By Dave Glenn, ACC Sports Journal
June 21, 2005
Every year, at least one ACC football team seems to load up on early commitments, first in the spring, then often with another flurry during and after summer camp in June.
Three years ago, North Carolina led the way with eight pledges before July, on the way to coach John Bunting's first top-25 class (actually consensus top-20) with the Tar Heels. Virginia tight end Jon Hamlett and in-state wide receiver Mike Mason, both productive players at this stage of their careers, were among the first on board for Carolina back in the spring and summer of 2002.
Two years ago, Maryland jumped in front of the pack with eight commitments by the end of June, on the way to a consensus top-20 collection for coach Ralph Friedgen. In-state defensive backs Kevin Barnes and Christian Varner, who are expected to play important roles for the Terps this fall, were among those firmly in the fold by the conclusion of the team's summer camp in 2003.
Last year, Virginia raised a lot of eyebrows in the college football world by snaring 17 promises from rising high school seniors before July, on the way to another consensus top-20 group for coach Al Groh. Those players won't wear a UVa uniform for the first time until August, when they report to the Cavaliers for preseason camp, but the early decision-makers in 2004 included prep All-Americans such as in-state quarterback Vic Hall and New Jersey offensive lineman Eugene Monroe.
This summer UNC is back in the driver's seat. The Tar Heels again are setting the ACC pace on the recruiting trail, this time with eight commitments by mid-June, and more likely on the way after the recent conclusion of the team's summer camp.
Here's a review of the prospects who have announced that they will spend their college careers in Chapel Hill:
Mocksville (NC) Davie LB Logan Buchanan, rated one of the top 25 rising seniors in North Carolina, picked UNC in June over interest from Duke, East Carolina, Marshall, Maryland, South Carolina and Wake Forest. His father, Buck Buchanan, played football for one season at N.C. State, and his mother was a competitive sprinter as a youngster. His former teammate, defensive back James Arnold, signed with Carolina in February, and UNC junior punter David Wooldridge also is a Davie product. A soon-to-be three-year starter and 2004 all-conference player, Buchanan had 119 tackles (17 for loss) and eight sacks as a junior for a 14-1 team that advanced to the state Class 4A semifinals. A UNC summer camper, he benches 330 pounds, squats 425 and runs the 40 in 4.7 seconds. His main recruiter with the Tar Heels is linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen.
"I wanted to find the best situation for me that was close enough for my family to see me play, and that was UNC," Buchanan said. "It's a great school with a great coaching staff, and I like the fact that Coach Bunting is a former NFL linebacker who knows my position so well. He's a great guy who really loves his school, and you can't beat learning from someone who's been to the highest level himself. Other schools told me they were going to offer soon, but I knew where I wanted to go, and I didn't want to miss the opportunity at UNC."
Jacksonville (NC) Southwest Onslow DB Kendric Burney, rated one of the top 10 rising seniors in North Carolina, chose UNC in May over Clemson, Duke, ECU and Virginia Tech. Maryland, Michigan State, NCSU, Ohio State, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia also showed interest, and the Wolfpack and Tigers continue to recruit him. A quarterback and cornerback, Burney also returns kicks and punts for Southwest Onslow, the two-time Class 2A state champions. As a junior, he scored 23 touchdowns and compiled 1,975 all-purpose yards, including 920 yards and 14 scores on 124 rushing attempts. He also completed 26 of 56 passing attempts for 521 yards and seven TDs last fall, and he already holds his school's career interceptions record with 16. Also a standout center fielder, Burney could be a high selection in next year's baseball draft, and he calls that sport his first love. (He plans to play both sports at UNC.) He benches 270 pounds, squats 415 and runs the 40 in 4.5 seconds. His main recruiter with the Tar Heels is defensive ends coach Brad Lawing.
"(Burney is) the best athlete I've coached in my 23 years here," Southwest Onslow coach Phil Padgett said. "We've had two players in the NFL, a few more in the Arena League, one in Europe. He could be successful as a receiver (in college), as a cornerback, or both. He's the best I've ever had (in football). He's a great baseball player, too."
"I liked all the schools that recruited me, but I just felt most comfortable at Carolina," Burney said. "I made a lot of trips up there. I like everything about it Û the coaches, the players, the facilities, Franklin Street, the academics. It just felt like home to me. If they didn't offer me for football, I probably would have signed just to play baseball. That's how much I like it there."
