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O'brien Debut About Late Start, Low Hype

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





By Jim Young
Greensboro (N.C.) News & Record

February 20, 2007

RALEIGH – Gone are the days of riding into press conferences on motorcycles and crooning Dean Martin songs to blue-chip recruits. N.C. State, which once lived "life in the fast lane" under Chuck Amato, now lives life under the radar with its new coach, Tom O'Brien.

That was never more apparent than on national signing day, when O'Brien introduced a class of 24 signees (including three January enrollees) that was decidedly short on hype. But given the former Boston College coach's track record, State fans have reason to believe that the Wolfpack's 2007 class will end up being longer on results than was projected by most analysts on Feb. 7.

Certainly, O'Brien didn't seem concerned about a group that was ranked No. 49 in the nation by Rivals.com and No. 59 by Scout.com. Rivals rated only two of State's signees as four-star recruits, wide receiver Jay Smith and junior college defensive end Antoine Holmes. Scout gave only Smith that designation.

"If history is any indication, we've been ranked four of the last six years in the Top 25, and I wouldn't say that we ever had a ranked recruiting class," O'Brien said. "I don't know how much that's worth."

His use of "we" to describe Boston College aside, O'Brien made a valid point. While there certainly is at least some correlation between landing highly touted recruits and winning games – did anyone notice that Florida and Southern Cal had the two top recruiting classes? – a program is by no means doomed if it doesn't dominate the headlines in February. Wake Forest certainly proved that this past season, and it was not mere coincidence that O'Brien referenced the Demon Deacons during his signing day press conference.

"I thought there was a great article in the paper about Wake Forest and their way of recruiting, which is something we've always been involved in," O'Brien said. "We worried about kids that fit our profile at the schools we were at, and we coached them. That's the bottom line."

In some cases, such talk might be dismissed as a coach-speak excuse for failing to land any big-name recruits. But again, O'Brien and his staff have earned the benefit of the doubt. When they were at BC, national recruiting analyst Tom Lemming hailed them as the best talent evaluators in the nation.

That's not to suggest, though, that State got exactly what it wanted on signing day. Because a good portion of O'Brien's staff stayed behind to coach BC in its bowl game, and NCAA rules severely restrict recruiting interaction for an extended period around the Christmas holidays, the Wolfpack couldn't really hit the trail in earnest until mid-January, just a few weeks before signing day.

"Most kids are pretty well settled, especially by Christmas time, about where they are going or what they are doing," said O'Brien, who called the late start "a handicap."

Given the limited time he had, O'Brien kept a narrow focus with his strategy. The main plan: Get more linemen. The Wolfpack managed to get commitments from six offensive and defensive linemen during the final stretch.

"It was pretty obvious we needed to bring more linemen in," O'Brien said. "So our focus has been to maintain the linemen they had recruited, and to go find some more guys that could play on the offensive and defensive lines."

That strategy likely illustrated some key points. One, O'Brien is never more confident in his talent judging than when he is observing linemen. The former offensive line coach at Virginia earned a reputation for sending many of his BC blockers on to the NFL. Also, the blossoming of former Eagles defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka from an unknown into an NFL first-rounder showed that O'Brien and company know what they're doing on the defensive line as well.

The rush to sign linemen also may indicate that the new State staff was less than enamored with the group they inherited when they arrived in Raleigh. Though O'Brien has said he'll wait until spring practice before he passes judgment on the players left over from the Amato regime, you can be sure that the new coaches studied film from last year's Wolfpack – and of the players Amato was recruiting – in order to figure their current recruiting needs.

On the brighter side for Wolfpack fans, O'Brien's emphasis on the line also may have been a byproduct of his relative satisfaction with the skill players already on the State roster, as well as the ones Amato's staff had landed from the Class of 2007. Thus, the two-pronged strategy: Retain the skill, add more bulk.

