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North Carolina

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

Wild Cards Made Group Difficult To Gauge

CHAPEL HILL — The football recruiting class assembled by North Carolina for 2004 is like a hand of poker. It could be loaded or not, depending on how the wild cards are played. The Tar Heels signed a 23-player class that features a number of blue-chip athletes who could have an immediate impact on the struggling program this fall. Those include agile cornerback-kick returner Trimane Goddard, Florida offensive line stud Calvin Darity, Arkansas safety Stephen Green, prep school defensive linemen Terry Hunter and Khalif Mitchell, and placekicker Connor Barth. Some analysts heralded the recruits collectively as an outstanding class, although UNC's national ranking varied to an unusual degree. TheInsiders.com rated the Heels the 18th-best class in the nation, while SuperPrep slotted them at No. 28 and Rivals.com put them at No. 36. All of that was more than enough to ignite the usual signing-day euphoria around Chapel Hill, where the football program was in dire need of an emotional boost after enduring back-to-back losing seasons and some offseason scuttlebutt about the future of head coach John Bunting. But behind the big names in UNC's class are a number of prospects who best can be described as “wild cards.” They appear to be players of promise, but thanks to a variety of circumstances there is less of a consensus about their potential at the college level than with the higher-profile signees. In all likelihood, it will be those 12 or 13 players who ultimately will determine if Bunting's staff hit the jackpot. They include athletes noted more for their exploits in sports besides football, players who barely saw the field as high school seniors, and some others whose level of competition has been questioned. Prime examples of the first circumstance above are North Carolina defensive lineman Kentwan Balmer and Georgia quarterback Michael Rozier. Balmer was a minor blip on the recruiting radar last summer, before he impressed the UNC coaches during their summer camp. His major acclaim up to that time had come as a junior on the basketball floor, where he was the runner-up for the state's 1A Mr. Basketball honor. The Tar Heels swooped in with an early offer to corral Balmer, before the word spread about his impressive performance at camp. Balmer, who won't turn 18 until October, made that decision look brilliant with a stellar senior season in which he had 113 tackles, 12 sacks and was selected to play in the Shrine Bowl. Rozier has been a star on the baseball diamond since little league. The left-handed pitcher has used a 90 miles-per-hour fastball to strike out almost 300 batters and log a 1.05 earned run average over three seasons. He's good enough that schools such as Clemson, Florida State, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Mississippi State and South Carolina offered diamond scholarships, and pro scouts consider him a potential pick for June's amateur draft. But Rozier, who threw for 1,454 yards as a senior, chose to come to UNC on a football scholarship because the Tar Heels are going to allow him to play both sports. “We don't know where he'll be drafted,” Rozier's father Mike said. “But we made the decision early on that going to college is the best thing for him. He wanted to play football somewhere, but he didn't want to give up baseball.” While Balmer and Rozier could be considered late bloomers, running back Antwain Carey and offensive lineman Thomas Nyaoga didn't get much of an opportunity to blossom as high school seniors because of injuries. Carey used his super speed and tackle-breaking power to pile up more than 1,100 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns as a junior at Deep Creek High in the super-competitive Tidewater area of Virginia. But he had been playing since his sophomore season with pain in his foot. An x-ray during the summer prior to his senior year revealed a fractured bone, and surgery was required. The rehab limited Carey to just four games in 2003, but he averaged 133 yards rushing in those outings. Nyaoga, a hulking 6-5, 290-pounder from Texas, played in just one game as a senior after twice fracturing a bone in one of his feet. The first break occurred last summer, before the start of football practice, and the second happened late in the season when Nyaoga tried to return to action. Still, schools such as Colorado, Colorado State, Florida, Kansas, Kansas State and South Carolina recruited Nyaoga based on his outstanding junior season and his 4.9-second timing in the 40-yard dash when healthy. “He's big and he's physical and he's mean,” Mansfield Summit coach Tim Beck said. “People knew he'd recover from the injury, so not many schools backed off.” A question about competition arose when UNC received a commitment from fullback-linebacker Cori Powell of Charlotte's Providence Day School in July. Providence Day is a private school, and the perception in North Carolina is that the competition is significantly weaker at that level than it is in the public schools. Add to that the fact that Powell has played organized football for only three years, and you can see how he fits in the wild card category. There are other wild card cases in the UNC class. Wyatt Hicks of Virginia was recruited as an offensive lineman, although he played only one season on the line after starting his career at tight end. Chase Rice is an undersized in-state linebacker whose only other offers were from Duke and Wake Forest. Marcus Hands and Kenny Price are a pair of talented defensive linemen who signed for a second straight year with UNC but still haven't qualified academically. Of course, on signing day, the high-profile members of UNC's class overshadowed any uncertainty over the wild card prospects. Darity and Goddard were considered major coups for the Heels, as both were rated among the best at their positions nationally by most recruiting services. UNC scored two of its rare recruiting victories over FSU with the additions of Darity and Goddard. Rated the nation's top offensive guard prospect by Rivals.com, Darity played in the shadow of Doak Walker Stadium in Tallahassee, Fla., at powerhouse Lincoln High. He entertained offers from the Seminoles, LSU, Nebraska and Tennessee, among others. “He has all the things that great offensive linemen have: toughness, intelligence and athleticism,” Lincoln coach David Wilson said. “He's got long arms. He's got a knack of blocking, and he can deliver a blow.” Goddard also was pursued heavily by FSU, Tennessee and Virginia. Big plays are Goddard's forte, and he can make them passing or running with the football, or defending against the run or pass. Bunting said he is considering using Goddard on both sides of the football, although it appears cornerback and kick returns will be his primary areas. “We want him to touch the football,” Bunting said. “He could develop into a two-way player. He has those skills. I have high expectations for him.” Expectations may be almost as high for Barth, Green, Hunter, Mitchell and defensive end/linebacker Hilee Taylor. A first-team USA Today All-American, Barth is expected to replace Dan Orner as placekicker this fall. Hunter and Mitchell, who both enrolled at UNC in January, played so well in prep school that they were bombarded with scholarship offers from other ACC and SEC schools. Taylor is an exceptionally quick 6-3, 215-pounder who reminds many of former UNC linebacker James Hamilton. “We have added depth at many positions, but our emphasis this year was offensive line. We got four,” Bunting said. “Defensive back, we got five. We wanted to get speed back there. We wanted to continue to add depth to our defensive line, which we have done. We also added depth at wide receiver and specialist. Overall, we have filled our needs, and we are excited about this class.”