Havelock (NC) High LB/DB Bruce Carter, rated one of the top 25 rising seniors in North Carolina, selected UNC in May over interest from Duke, ECU, Maryland, NCSU, South Carolina, Virginia and Wake Forest. Pressed into service at quarterback as a junior, after the starter broke his leg, Carter threw for about 700 yards, rushed for about 850 and scored 13 touchdowns for a 6-6 team. A UNC summer camper who's projected as a safety or outside linebacker, he benches 320 pounds and runs the 40 in 4.55 seconds. His main recruiter with the Tar Heels is defensive ends coach Brad Lawing, who began his coaching career at Havelock many years ago and is a friend of current Havelock coach Charlie Smith.
"If (Carter) waited, he would have had a lot of scholarship offers to choose from," Smith said. "I think a lot of people are going to wish they offered, but it's too late now."
"Just about everybody in my family is a Carolina fan," Carter said. "I really liked the idea of getting my decision out of the way and being able to focus on school and my senior season without too many distractions. I liked the coaches and the campus, it's close to home, and it's a great school, so I went with (the commitment). I'm not worried about where I'll play. I'm a team guy. They can use me where they think I'll help the team the most."
Tarboro (NC) High RB/DB Shaun Draughn, rated one of the top 40 rising seniors in North Carolina, opted for UNC over ECU in June. N.C. State also showed interest. As a junior, he rushed for 958 yards as a quarterback and tailback, scored 25 touchdowns and posted 74 tackles on defense despite missing three games with injuries. After the team's 8-4 season, which included a trip to the Class 2A state playoffs, he was named the Eastern Plains offensive player of the year. A UNC summer camper who's projected as a tailback or safety, he runs the 40 in 4.55 seconds. His main recruiter with the Tar Heels is defensive coordinator Marvin Sanders.
"Everybody wants to know where he's going to play, and I tell them it doesn't matter, because he'll find a way to help the team," Tarboro coach Jeff Craddock said. "We've used him at quarterback, tailback, safety, cornerback, linebacker, kick returner and punt returner. He won't play quarterback (in college), but anything else (from that list) is possible. My advice to coaches was to try to sign him, then worry later about where he's going to play. He loves contact, which is why I like him at strong safety, but he'll be fine wherever they put him. He's a great athlete, he works hard, and he has outstanding character. His improvement (from 2003 to 2004) was as impressive as anything I've seen."
Tabor City (NC) South Columbus DT Greg Elleby, rated one of the top 25 rising seniors in North Carolina, chose UNC over ECU in April. Clemson, Georgia Tech, Maryland, Virginia and Virginia Tech also showed interest. His former South Columbus teammate and close friend, defensive back Bryan Dixon, signed with the Tar Heels in February. A soon-to-be three-year starter, Elleby had 65 tackles (including 16 for loss) and five sacks as a junior for a 9-2 team. Nicknamed "The Beast," he benches 325 pounds, squats 465 and runs the 40 in 5.3 seconds. He has a 3.2 GPA and a qualifying SAT score. His main recruiter with the Tar Heels is offensive line coach Hal Hunter.
"Greg is the best player I've ever coached and the hardest worker I've ever had in the weight room," South Columbus coach Joey Price said. "He probably had as much recruiting attention as any player this school has ever had, a lot more than (Dixon) had at this point last year. With his grades and his talent, there really wasn't any reason (for teams) to wait on him. Carolina is where he's always wanted to go, and I have complete respect for Coach Bunting and what he's doing there, so I wasn't going to stand in the way."
Washington (DC) Ballou DB LeCount Fantroy, rated one of the top 25 rising seniors in the Maryland/D.C. area, selected UNC in June over Akron. Maryland also showed interest. A soon-to-be three-year starter, he was a Washington Post first-team all-metro selection in the private-school category as a junior. A UNC summer camper, Fantroy runs the 40 in 4.5 seconds and competes in the 200- and 400-meter sprints and the relay events for Ballou. His main recruiter with the Tar Heels is defensive coordinator Marvin Sanders.
"He was hesitant about committing (after UNC's camp) because he didn't want to necessarily do that," the player's father, LeCount Fantroy Sr., told the Winston-Salem Journal. "Then later on down the road something happened. I was talking to him and I said, ÎIf every school in the country offered you, which school would you want to play for?' He said, ÎNorth Carolina.' I said, ÎWell what's the point in delaying?'"