Another thing the time constraints meant was that O'Brien's staff went back to familiar relationships and territories to find most of the final commitments in the class. One-time Boston College targets such as defensive tackle Wayne Crawford, defensive end Jeff Rieskamp and tailback Curtis Underwood signed with the Wolfpack from the Ohio Valley and the Northeast, where the new Pack coaches already had established reputations and ties.

Don't expect that to be a major trend in future State classes. One of the reasons O'Brien left Boston College was the lure of the talent-rich Southeast. While this 2007 class differed from the past in that it had no Florida signees, O'Brien said he plans to make a move into the Sunshine State in the future.

"We will recruit Florida," O'Brien said. "It's not that we don't have ties there and won't go back there. It just didn't fit our plans for this year."

O'Brien made a move in improving his Florida recruiting power when he hired former Middle Tennessee State head coach Andy McCollum to handle linebackers for the Wolfpack. McCollum, who has a reputation as a strong recruiter – he once was able to lure blue-chippers to Baylor – will be responsible for western North Carolina, Florida, Georgia and Alabama. That means he'll be butting heads with lots of SEC coaches on the recruiting trail.

McCollum paid immediate dividends when he helped bring in State's final commitment, Thomas Barnes, a linebacker from Dublin, Ga.

The Barnes signing was both classic O'Brien and nouveau O'Brien. By all accounts, Barnes appears to be a sleeper, someone who attracted late interest from West Virginia and Georgia after State swooped in on him. That was typical O'Brien recruiting, a standard story from his days at BC.

But one of the main reasons Barnes had so few offers until the Wolfpack showed up was because he didn't project to qualify academically until very recently, and he'll have to be careful this spring to make sure he finishes above the NCAA minimum requirements. That's exactly the sort of player O'Brien couldn't go near, in most cases, when he was coaching in Chestnut Hill.

In addition to the South, expect State also to make plenty of forays into the talent-rich Tidewater region of Virginia in the next recruiting cycle. O'Brien was an effective recruiter in that area when he was an assistant at UVa, helping the Cavaliers bring in players such as Terry Kirby, Chris Slade and Ray
Savage.

If O'Brien can replicate that kind of success for State in future recruiting classes, chances are the Wolfpack won't be under the radar for long.

TIGHT END BRYAN EXHIBITS GROWTH POTENTIAL

For the understated Tom O'Brien, this qualified as gushing praise.

"George Bryan, we liked his athleticism and we certainly liked his size," O'Brien said. "He looks like a player that can help us down the road."

Yes, most agree that Bryan, the 6-5, 250-pound, in-state prospect from New Hanover High, will be able to help N.C. State at some point in the future. The question is, at what position?

Bryan's first choice is clearly to play tight end. He was a nightmarish mismatch in New Hanover's spread offense, where he often lined up as a wide receiver. If that's the position Bryan plays at State, he'll continue in a tradition of playmaking tight ends, from Willie Wright to T.J. Williams to Anthony Hill.

That's what O'Brien told Bryan when the coach called him in December to shore up his commitment to the Wolfpack.

"He was telling me that he was excited about me playing tight end for him," Bryan told the Wilmington Star-News.

So that's the plan, for now. But the temptation has to be there for O'Brien and his staff to add weight to Bryan's frame, which looks as if it has the potential to support more pounds, and turn him into an athletic, quick-footed offensive tackle. Boston College had a tradition under O'Brien of churning out NFL-ready offensive linemen.

Might Bryan be the start of a similar tradition at State? That might depend on how willing Bryan is to make such a switch, if it's suggested. The promise of playing tight end was part of what lured him to the Pack. Expect the State staff to give him the chance, but to always have a backup plan in mind, just in case.

– Jim Young

N.C. STATE 2007 SIGNEES

Name Pos. Ht./Wt. Stars High School/Junior College
Comment

Thomas Barnes LB 5-11/200 2/3 Dublin (GA) High
Class 2A def. POY for champs; FB/LB in HS; over MTSU (?)

