By Dave Glenn and staff
November 1, 2004 Coaches always say you can't judge a recruiting class until three or four years down the road, so we decided to do just that. With hindsight as our guide, we examined the ACC football recruiting classes of 2001 and posted new grades ( see chart) for them, based on the productivity of those players four years into their college careers. Transition Didn't Disrupt Miami
CORAL GABLES It would be a dream for any college football program to put together a recruiting class that ends up including three first-round NFL draft picks with more on the way and 13 players who now serve as the meat and potatoes of another national championship contender.
For Miami, of course, star-studded classes are nothing unusual. But the Hurricanes were able to pull off this amazing accomplishment in 2001 with a hectic, scary, patchwork recruiting effort brought about by the last-minute departure of coach Butch Davis to the NFL. Just eight days before national signing day, Davis left UM for the Cleveland Browns, after six seasons as the head coach in Coral Gables.
So-called "hand-off" classes, in which a program's recruiting cycle is interrupted by a head coaching change, are usually mediocre and often terrible. (For an ACC perspective, see the 2001 classes at Maryland, North Carolina and Wake Forest.) That's mainly because so many unknowns surround a switch at the top. High school prospects don't like surprises, especially close to signing day. When in doubt, most will choose the security of a known commodity over even a hint of instability, uncertainty or unanswered questions.
But the continuity Miami athletic director Paul Dee instilled when he promoted offensive coordinator Larry Coker to head coach on Feb. 3, 2001, after being turned down by Barry Alvarez of Wisconsin and Dave Wannstedt of the Miami Dolphins, provided UM with a much-needed dose of stability. That enabled the Hurricanes to land top-notch talents such as Sean Taylor, Antrel Rolle and Kellen Winslow Jr. In retrospect, those players helped give the program one of the most impressive classes in recent memory.
"When Butch left, all the sharks started to feed," said Coker, whose interim head coach label came off just four days before signing day. "'They don't have a coach. When they name somebody, he probably won't make it. If they promote someone, he won't have success.' We heard all those things about our program. It was really an ugly deal."
But throughout the process, Miami lost only one commitment and was able to finish with yet another top-10 class. Based on the events of the past three-plus seasons, in which the Hurricanes have gone 41-4 and played in two national championship games (winning one), the Class of 2001 has a chance to go down in history as UM's best since at least 1997.
Coker, who led the Hurricanes' recruiting efforts from the moment Davis announced his departure, had an incredibly productive week leading up to signing day. In addition to saving all but one of UM's commitments under Davis in-state receiver Chris Murray signed with N.C. State, and even that ended up being good news in the long run the coach added three elite prospects in the final days. The Hurricanes landed Winslow after the young player and his famous dad settled on Miami after being split between Washington and Michigan State, and they convinced tailback Frank Gore and receiver Roscoe Parrish to shun Mississippi in favor of UM.
"A lot of these guys were still there because they genuinely wanted to go to Miami. None of these guys came here because of me. They didn't know me. They came because of the university, the players already here, the coaches that recruited them were still around," Coker said. "A lot of the comments I got were, 'If Coach (Art) Kehoe or Coach (Curtis) Johnson is going to be here, I don't care who the head coach is.'"
Coker's success in recruiting this hand-off class feeds into the perception that Miami's powerful program runs itself. Even Coker will admit that there's some truth to that, saying he's just the driver at the wheel.
"At least 10 schools called me right after Coach Davis left, but I had my mind made up," said cornerback Kelly Jennings, a redshirt junior who has started 24 games in his career. "Coming here felt right. God really put it on my heart that this was the place for me to be, no matter who the coach was."
On Coker's first day as the head coach, he invited all of the South Florida prospects Miami was recruiting to campus for a sit-down meeting. It was there that he solidified the commitments of Taylor, who was drafted fifth overall by the Washington Redskins earlier this year after starring in the secondary at UM for two seasons, and Rolle, a Parade All-American cornerback who presently serves as the anchor of the Hurricanes' defense.