Shelby (NC) High RB/DB Tarvorris Jolly, rated one of the top 25 rising seniors in North Carolina, opted for UNC in April over interest from Clemson, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan State, Nebraska, NCSU, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Virginia and Virginia Tech. The Sooners, Volunteers and others continue to recruit him. As a junior, he had 132 carries for 981 yards and 10 touchdowns, plus 13 receptions for 254 yards and another score, for a 14-2 team that advanced to the Class 2A state championship game. A UNC summer camper, Jolly runs the 40 in 4.5 seconds. His main recruiter with the Tar Heels is running backs coach Andre Powell.
"I went up there for their spring game, and I had no idea they were going to offer me a scholarship," Jolly said. "When they did, it was an easy decision. I was proud to be their first commitment (for the 2006 class). I've been a Carolina fan my whole life, and I've wanted to go there for football ever since I went to my first camp there (in 2001). This is a dream come true for me. It's a great school with great coaches, and now I can focus on my senior year without thinking about recruiting or dealing with all that stuff."
Waldorf (MD) Westlake LB/DE Darius Powell, rated one of the top 10 seniors in Maryland, opted for UNC in June over Illinois, Michigan State and Syracuse. As a junior, he had 68 tackles (13 for loss) and 10 sacks. He also had offers from Akron, Kent and Marshall, plus serious interest from Maryland, Penn State and Virginia Tech. A projected outside linebacker or defensive end for UNC, he runs the 40 in 4.65 seconds. His main recruiter with the Tar Heels is linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen.
"He has tremendous speed," Westlake coach Dominic Zaccarelli told the Winston-Salem Journal. "We put him on the quick side on the offensive tackle, away from the tight end. He uses his speed and athletic ability not only to pressure the quarterback but really to disrupt the offense. He gets off the ball great. The other thing that's good is he's starting to learn to play with his hands. He has a very long wingspan, and he's able to distance himself from an offensive player."
"There's something about North Carolina that reminds me of home," Powell said. "I really like the coaches and the way they interact with the players; you can tell there's a closeness there, and they really care about each other. That's the way it is at my school, too, and that's important to me. I also liked the academics, the facilities, the campus, the weather Û everything, really. Everyone knows what a great school it is, and the more I learned about the football (program) the more I liked it. It's a great combination."
Cavs Mining Familiar Territory
Virginia coach Al Groh knows that ACC area states such as Florida and Georgia are filled with huge numbers of Division
I-A prospects, but the coach and his staff long ago decided to keep their main focus on Virginia and various points north of the Commonwealth.
In the Class of 2005, 20 of the Cavaliers' 24 signees were from that region, with three more (including Hawaii transfer Andrew Pearman) from bordering North Carolina. Virginia's list of February signees broke down this way: 11 from Virginia high schools, two from Virginia prep schools, four from New Jersey, three from North Carolina, two from Pennsylvania, one from New York, and one (late addition Darren Childs) from California.
In the Class of 2004, there was a similar trend. Of the team's 20 signees, nine were from Virginia high schools, two from Virginia prep schools, two from Maryland, two from Pennsylvania, one (Notre Dame QB transfer Chris Olsen) from New Jersey, one from California, one from Illinois, one from North Carolina, and one from Tennessee.
The Wahoos' early work with the Class of 2006 suggests that they will be continuing in the same directions. Of the team's first five commitments, three were from New Jersey, one from New York and one from Virginia.
Here's a review of the prospects who have announced that they will spend their college careers in Charlottesville:
Orange (VA) Orange County DT Asa Chapman, rated one of the top 25 rising seniors in Virginia, committed to Virginia in June over interest from Boston College, Miami, Nebraska, Tennessee and Virginia Tech. He moved with his family to the Commonwealth from New Jersey after his freshman year of high school. As a junior, he was a second-team all-region selection after posting 65 tackles and seven sacks for an 8-2 Orange County team. He runs the 40 in 5.4 seconds. He must dramatically improve his academic credentials to qualify, so he probably will spend 2006-07 at a prep school before arriving at UVa in time for the 2007 season. His main recruiter with the Cavaliers is inside linebackers coach Mark D'Onofrio.