Marcus Bond^ WR 5-10/175 3/3 Ahoskie (NC) Hertford Co.
Re-sign; 54 TDs in two seasons; top KR/PR; over ECU, UVa

George Bryan TE 6-5/250 3/3 Wilmington (NC) New Hanover
SP-21 NC; Shrine Bowl; over Clem., ECU, UNC, USC

Justin Byers DB 6-0/170 2/3 Charlotte (NC) Vance
2nd-team all-area; Shrine Bowl; track star; over Marshall

Audie Cole LB 6-5/215 2/2 Monroe (MI) High
Star QB/LB in HS; good boxer; CMU switch; also Cincy

Wayne Crawford DT 6-3/290 2/2 Chestnut Hill (PA) Academy
1st-team 3A all-state (OL); shot put champ; BC switch; I-AA

Dominique Ellis DB 5-11/190 3/3 Wendell (NC) East Wake
SP-19 NC; 1st-team all-state; also PR/KR; over UNC, USC

Mike Golder OL 6-4/286 2/2 Apex (NC) High
All-conference; projects as OC/OG; tore ACL jr.; over I-AA

Antoine Holmes DT 6-3/290 3/4 Lackawanna (PA) JC
NJCAA A-A; Yorktown (VA) York; 11 sacks; ACC/SEC int.

Steven Howard WR 6-2/185 3/3 Charlotte (NC) Olympic
SP-25 NC; Shrine Bowl; 51-637-10; early over Vandy, WF

Markus Kuhn DE 6-5/275 3/3 Weinheim (Germany)
Played QB/RB/TE/LB/DE for German club team; over I-AA

Henry Lawson OL 6-3/285 2/2 Charlotte (NC) Catholic
1st-team all-state; projected OG; early over WF interest (!)

Kyle Linney DT 6-2/285 2/3 Taylorsville (NC) Alexander Central
All-conference; Shrine Bowl; over ECU, USC (?)

Jeff Rieskamp DE 6-3/235 2/3 Cincinnati (OH) Elder
RV-45 OH; 2nd-team all-state; BC switch; Cincy, Mich.St.

Desmond Roberts OL 6-4/280 2/3 Gaston (NC) Northampton-West
SP-34 NC; Shrine Bowl; projected center; over PSU, VT

Jeff Ruiz P 6-2/185 2/2 Southwestern (CA) JC
JC Gridwire A-A; Chula Vista (CA) Otay Ranch; over SDSU

Jimmaul Simmons^ S 6-3/210 2/2 Chatham (VA) Hargrave Military
From Wilmington (NC) New Hanover; over So. Miss

Jay Smith* WR 6-2/197 4/4 Norfolk (VA) Lake Taylor
SP-27 VA; combine MVP; low sr. stats; over Clem., VT (?)

Owen Spencer^ WR 6-2/165 3/2 Leland (NC) North Brunswick
Re-sign; 2005 county POY; 38-764-14 as senior; over VT

J.R. Sweezy DE 6-5/245 2/2 Mooresville (NC) High
All-area; grandfather played FB at NCSU; over ECU, I-AA

Curtis Underwood RB 5-11/215 2/2 Lackawanna (NY) High
1st-team Class B all-state; late over Buffalo, Temple (?)

Jake Vermiglio OL 6-4/297 2/3 New Berlin (NY) Milford
From Rochester Hills (MI) Stoney Creek; over MAC, I-AA

Justin Whaley OL 6-4/270 2/2 Wilson (NC) Hunt
All-conference; projected OG; early over ACC interest

Russell Wilson QB 5-11/191 2/2 Richmond (VA) Collegiate
SP-26 VA; 1st-team all-state (ind.) for champs; over Duke

*-All-American (top 250 by two/more services) ^-enrolled (!)-strong academics (?)-unconfirmed academics ST–Scout.com RV–Rivals.com SP–SuperPrep STARS: By Scout/Rivals.

WHO GOT AWAY?