Small-Town Star Offers UNC Big-Time Skills

CHAPEL HILL — Trimane Goddard is a small-town athlete with big-time abilities. He lives in the Eastern North Carolina town of Robersonville, which covers about 1.2 square miles and lists a population of 1,731. He attends Roanoke High, a Class 1A school with an enrollment of about 413 students. But since last summer, the tiny town and school have seen a lot of visitors wearing shirts and jackets bearing the logos of some of the nation's top college football teams. Florida State, Tennessee and Virginia were among the dozens of programs coming in pursuit of Goddard, a 5-11, 185-pounder with spectacular speed and agility. “He had offers from 16 or 17 of the best colleges in the nation,” Roanoke coach Donnie Kiefer said. “There were Big Ten schools, big-time schools from the Midwest and even the SEC that he wasn't interested in that offered, but we never even listed them. So it was pretty busy around here for a while.” North Carolina scored a major recruiting coup when it signed Goddard in February. The only problem facing the Tar Heels is figuring out where to play the multi-talented youngster. Kiefer used him at quarterback and cornerback. Goddard racked up more than 5,000 career yards rushing, 800 passing and scored 64 touchdowns on offense, while adding 375 tackles and 21 interceptions on defense. UNC coach John Bunting said Goddard definitely will play cornerback and return kicks, and he'll consider giving him playing time at slotback on offense as well. “They like him as a slot receiver who can run reverses or they can throw the ball to,” Kiefer said. “They also need help at cornerback, so I know they'll try him there, and as a kick returner. Florida State and Tennessee wanted him in the same capacity. … A lot of kids with natural ability just don't get better. But that's the admirable thing about Trimane. He could easily take the attitude that he's already the best around, so why work hard. Instead, he's always trying to find an edge to get better. He has gotten the most out of himself because of his work ethic and dedication.”

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: Matthews (NC) Butler DB Jamar Adams (Michigan), Hutchinson (KS) Community College LB Carlton Baker (Memphis), Powder Springs (GA) McEachern RB/DB C.J. Barrows (Southern Miss), Fayetteville (NC) Britt RB George Bell (Virginia Tech), Greenville (NC) Rose RB Andre Brown (NCSU), Buford (GA) High DT Neil Brown (Auburn), Jacksonville (FL) Mandarin DB Tony Carter (FSU), Jacksonville (FL) Mandarin WR Pat Clark (Georgia Tech), East Point (GA) Tri-Cities DB Tristan Davis (Auburn), Greensboro (NC) Dudley RB Jamaal Edwards (FSU), San Diego (CA) Mission Bay RB Arian Foster (Tennessee), Marshville (NC) Forest Hills DT Marque Hall (South Carolina), Chatham (VA) Hargrave Military TE/DE Anthony Hill (NCSU), Corona (CA) Centennial RB Terrell Jackson (Oregon), Lake City (FL) Columbia DB Rashaun Jones (Miami), Jacksonville (FL) Raines OL Cornelius Lewis (FSU), Vanceboro (NC) West Craven DT Gerard Miller (NCSU), Fork Union (VA) Military WR Josh Morgan (Virginia Tech), Chesapeake (VA) Indiana River RB Branden Ore (Virginia Tech), Greensboro (NC) Dudley DT DeMario Pressley (NCSU), Chatham (VA) Hargrave Military LB Antonio Reynolds (Tennessee), Boca Raton (FL) High OL Ryan Schmidt (Kansas State), Columbia (SC) Ridge View DT Dorell Scott (Clemson), Sumter (SC) High OL James Thompson (South Carolina), Charlotte (NC) Christian DE Jeremy Thompson (Wake Forest), Lake City (FL) Columbia WR/DB George Timmons (Miami) and Memphis (TN) Melrose DB Ellix Wilson (Tennessee). Baker committed to UNC last fall and planned to arrive in January, but he did not meet the university's admissions standards in time for mid-year enrollment and thus re-opened his recruitment. Schmidt committed to UNC last fall but changed his mind after taking an official visit to Kansas State. — Compiled by Dave Glenn