"There aren't too many 350-pounders in this world who can run, but (Chapman) can," Orange County coach John Kayajanian said. "He has a long way to go to reach his potential, but if he works hard there's no limit to what he can do. Obviously, at his size, he's a good fit for what Virginia does with the nose tackle. Moving him is no easy task."
South Huntington (NY) St. Anthony's LB John-Kevin Dolce, rated one of the top 10 rising seniors in New York, picked Virginia over Illinois, Michigan State, Minnesota and Rutgers. Boston College, Maryland, UNC, Notre Dame, Penn State, Pittsburgh and Syracuse also showed interest. As a junior, playing end, Dolce posted 57 tackles (10 for loss) and four sacks for a 10-1 team that has won four consecutive conference titles. He benches 390 pounds and runs the 40 in 4.7 seconds. He has a 3.0 GPA and is awaiting the results of a recent SAT. His main recruiter with the Cavaliers is defensive coordinator Al Golden.
"I looked at the coaching staff, athletics and academics, and Virginia was the best combination," Dolce said. "They're one of the best public universities in the nation, and they have excellent graduation rates, so you know they take academics seriously. That was important to me. They also have been going to good bowls and producing a lot of NFL players, and I just got a great feeling from the coaches. They also play the 3-4 (defense), which I really like. It's going to be interesting, because my team plays the 4-3 and I'm an end, but at Virginia I'll be an outside linebacker, and I've never really played linebacker. I'm going to tape all of the (UVa) games this year and watch the players at my position."
Glassboro (NJ) High LB George Johnson, rated one of the top 25 rising seniors in New Jersey, chose Virginia in February over interest from Boston College, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Rutgers, Syracuse and Virginia Tech. A soon-to-be four-year starter, he compiled more than 200 tackles and 30 sacks over the last two seasons, earning all-South Jersey honors in 2004. A tight end and defensive end in high school who's projected as an outside linebacker for Virginia, Johnson runs the 40 in 4.55 seconds. Also a standout basketball player at Glassboro and on the AAU circuit, he plans to play only football in college. He has a 2.5 GPA but still needs a qualifying SAT score. His main recruiter with the Cavaliers is quarterbacks coach Mike Groh.
"Coach (Al) Groh knows how to get you where you want to be," Johnson said. "He was a head coach in the NFL, and that Û the whole coaching staff, really Û was a big factor in my decision. The other thing I wanted was the right combination of football and academics, and Virginia is very good there. Plus, it's only four hours from home, so it will be easy for everyone to see me play."
Trenton (NJ) Central LB Almondo Sewell, rated one of the top 40 rising seniors in New Jersey, selected Virginia over interest from Michigan, Michigan State, Oklahoma, Purdue, Rutgers, Syracuse, Temple and Wisconsin. As a junior, he had 92 tackles and a sack as an inside linebacker, plus 756 yards and 11 touchdowns on 82 carries as a fullback. He benches 375 pounds and runs the 40 in 4.6 seconds. He has a 3.0 GPA and is awaiting the results of a recent SAT. His main recruiter with the Cavaliers is quarterbacks coach Mike Groh.
"Watching on TV, I always liked the way Virginia plays," Sewell said. "Growing up, my two favorite teams were Virginia and Nebraska. Even before I went down (to Charlottesville), I pretty much knew I wanted to play at Virginia. When I learned more about the coaches and the school, I knew it was the right decision. They really need linebackers right now, and they think I can help them at one of the inside spots right away."
North Arlington (NJ) Queen Of Peace TE Joe Torchia, rated one of the top 10 rising seniors in New Jersey, opted for Virginia over Boston College and Maryland. He also had offers from Akron, Duke, Kansas, Michigan State, Nebraska and Rutgers. As a junior, he caught 21 passes for 567 yards and six touchdowns as a tight end, and he had 58 tackles and nine sacks as a defensive end. He runs the 40 in 4.8 seconds. Torchia, who wants to be an orthopedic surgeon or study sports medicine, has a 3.9 GPA and a 1,060 SAT score. His main recruiter with the Cavaliers is inside linebackers coach Mark D'Onofrio.
