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Much-maligned Football State Could Produce Record Numbers

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

By Sammy Batten
Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer

August 30, 2006

Describing the senior high school football crop in North Carolina this season requires just two words: deep and varied.

By mid-August, at least 64 seniors in the state had been offered at least one scholarship from a Division I-A program, and 42 players already had made commitments. If all of those prospects wind up signing with
I-A schools in February, it would mark the second-highest number from the state since 1992.

North Carolina has sent an average of almost 50 players annually into the I-A ranks over the past 14 years, reaching a peak of 67 in 2001. That was the only time during that period when the state surpassed the 60-player plateau.

But national recruiting analysts such as Mike Farrell from Rivals.com believe the Class of 2007 could challenge that figure.

"I'll be watching North Carolina really closely, because there seems to be more talent than usual there this year," Farrell said. "It's a deep class, and a lot of schools in and out of the state are in there trying to take
advantage."

The talent in the Class of 2007 isn't just plentiful. It also covers a cross-section of positions. Almost every spot has at least one prospect who has been or is being pursued well beyond the regional level. Quarterback is the only position not covered in the upper reaches of the rankings, but even there the state still has at least two of quality in D.J. McFadden from six-time defending state champ Charlotte Independence and Rodney Cox of Harnett Central.

East Carolina scored a high-profile recruiting coup with a July commitment from McFadden. The 6-2, 210-pounder threw for 3,729 yards and 33 touchdowns as a junior in his first season as a starter, helping to extend Independence's national-best winning streak to 92 games.

While McFadden is a pro-style quarterback, Cox is a dual threat who threw for 1,000 yards and ran for 2,000 as a junior. An imposing 6-5, 225-pounder with 4.6 speed in the 40-yard dash, Cox is regarded as a strong lean to N.C. State, which may convert him to tight end.

But back to the top 20, which is led by the state's most highly recruited player, Greg Little of Durham Hillside.

More than 50 major schools had made scholarship offers to Little as he began preseason practice for his senior season. The
6-2, 215-pounder attracted the attention of those recruiters while playing running back for the Hornets, and early reports compared him to Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush.

Little is an excellent back who ran for 1,116 yards and scored 23 touchdowns as a junior, but Bush he isn't - and he doesn't want to be. Wide receiver is where Little hopes to line up in college. He had 23 catches for 475 yard and four scores in 2005. Meanwhile, many coaches and analysts predict collegiate stardom for him at linebacker or safety.

Little was scheduled to whittle his list of schools to five by late August. That didn't happen, but Notre Dame, Florida, North Carolina, Southern California and Michigan clearly rank among his final choices. He also included Duke and Wake Forest on his most recent list.

"I could see myself playing for any of those programs in the future," Little said. "But right now I'm trying to give everyone a fair shake. This is one of the most important decisions I'll ever make, so I need to consider all my options."

Ranked right behind Little is perhaps the state's most exciting playmaker in Marcus Gilchrist from T.W. Andrews High in High Point.

Gilchrist is first and foremost a lock-down cornerback. His ability to break on the ball resulted in 11 interceptions as a junior. Add to those skills some exceptional speed (4.4) and agility that resulted in seven kicks returned for touchdowns last season, and you have an athlete who drew more than 20 scholarship offers before announcing his college decision.

Clemson won the competition for Gil-christ in July, securing a commitment over the likes of Florida, Georgia, Michigan and Notre Dame, among many others.

The Tigers are one of several out-of-state programs making their presence felt in North Carolina again this year. Along with Gilchrist, Clemson received an early commitment from Landon Walker, an offensive tackle prospect from East Wilkes High near Wilkesboro. Walker, whose father played on Clemson's 1981 national championship team, chose the Tigers over N.C. State.

Gilchrist and Walker were two of 15 in-state players who had committed to out-of-state programs by late August. The total included nine of our top 20.