2004 North Carolina Football Signees

Name Pos. Ht. Wt. Stars High School/Junior College Comment
Kentwan Balmer DT/DE 6-5 250 2/3 Weldon (NC) High SP-23 NC; early over NCSU interest; 3-year starter (?)
Connor Barth* PK 6-1 175 4/2 Wilmington (NC) Hoggard IN-1 PK; RV-8 PK; 1st-team all-state; early over BC (!)
Scott Brumett^ TE 6-2 255 NA ETSU Transfer Originally Huntsville (TN) Scott; 3-year ETSU starter (LB)
Antwain Carey RB 6-0 205 3/2 Chesapeake (VA) Deep Creek SP-21 VA; injured as sr.; 1,000+ as jr.; over NCSU (?)
Calvin Darity* OL 6-4 275 4/4 Tallahassee (FL) Lincoln RV-1 OG; TL-9 OL; 1st-team 4A; over FSU, LSU, UT (!)
Brooks Foster WR 6-2 190 3/3 Boiling Springs (SC) High SP-11 SC; also BB star; over Ky., Md., USC, WF (!)
Trimane Goddard* DB 5-11 185 4/4 Robersonville (NC) Roanoke SP-2 ATH; TL-8 CB; IN-9 CB; over FSU, UT, UVa
Stephen Green DB 6-0 185 4/3 Little Rock (AR) Pulaski RV-11 S; TL-23 CB; 2 NFL brothers; over KSU, Neb.
Marcus Hands DT/DE 6-5 245 3/4 Chatham (VA) Hargrave Originally Wilmington (NC) Laney; 2003 re-sign (?)
Wyatt Hicks OL 6-6 250 2/2 Highland Springs (VA) High SP-20 VA; 2nd-team 3A; over Clem., Duke, GT (!)
Terry Hunter^ DE 6-4 265 4/3 Chatham (VA) Hargrave From Wendell (NC) East Wake; re-sign over NCSU
Ben Lemming OL 6-5 270 2/2 Houston (TX) Strake Jesuit SP-127 TX; 3-year starter; early over BC, NW, SMU (!)
Khalif Mitchell^ DT 6-6 300 4/2 Chatham (VA) Hargrave From Va. Beach (VA) First Colonial; re-sign over Ga.
Thomas Nyaoga OL 6-5 290 2/3 Arlington (TX) Mansfield SP-78 TX; injured (foot) as sr.; over Colo., KSU (?)
Willie Phelps DB 5-11 185 2/2 Sarasota (FL) Booker HM 3A all-state; also returns; over Ind., Louis., USF
Cori Powell FB/LB 6-2 225 2/2 Charlotte (NC) Providence Day SP-32 NC; top blocker; very early over Md., WF (!)
Kenny Price DT 6-4 280 2/2 Chatham (VA) Hargrave From Virginia Beach (VA) Kempsville; 2003 re-sign (?)
Chase Rice LB 6-3 215 3/2 Asheville (NC) Reynolds TL-17 OLB; SP-28 NC; very early over Duke, WF (!)
Del Roberts WR 5-8 170 3/3 Tallahassee (FL) Godby SP-33 FL; 1st-team 3A; over Iowa, Louis., Neb., Syr.
Michael Rozier QB 6-5 210 2/2 McDonough (GA) Henry Co. 4-year starter for dad; BB pitcher, too; over Aub., GT
Gerald Sensabaugh^ DB 6-2 210 NA ETSU Transfer 3rd-team I-AA All-American; expected to start at safety
Hilee Taylor LB/DE 6-3 215 3/3 Laurinburg (NC) Scotland Co. TL-21 OLB; SP-14 NC; over Clem., NCSU, UVa, VT
Martel Thatch DB 6-2 180 3/3 Greensboro (NC) Dudley RV-15 S; SP-19 NC; early over Clem., Fla., USC, WF
-All-American (top 250 by two/more services)
(!)-strong academics
(?)-unconfirmed academics

IN-Insiders | RV-Rivals | SP-SuperPrep | TL-Tom Lemming | STARS: By Insiders/Rivals