"I really liked all three (finalists) a lot and could've seen myself playing there, but in the end Virginia had everything I was looking for," Torchia said. "Boston College is just a great school and a great program, but they didn't really have the right (course of study) for the way I want to get into sports medicine, and Virginia did. Maryland's coaches were great, too, but the school wasn't the right fit for me. At Virginia, the academics are awesome, and the coaches like to throw to the tight ends. That helped, too."
The Wahoos' very late addition to the Class of 2005 was San Diego (CA) Mission Bay LB Darren Childs, a 6-1, 220-pounder who initially planned to sign with Utah. When coach Urban Meyer left the Utes for Florida before signing day in February, Childs re-opened the recruiting process. Because the player's decision came after the conclusion of football's annual signing period, he was unable to sign a binding national letter of intent. Perhaps for that reason, his decision still has not been announced by the university.
As a senior at Mission Bay, Childs was the team MVP and a first-team all-conference selection. He had more than 110 tackles in both 2003 and 2004 and was a standout on special teams, blocking seven kicks/punts over the last two seasons. He had a 3.2 GPA and a qualifying SAT score. Barring complications with the UVa admissions office, he's expected to be with the Cavaliers for preseason camp in August.
Seminoles Take Most 2005 Hits
As is the case in all major conferences, ACC coaches expect a significant number of their 2005 signees to fall short of NCAA minimum academic standards this summer.
The last opportunities for prospects to improve their SAT or ACT scores in time for preseason camp came in early June, with all but a few eligibility issues expected to be finalized by the end of the month. Among the NCAA's minimum qualifying combinations on the organization's sliding scale are a 2.5 core GPA with an 820 SAT score (17 ACT), a 2.0 core GPA with a 1,010 SAT score, and a 2.7 core GPA with a 730 SAT score. The higher the core GPA, the lower the required SAT/ACT score, and vice versa.
Those high school players who come up short typically have three options: (1) enrolling in a prep school, such as Fork Union Military Academy or Hargrave Military Academy, for one or (most often) two semesters before re-signing with a Division I-A program; (2) enrolling in junior college, which typically means a two-year detour before re-signing; or (3) sitting out this fall while continuing to re-take the SAT/ACT, with the hope of meeting NCAA standards in time to enroll for the spring 2006 semester. Under NCAA rules, all non-qualifiers and any others who are denied admission again become recruitable prospects, although most choose to remain loyal to their first choices.
Florida State, with at least four non-qualifiers this year, appears likely to suffer the most attrition among ACC schools from the 2005 signing class. Three prep All-Americans were among those who will not be able to qualify in time to report for the Seminoles' preseason camp in August.
The four FSU prospects who came up short were Rosemont (PA) Harriton DT Callahan Bright, Blakely (GA) Early County LB Dan Foster, Orlando (FL) Edgewater OL Matt Hardrick and Folkston (GA) Charlton County DE Justin Mincey. Bright, Hardrick and Mincey were prep All-Americans. Mincey, who has denied rumors that he is now considering other schools, recently stated that he hopes to spend just one semester at Hargrave Military Academy before joining the Seminoles.
At least 20 additional ACC signees (some unlisted) still had unconfirmed academic situations in June, including Chatham (VA) Hargrave Military OL Branden Albert (UVa), Deptford (NJ) High LB Jeff Clement (Maryland), Lakeland (FL) Evangel Christian LB Chris Clinton (Maryland), Dale City (VA) Gar-Field DT Kevin Crawford (UVa), Miami (FL) Norland DB Dwight Flukerberry (UNC), Hampton (VA) Phoebus DE Steven Friday (Virginia Tech), Miami (FL) Norland TE/DE Richard Gordon (Miami), Hinds (MS) Community College DE Chad Green (NCSU), Indian Head (MD) Lackey RB Morgan Green (Maryland), Chatham (VA) Hargrave Military LB Olu Hall (UVa), Chatham (VA) Hargrave Military OL Brandon Holland (Virginia Tech), Roanoke Rapids (NC) High DE Darrius Massenburg (UNC), Hampton (VA) High WR Todd Nolen (Virginia Tech), Fayetteville (NC) Byrd OL Doug Palmer (NCSU), Manchester (NH) Central LB Dave Philistin (Maryland), Virginia Beach (VA) Landstown LB Deveon Simmons (Virginia Tech) and Tallahassee (FL) Leon WR T.J. Williams (Clemson).
The 2005 signees at BC, Duke, Georgia Tech and Wake all have qualified academically.