The following prospects had firm scholarship offers from N.C. State and/or took official visits to Raleigh but signed with other programs: Neeses (SC) Hunter-Kinard-Taylor DT William Brimfield (Tenn.), Pinetops (NC) Southwest Edgecombe LB Linwan Euwell (UNC), Columbia (SC) Spring Valley OL Kyle Fischer (Vandy), Louisburg (NC) Junior College TE Jonathan Hannah (FSU), Oakland Park (FL) Northeast LB Josh Hartigan (Colo.), Highland (KS) Community College DE Drew Hudgins (Colo.), Richmond (VA) Varina DE Jamar Jackson (FSU), Hialeah (FL) High DE Adewale Ojomo (Miami), Chicago (IL) Mt. Carmel OL Arthur Ray (Michigan State), Ramsey (NJ) Bosco QB Matt Simms (Louis.), Oakland Park (FL) Northeast RB Bo Williams (Fla.).

The following prospects also claimed scholarship offers from NCSU but eliminated the Wolfpack early in the recruiting process: Winter Springs (FL) High TE Lars Anderson (BC), Harmony (PA) Seneca Valley OL Donny Barclay (WVU), Newport News (VA) Denbigh OL Jaymes Brooks (VT), Pittsburgh (PA) Keystone Oaks DE Myles Caregein (Pitt), Ft. Lauderdale (FL) Aquinas QB Wesley Carroll (Miss.St.), Hoover (AL) High WR Brandon Clear (Clem.), Columbia (SC) Spring Valley OL Mason Cloy (Clem.), Lake City (SC) High S Scotty Cooper (Clem.), Garner (NC) High DB Chris Culliver (USC), Lynn Haven (FL) Mosley RB Enrique Davis (Aub.), Midlothian (VA) Clover Hill OL Blake DeChristopher (VT), Homestead (FL) High DE Jameil Farrington (Rut.), St. Petersburg (FL) Catholic OL Elvis Fisher (Mizzou), Highland Springs (VA) High DB C.J. Fleming (Tenn.), Anderson (SC) Hanna TE Cameron Ford (WF), High Point (NC) Andrews DB Marcus Gilchrist (Clem.), Homestead (FL) High LB Maurice Harris (FSU), Highland Springs (VA) High DB Cris Hill (VT), Orlando (FL) Boone OL Kyle Hill (Duke), Matthews (NC) Butler RB Ryan Houston (UNC), Rockingham (NC) Richmond LB Melvin Ingram (USC), Wheaton (MD) Good Counsel DT Nick Jenkins (UVa), Springfield (VA) West Springfield QB Peter Lalich (UVa), Bolingbrook (IL) High RB Dale Martin (Louis.), Washington (DC) Ballou OL Lamar Milstead (UVa), Sumter (SC) High OL Kyle Nunn (USC), Garner (NC) High RB Josh Oglesby (VT), Columbia (SC) Spring Valley OL Quintin Richardson (USC), Wadesboro (NC) Anson LB Barquell Rivers (VT), Laurinburg (NC) Scotland DE Travian Robertson (USC), Joliet (IL) High LB Kevin Rouse (Wis.), Morgantown (WV) High QB Charlie Russell (WVU), Oakboro (NC) West Stanly LB Quan Sturdivant (UNC), Wadesboro (NC) Anson OL Trinton Sturdivant (Ga.), Adrian (MI) High QB Steven Threet (GT), Hampton (VA) High QB Tyrod Taylor (VT), West Chester (OH) Lakota West DE Solomon Thomas (OSU), Huntersville (NC) North Mecklenburg RB Daryl Vereen (Tenn.), Ronda (NC) East Wilkes OL Landon Walker (Clem.), Roxboro (NC) Person OL Doug Weaver (WF), Jacksonville (FL) First Coast DB Jamire Williams (USC), Titusville (FL) Astronaut DE Rufus Williams (Tenn.), Poway (CA) High DT Nick Wood (Wash.), Ponte Vedra (FL) Nease OL Clyde Yandell (GT).

Compiled by David Glenn