Hoke (Alabama), Palm Harbor (FL) University DT Ted Larsen (NCSU), Princeton (NJ) Hun TE/DE Shea McKeen (South Carolina), Winston-Salem (NC) Mt. Tabor LB Derek Nicholson (FSU), Hampton (VA) High WR Todd Nolen (VT), Chattanooga (TN) McCallie DE Ayanga Okpokowuruk (Duke), Mocksville (NC) Davie TE Ted Randolph (WF), Fairless Hills (PA) Conwell Egan RB/DB Steve Slaton (WVU), Jacksonville (FL) First Coast LB Ryan Stamper (Florida), Virginia Beach (VA) Kellam LB Demetrius Taylor (VT), Maryville (TN) High QB Cade Thompson (South Carolina), Rocky Mount (NC) High DB Stephan Virgil (VT), Keller (TX) High RB DeMaundray Woolridge (Washington State).
The following prospects also claimed scholarship offers from UNC but eliminated the Tar Heels very early in the recruiting process: Virginia Beach (VA) Salem LB Antonio Appleby (UVa), Cartersville (GA) High DB Anthony Barnes (GT), Deptford (NJ) High LB Jeff Clement (Maryland), St. Augustine (FL) High OL Randall Cox (GT), Kernersville (NC) Glenn OL Chris DeGeare (WF), Mullins (SC) High OL Jamarcus Grant (Clemson), Lawrenceville (NJ) Notre Dame WR Rich Gunnell (BC), Marion (MA) Tabor DE Jared Harrell (Maryland), Owings Mills (MD) McDonogh WR Darrius Heyward-Bey (Maryland), Harrison City (PA) Penn-Trafford OL Jason Kacinko (Purdue), Hampton (VA) Phoebus RB Elan Lewis (VT), Danville (VA) Washington DB Cameron Martin (VT), Charlotte (NC) Independence WR Mohamed Massaquoi (Georgia), Alief (TX) Hastings DT Vince Oghobaase (Duke), Richmond (VA) Hermitage QB Jameel Sewell (UVa), Philadelphia (PA) St. John Neumann OL Marques Slocum (Michigan), Elizabethtown (KY) High QB Chris Todd (Texas Tech). Compiled by Dave Glenn
2005 North Carolina Football Signees
2005 North Carolina Football Signees
|Name||Pos.||Ht.||Wt.||Stars||High School/Junior College||Comment|
|James Arnold||RB/DB||5-10||170||3/3||Mocksville (NC) Davie||SP-24 NC; 2-way 1st-team all-state; over Clem., NCSU|
|Andre Barbour||OL||6-6||270||2/2||Atlanta (GA) North Springs||Raw; only 2 years varsity FB; early over Duke, MTSU (!)|
|Andre Coleman||DB||6-1||185||2/2||Miami (FL) Norland||HM all-county; last add to Norland trio; over Rut., USF|
|Bryan Dixon||DB||5-11||205||2/2||Tabor City (NC) South Columbus||2-year, 2-way starter; early over Clem., Duke, ECU (?)|
|Tony Engram||WR||5-10||170||3/2||College Park (GA) North Clayton||"Dirk"; 1st-team 4A; over Clem., Duke, NW, Vandy (!)|
|Barrington Edwards^||RB||6-0||215||NA||LSU Transfer||Former prep A-A at Bowie (MD) High; eligible in 2005|
|Dwight Flukerberry||DB||6-2||190||2/2||Miami (FL) Norland||3-year starter; QB/RB/WR/FS/CB in HS; over USF (?)|
|Jordan Hemby||DB||5-10||175||3/3||Morganton (NC) Freedom||SP-18 NC; cover corner; over Clem., UF, Md., NCSU|
|Kyle Jolly||OL||6-6||280||2/2||Powhatan (VA) Blessed Sacrament||SP-29 VA; 1st-team two-way VIS; over I-AA offers (!)|
|Darrius Massenburg||DE||6-4||255||3/2||Roanoke Rapids (NC) High||SP-15 NC; 1st-team all-state; also LB; early over ECU (?)|
|Mark Paschal||FB/LB||6-0||220||3/3||Charlotte (NC) Latin||RV-10 FB; SP-21 NC; dad-UNC/NFL; over UCLA (!)|
|Richard Quinn^||TE||6-3||215||3/3||Maple Heights (OH) High||RV-15 TE; SP-25 OH; WR/DE in HS; over Iowa, Pitt, Pur.|
|Garrett Reynolds||OL||6-7||275||2/3||Knoxville (TN) Carter||SP-13 TN; Hacksaw’s nephew; over Neb., Vandy, VT|
|Richard Rich||RB||5-9||180||3/4||Marietta (GA) Wheeler||RV-5 APB; SP-24 GA; over Ky., Louis., Minn., NCSU|
|Bobby Rome||QB/RB||5-11||220||2/2||Norfolk (VA) Granby||SP-32 VA; 2nd-team all-area; 4-year starter; over PSU|
|Cameron Sexton*^||QB||6-1||170||4/3||Laurinburg (NC) Scotland||SP-6 QB; RV-8 dual-threat QB; ST-20 QB; over FSU (!)|
|Aaron Stahl||DT||6-3||280||2/2||Venice (FL) High||SP-83 FL; HM 5A all-state; 2-way starter; early over USF|
|Nick Starcevic||FB||6-2||235||2/2||Charlotte (NC) Catholic||SP-34 NC; played in Wing-T; early over ACC interest (!)|
|Jermaine Strong||DB||5-10||170||3/3||Fork Union (VA) Military||Shelby (NC) Crest burner (4.4); Neb., NCSU interest|
|Brandon Tate||WR||6-1||185||2/2||Burlington (NC) Cummings||All-area; 66-1,213-18 as sr.; early over ECU, WVU (?)|
|Camaron Thomas||DT||6-4||315||3/3||Robbins (NC) North Moore||SP-19 NC; also FB in HS; very early over ACC interest|
|Kenton Thornton||WR||6-5||225||3/3||Blairstown (NJ) Blair||NJ prep POY; also Dallas (TX) St. Mark’s; over BC, UF|
|Kennedy Tinsley||RB||6-0||210||2/2||Greensboro (NC) Dudley||TB as sr., FB as jr.; 165-1,148-10 in 2004; early decision (!)|
|Garrett White||LB||6-2||230||2/3||Miami (FL) Norland||3-year starter; 3rd-team 5A; late over Pitt, Rut., USF|
|E.J. Wilson||LB||6-2||235||2/2||Lawrenceville (VA) Brunswick||SP-30 VA; played QB/RB/TE/FS in HS; over Navy, VT (!)|
*All-American (top-250 by two/more services)
STScout.com RVRivals.com SPSuperPrep
STARS: By Scout/Rivals.