Garner High tailback/safety Josh Oglesby was probably the biggest curiosity on that list. His father Ike and uncle Mark both played at UNC, and that's where Josh originally hoped to matriculate as well. But despite an impressive junior season by Oglesby, the Tar Heels didn't extend an offer until mid-July, long after the likes of N.C. State, Wake Forest and the Hokies had jumped on board.

"I probably would have committed to (UNC) if they had offered during their first camp (in June)," Ogelsby said. "When they didn't, it gave me time to look at other places. That's when I realized what a great program Virginia Tech has."

Despite defections by many of the state's best prospects, East Carolina, North Carolina and N.C. State have benefited from the deep talent pool.

The Wolfpack and coach Chuck Amato have received some criticism in recent years for signing lots of players from Florida while at times posting less stellar results (especially with the Class of 2006) within the state's borders. Amato is one of the only coaches who has spoken publicly about the inherent difficulties involved in recruiting North Carolina, a state with a large number of Division I-A programs (five) but a talent pool that falls far short of those found in the gridiron-centric havens of California, Florida, Georgia and Texas.

"The state of North Carolina has got outstanding high school football players in it," Amato said. "But can the population of the state handle four (ACC) schools, plus an East Carolina, plus the neighboring schools that are closer to the players than some of the in-state schools?"

Amato actually may be off to his most prosperous year yet recruiting in-state players, with 10 commitments by late August. Six of those generally are regarded among the top 30 in the state, including offensive lineman Desmond Roberts from Northampton-West High in Gaston. The Wolfpack likes Roberts, who chose the Wolfpack over rival UNC and Virginia Tech, as a center.

The Tar Heels received early commitments from three of the top 10 in-state players, highlighted by Burlington Cummings wide receiver Dwight Jones and running back Ryan Houston from Matthews Butler, near Charlotte. High Point Southwest Guilford linebacker Albert Craddock also announced for UNC, but he later said he'd still like to visit other schools.

Jones, a 6-3, 210-pounder with 4.6 speed, is considered by nearly every scouting service one of the nation's premier receiver pros-pects. UNC got to him early in the recruiting process and received his pledge in mid-February. Schools such as Florida, Louisiana State and Tennessee have continued to pursue Jones, but he has remained loyal to UNC. A four-year starter, he had 49 receptions for 962 yards and eight touchdowns as a junior.

Houston, who chose the Tar Heels over Clemson, Florida and Miami, is a back in the Jerome Bettis mold. He stands 6-2, weighs about 255 pounds and runs the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds. Those attributes should serve him well in the spread offense that offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti has installed in Chapel Hill this season. Houston, who had more than 20 scholarship offers overall, rushed for 1,910 yards and 34 touchdowns as a junior for a 10-3 team.

Another promising UNC commitment, Manteo High athlete Emanuel Davis, doesn't get as much respect from the recruiting services but draws raves from those who play with or against him in eastern North Carolina. A four-year starter on the gridiron, Davis was the conference player of the year in both football and basketball as a junior. Last fall, he played quarterback, running back, receiver, linebacker and safety, gaining more than 1,200 rushing yards for a 12-2 team. He's also the state's Class 2A triple jump champion.

East Carolina also has made a significant dent in-state under second-year coach Skip Holtz. The Pirates haven't landed anyone in the top 20 to date, but they have five commitments from in-state athletes.

In addition to McFadden, ECU picked up a significant pledge from Elizabeth City power back Daronte McNeil (6-1, 233), who also received serious interest from Louisville, Penn State, Virginia and Virginia Tech.

All of the early commitments by North Carolina prospects may make for a slow regular season on the recruiting front. But that doesn't mean there aren't some major talents still available.

Along with Little, Ahoskie Hertford County defensive tackle Tydreke Powell, Garner High safety Chris Culliver, Durham Riverside tight end Wesley Saunders, Winterville South Central cornerback Tyrell Worthington and Oakboro West Stanly linebacker Quan Sturdivant are highly regarded prospects still being courted by a number of high-profile schools.

