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State By State: North Carolina

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

By Sammy Batten, Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer
August 25, 2003

Greensboro Dudley Trio Highlights Class With Plenty Of Backbone

FAYETTEVILLE — “We've Got Your Back” would make an appropriate marketing slogan if North Carolina decided to promote its prep football talent to college recruiters in 2003.

Backs, both running and defensive, are the most abundant commodity in a senior class that could produce more than 50 Division I-A players by national signing day in February. By mid-August, more than 40 North Carolina pros-pects had been extended a scholarship offer by at least one major program, and more than a dozen already had made commitments.

Although the state's consensus No. 1 prospect is a defensive tackle in Demario Pressley from Greensboro Dudley, eight of the top 12 players in the ACC Sports Journal's preseason rankings are backs. Four of those are running backs and four are defensive backs, including Pressley's high-profile Dudley teammates, safety Martel Thatch and tailback Jamaal Edwards.

Edwards, a jet-quick and powerful runner, and Thatch, a physical tackler, hold down two of the top 10 spots in the state. Together with Pressley last spring, they turned Dudley into the state's hottest recruiting spot since 1998, when Shelby Crest featured three major prospects in linebacker Shamar Finney (Penn State), offensive lineman Bryant Malloy (UNC) and wide receiver Chesley Borders (UNC).

Dudley coach Victor Floyd previously coached a major Division I-A prospect in tight end Todd McClinton in 1999, while at C.A. Johnson High in Columbia, S.C. McClinton now plays at Clemson.

“He was the top tight end prospect in the country,” Floyd said. “Every name program in the country wanted him. Multiply that interest by three, and you get a sense of what we've been experiencing here. It's been pretty interesting. More of the West Coast teams have gotten involved with these guys than they did with my tight end.”

Recruiters from as far away as UCLA have marveled at Pressley's rare blend of speed and flexibility. Standing 6-4 and weighing 290 pounds, he is still capable of running the 40-yard dash in 4.8 seconds, and on command he can drop to the floor and perform a split. The latter is a skill Pressley developed through martial arts training, which he began as a youth after being told he was too big to play Pop Warner football.

During Dudley's march to the state 3AA final last season, Pressley collected 97 tackles, sacked the quarterback 14 times and recovered five fumbles. Floyd indicated in August that Notre Dame may have the inside track on Pressley.

“Demario is going to Notre Dame during the season to see a game,” Floyd said. “He won't even think about taking any other (official) visits until after our season.”

Edwards and Thatch won't carry that burden through the season. They've both already made commitments, Edwards to Florida State and Thatch to North Carolina.

There are some coaches in the state who believe Edwards may be an even better prospect than Pressley. Edwards, a 6-0, 200-pounder, is a former AAU junior national sprint champion who began his prep career at crosstown Page High. He grew up in the Dudley district and decided to transfer there last season. The move paid major dividends for the Panthers, as Edwards rushed for 2,378 yards and scored 31 touchdowns on 303 carries. He was at his best in the state playoffs, rushing for 236 yards in the semifinals and 243 in the title game.

Edwards chose the Seminoles over co-finalist UNC. A long-time fan and regular summer camper with FSU, he also had offers from Clemson, ECU, Florida, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Maryland, Miami, NCSU, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and Virginia Tech. His commitment marked the third time in five years FSU has landed one of the top prospects in North Carolina. Tailback Nick Maddox (1999) and linebacker A.J. Nicholson (2002) were the others.

“The thing about (Edwards) is it's hard to get a good shot on him,” Floyd said. “He's like Emmitt (Smith) in the sense that he knows when to go with the hit, when to make you miss, and when to lower his shoulder. Those kind of runners tend to play a long time.”

Thatch wasn't even playing football when Floyd arrived at Dudley in the spring of 2001. The 6-2, 185-pounder was focused on basketball before being coaxed onto the football field by Floyd. Three seasons later, Thatch has developed into a physical, big-play talent at safety. He made 91 tackles and intercepted nine passes as a junior, returning three for touchdowns. He picked the Tar Heels over Virginia, after also considering offers from Clemson, Duke, ECU, Florida, Miami, South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Wake Forest.

All three Dudley stars are solid students and shouldn't have trouble qualifying, according to Floyd. Pressley already had qualified academically by early August, while Edwards and Thatch were awaiting test scores. With a 3.0 GPA, Thatch is in particularly good shape in the classroom. Edwards has a 2.5 GPA going into his senior year.

Ranking just behind Edwards are four other running backs who are coveted by major college recruiters.

Andre Brown of Greenville Rose was raised in Baltimore and expected to play wide receiver when he transferred into North Carolina last year. Called upon to play tailback instead, the
6-2, 210-pounder responded with 2,298 yards rushing and 18 touchdowns on 311 carries. Speedy (4.4) with good hands, he also caught 21 passes for 409 yards and three scores. He has offers from ECU, FSU, Georgia Tech, LSU, Maryland, Nebraska, UNC, NCSU, Notre Dame, Tennessee, Virginia and Virginia Tech.

