Elijah Hood is one of four UNC football recruits who signed last week and will be enrolling early.
CHAPEL HILL – Four high school seniors officially signed with North Carolina last week and will be enrolling early.
The group is led by Charlotte Catholic’s Elijah Hood, who is ranked as the 10th best running back in the country by Scout.com.
“He’s built like you want a running back,” UNC coach Larry Fedora said. “Built low to the ground, he’s 225 pounds, he’s very explosive, his legs never stop moving in a pile or on contact. He gets a lot of yards after contact. He’s a big, physical back.”
Like Giovani Bernard, Hood initially committed to Notre Dame only to reconsider and eventually sign with the Tar Heels.
He also continued the trend of top in-state rushers heading to Chapel Hill under Fedora. While Class of 2012 recruits Keith Marshall (Raleigh) and Todd Gurley (Tarboro) went to Georgia, Fedora got T.J. Logan (Greensboro) and Khris Francis (Durham) last year, and he already has a commitment from four-star Class of 2016 back Antonio Williams (New London).
Another in-state recruit who’s coming in January is offensive tackle Bentley Spain, who also hails from Charlotte. Hood andSpain are two of 90 players nationally to be selected for the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.
“We want to get the best players in the state every year,” Fedora said. “We work extremely hard on that.”
Fedora said that the 6-6, 300-pound Spain reminds him of standout left tackle James Hurst coming out of high school.
“Big, physical guy that’s got great feet,” Fedora said. “Bentley was a must-get for us.”
The other two early entries are defensive back M.J. Stewart from Arlington, Va., and tight end Brandon Fritts from Mentor, Ohio.
Stewart also plays running back at Yorktown High – he was named Virginia AAA Northern Region offensive player of the year last season – but Fedora said he’s focused on using him at cornerback.
“He’s a guy who’s 6-foot, 185-190 pounds, so he’s the size of corner we want coming out of high school,” Fedora said. “He’s physical, he can really run and he’s very athletic.”
The UNC coaches saw the 6-4, 210-pound Fritts when they successfully recruited his high school teammate, Class of 2013 quarterback Mitch Trubisky.
“He was making plays as they were making their run through the playoffs,” Fedora said. “He was a wideout last year, but he’s grown into a tight end, and he has that athleticism that we’re really looking for. Catches the ball really well, does a nice job at the point of attack.”
This is the second straight year that North Carolina will have four commitments enroll early. Only one member of the group from 2013 has made an impact – Francis starred in the spring game, rushing for 101 yards against the first-team defense, and has been a part of UNC’s running back rotation ever since Week Two.
However, the other three early enrollees have not seen the field – wide receiver Jordan Fieulleteau, offensive lineman R.J. Prince and Trubisky, who appeared to be Bryn Renner’s backup headed into the fall but was overtaken by Marquise Williams once the Charlotte sophomore got back from his academic suspension.
Life Without Hairston To Continue
Ever since the reports of likely NCAA violations involving North Carolina’s P.J. Hairston began floating around this summer, it was clear that this season’s Tar Heel team would face a dose of uncertainty.
The widely held assumption was that Hairston’s transgressions – which included driving rental cars that were provided by a Durham man with a long criminal history – would draw a suspension that would complicate the early portion of the Tar Heels’ season, but not derail the whole thing.
But after enduring a few weeks without their breakout star, it’s looking more and more like it may end up being the Tar Heels’ new normal.
“I’m honestly extremely frustrated,” sophomore point guard Marcus Paige said. “I know a lot of us are. It’s tough. It would just be nice to know so we can move on.”
And with Hairston’s case still appearing to take turns, it may be some time before that finally happens.
When Roy Williams discussed the situation involving Hairston and senior Leslie McDonald – who would have been a key contributor on the wing – at the Tar Heels’ preseason media day and the ACC’s Operation Basketball, he sounded confident that there would be a resolution before the season opener against Oakland. But a day before the season tipped off, he struck a different tone.
After team spokesman Steve Kirschner said that Hairston and McDonald would be sitting because of an “ongoing issue,” a subdued Williams sounded resigned to the fact that he did not know where the NCAA’s investigation was headed.
“It is frustrating, but it’s also a long process,” he said. “We’re trying to do what we can do, the NCAA’s trying to do what they can do. But it’s what it is. I’m sure (the NCAA) would like to settle all of their cases in five minutes, too.”
This came the same day as a USA Today report that detailed some of what the mother of Elizabeth City State player Miykael Faulcon told the NCAA during a meeting in September. Faulcon was riding in the rented SUV during Hairston’s June arrest in Durham.
According to the report, his mother told investigators that she saw Hairston driving a rented Camaro several times over a period of months. If her statements don’t match what Hairston told the NCAA, it could open the door for a punishment that would be far stiffer than anyone in Chapel Hill was anticipating.
A week later, after saying that the pair would be held out for the Tar Heels’ second game, Kirschner told reporters that he would stop addressing Hairston and McDonald’s status on a game-by-game basis. In other words, just assume they’ll be sitting until told otherwise.
Williams said the players are no longer working with the first team in practice, as they had done at points in the preseason.
That’s especially galling because Williams has repeatedly said that Hairston is the Tar Heels’ most impressive player in practice.
“And it’s not even close,” Williams said.
Without their top wing threats, North Carolina looked uneven in a blowout against Oakland, struggled to beat Holy Cross and lost to Belmont. Paige, a natural point guard, has had to play shooting guard, while sophomore forward J.P. Tokoto, who played sparingly last season, has been thrust into the starting lineup.
As the saga grinds on, the chances appear greater that this might not be a temporary arrangement.