Culliver has had one of the more intriguing recruiting experiences in the state this year. The swift, physical safety committed to N.C. State in April but backed out of that pledge in July. The Wolfpack now is battling the likes of Clemson, Florida, UNC and Virginia Tech for Culliver's services.

Kickers don't typically rise up the recruiting lists easily, but Jay Wooten of Laurinburg Scotland received national attention before committing to UNC in May over Clemson and LSU. California-based kicking expert Chris Sailer has called Wooten one of the top 12 kickers in the nation. Three Scotland products - quarterback Cameron Sexton, defensive end Hilee Taylor and cornerback Jacoby Watkins - are prominent players for the Tar Heels this season.



NORTH CAROLINA'S TOP 30

No. Name Pos. Ht./Wt. High School College Favorites
1. Greg Little WR 6-2/215 Durham Hillside UNC, Fla., ND, So.Cal, Mich.*
2. Marcus Gilchrist DB 5-11/175 High Point Andrews CLEMSON
3. Trinton Sturdivant OL 6-4/280 Wadesboro Anson GEORGIA
4. Tydreke Powell DT 6-3/285 Ahoskie Hertford Co. UNC, PSU, Miami, FSU*
5. Dwight Jones WR 6-3/210 Burlington Cummings NORTH CAROLINA
6. Travian Robertson DE 6-4/220 Laurinburg Scotland SOUTH CAROLINA
7. Chris Culliver DB 6-0/185 Garner High NCSU, Clem., Fla., UNC*
8. Ryan Houston RB 6-2/255 Matthews Butler NORTH CAROLINA
9. Albert Craddock LB 6-3/200 High Point SW Guilford UNC, VT, Aub., UVa, GT*
10. Kerry Neal LB 6-1/220 Bunn High NOTRE DAME
11. Wesley Saunders TE/DE 6-5/265 Durham Riverside UNC, PSU, USC, Louis., WF*
12. Kevion Latham DE 6-3/235 Greensboro Page PENN STATE
13. Barquell Rivers LB 5-11/210 Wadesboro Anson VIRGINIA TECH
14. Landon Walker OL 6-6/270 Ronda East Wilkes CLEMSON
15. Josh Oglesby RB/S 5-11/205 Garner High VIRGINIA TECH
16. Quan Sturdivant LB 6-2/225 Oakboro West Stanly UNC, Fla.
17. Daryl Vereen RB 5-11/185 Huntersville N. Mecklenburg TENNESSEE
18. Linwan Euwell LB/DE 6-2/210 Pinetops SW Edgecombe N.C. STATE
19. Desmond Roberts OL 6-5/265 Gaston Northampton-West N.C. STATE
20. Doug Weaver OL 6-6/285 Roxboro Person WAKE FOREST
21. Jason Barnes WR 6-4/195 Charlotte Independence USC, UNC
22. Sam Jones OL/DT 6-5/265 Fuquay-Varina High N.C. STATE
23. Emanuel Davis DB 5-11/190 Manteo High NORTH CAROLINA
24. Steven Howard WR 6-2/185 Charlotte Olympic N.C. STATE
25. Rodney Cox QB 6-5/225 Angier Harnett Central NCSU, USC, Clem., ECU*
26. Tyrell Worthington DB 6-0/180 Winterville South Central UNC, NCSU, Clem., VT*
27. George Bryan TE/DE 6-5/250 Wilmington New Hanover N.C. STATE
28. Jonathan Smith LB/S 6-2/195 Durham Hillside NORTH CAROLINA
29. Dominique Ellis DB 5-11/180 Wendell East Wake N.C. STATE
30. Michael Bowman WR 5-11/156 Wadesboro Anson SOUTH CAROLINA

NOTE: Preseason player rankings by the ACC Sports Journal.
* – also considering other schools