“I want to be with a good group of guys that want to work hard and play for a national championship,” Brown said. “I also want to graduate with a degree in computer science.”

George Bell, a T.A. McLendon clone from Fayetteville's Jack Britt High, might have held the No. 1 overall spot in many North Carolina rankings if not for a severe knee injury that ended his junior season after three games. The
5-11, 225-pounder has recovered quickly, but he isn't expected to be cleared for contact until mid-September.

The injury hasn't deterred many recruiters, who love Bell's power, speed (4.4 when healthy) and super work ethic. Bell's bedroom is painted in the checkerboard orange and white colors of Tennessee, but N.C. State, UNC, Michigan, Virginia and Virginia Tech have surpassed the Vols in this battle. He also has offers from ECU, LSU and Maryland.

“Michigan has had a good program forever,” Bell said. “State is on the rise right now, and they've told me I have a good chance of competing, even with T.A. there. Carolina is close to home and is getting better.”

Albert Ashcraft of Monroe High is a slashing runner who carved out 1,100 yards and 22 touchdowns last season. UNC has been considered the leader for Ashcraft's services since the spring, but Clemson has made a strong push to get even with the Tar Heels heading into the season. He also has early offers from ECU and USC, and he said he hopes to learn more this fall about Georgia, Tennessee and others.

“He's always had great speed,” Monroe coach Bobby Cloninger said. “But he's just starting to blossom as a football player. His best days are definitely ahead of him.”

Charlotte Providence tailback Andrew Pearman, despite his slight build (5-9, 165), is a tough runner to knock off his feet. Great speed (10.54 in 100 meters) and balance helped him rush for 1,600 yards and 22 touchdowns as a junior. His older brother Alvin was one of the freshman stars at Virginia last fall, and Andrew will join Alvin in Charlottesville after committing to the Cavaliers in June over Clemson, North Carolina and Tennessee.

Trimane Goddard of Robersonville Roanoke is a versatile athlete who plays quarterback and defensive back in high school. He rushed for 1,857 yards and passed for 800 more on offense in 2002, while making 124 tackles and six interceptions as a defender. Cornerback is where most recruiters envision him playing in college. FSU and UNC are expected to battle to the wire for Goddard, who also has early offers from Colorado, Duke, ECU, Georgia, NCSU, Tennessee, Virginia, Virginia Tech and others.

“My agility and my acceleration are my strengths,” Goddard said. “I can be at full speed, stop, change direction and be back at full speed before you know it.”

Marshville Forest Hills offensive lineman Marque Hall is considered the state's best blocking prospect by most analysts. He benches 400 pounds, squats 700-plus, runs the 40 in 4.9 seconds and has a vertical leap of 29 inches. He has expressed a desire to take close looks at the top in-state schools and recently committed to taking official visits to UNC and N.C. State. He also has offers from Clemson, Duke, ECU, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Kentucky, LSU, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest and others.

Charlotte Christian defensive end Jeremy Thompson could be the state's biggest dark horse, despite his lofty rating. Because he plays at a private school, he didn't get nearly as much publicity as a junior as many of the public school stars. But during the summer camp circuit, his explosive take-off sparked a whole new level of interest. Thompson committed to Wake Forest in April over Duke and Vanderbilt, although he later told coaches from other programs that he remains open to other offers. Clemson, Duke and UNC are among those still in pursuit. Thompson's brother Orrin is a starting defensive end for the Blue Devils.

On signing day for members of the Class of 2003, Roxboro Person defensive tackle Le-marte McGhee provided N.C. State with its first surprise from the Class of 2004. He picked the Wolfpack in February over an offer from UNC and interest from Clemson, Tennessee and others. He had 68 tackles and seven sacks for a 7-6 team as a junior, in a season that marked his first year of organized football. Former NCSU quarterback Jamie Barnette and current linebacker Chip Thomas also graduated from Person.

Charlotte Olympic quarterback Antonio Miller, rated a preseason All-American by national analyst Tom Lemming, committed to East Carolina over Kansas State, Marshall and Wake Forest. Maryland, UNC and Virginia also showed interest. A second-team all-conference pick as a junior, he threw for 2,610 yards and 16 touchdowns, and he ran for 863 yards and eight TDs. He benches 225 pounds and runs the 40 in 4.55 seconds.

McLeansville Northeast Guilford defensive tackle Dennis Marsh chose Maryland over Clemson, ECU and UNC in June. Penn State and Tennessee also showed interest. After attending summer camps in College Park and Chapel Hill, he said the Terps won out because they want him to play defense, while the Tar Heels project him as an offensive lineman. As a junior, Marsh had 68 tackles and six sacks. With a 2.6 GPA and a 770 SAT score, he must improve his academic credentials in order to qualify.


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