Coker also convinced Gore and Parrish to reconsider staying home. The coach became a fan of Parrish from watching him at the team's summer camp, but Davis thought the 5-9 receiver was too small to make a big impact on the college level, so Parrish wasn't offered a scholarship. When Coker took over, Parrish was the first player he called. What he didn't know was that landing Parrish meant UM was back in the picture for Gore, a SuperPrep All-American who set Dade County's record for rushing yards in a season.
Gore initially was turned off by Miami, because he didn't think UM would provide the academic assistance his learning disability required. Coker eventually convinced Gore and his family that Miami would be able to meet that challenge, and Parrish convinced his Pop Warner teammate and best friend to honor a promise they had made to one another to play together on the college level after splitting up in high school.
Once Parrish received Miami's offer, the two talked all that afternoon but couldn't come to an agreement. Eventually, Parrish told Gore he was staying home and that "you could go up there (to Ole Miss) by yourself." Luckily for Parrish and the Hurricanes, Gore's friendship pushed him to make a last-minute switch. Gore and Parrish are UM's leading rusher and receiver this fall, after overcoming a number of injury setbacks in their first three seasons.
Of the 11 players from Miami's 2001 class who remain starters this fall, some have made bigger contributions than others. At the highest level, Gore and Parrish aren't alone.
Linebacker Roger McIntosh started most of the 2002 season as a redshirt freshman but lost his spot last fall after suffering a knee injury. He's back as UM's starting strong-side linebacker in 2004, and his great speed enables him to stay on the field even on obvious passing downs. Entering November, he was second on the team in tackles and one of Miami's most promising players on either side of the ball.
McIntosh anchors UM's defense along with Rolle and junior defensive tackle Orien Harris, two more players who are projected as potential All-Americans for the Hurricanes. Rolle almost definitely will join early (2004) NFL entries Taylor, Winslow and defensive tackle Vince Wilfork (a January 2001 enrollee) as a first-round pro pick next spring, and Harris also could reach that elite status. A three-year starter who passed up the draft last spring, Rolle has put together an outstanding senior season that has landed him among the nation's top 10 NFL prospects.
Harris, who has started 17 games over the past two seasons, got off to a slow start this fall as he struggled with the frequent double-teams Wilfork previously drew. A redshirt junior, Harris may return to Miami in 2005 in an attempt to boost his draft status. Wilfork was selected 21st overall, by New England, earlier this year and already has earned a starting job with the Patriots.
Another defensive lineman from UM's 2001 class, junior college end Andrew Williams, also is working in the NFL these days. Fairly successful as a part-time starter for the Hurricanes in 2002, he was selected in the third round by San Francisco in the 2003 draft. He hasn't been able to play much for the 49ers so far this year, after suffering a broken leg during training camp, but he's expected back by the end of November.
Quadtrine Hill was Miami's starting fullback for two years, before voluntarily relinquishing that role to become a reserve tailback. Recently, injuries to other players forced Hill to return to spot duty at his old position, but offensively his sacrifice has paid off. He already has contributed more this season statistically (95 rushing yards on 15 carries, six receptions for 28 yards) than he did all of last year as a fullback.
Offensive linemen Rashad Butler and Tony Tella had slow starts to their college careers, but both are first-year starters this fall who possess a great deal of upside. Kevin Everett is UM's starting tight end, but his road to Miami wasn't direct. Even though he was part of the 2001 signing class, Everett didn't arrive in Coral Gables until 2003, after attending Kilgore Junior College. He served as Winslow's backup last season but presently is coming into his own, developing into another strong NFL prospect.
Thomas Carroll and Marcus Maxey are part-time starters for the Hurricanes. Carroll has started 15 games over the past two seasons at defensive end. His play has been steady but unspectacular. Maxey, a converted safety, seemed as if he was going to be a career special teams player, but a move to cornerback last spring and a coaching change re-energized his career. He's developed into UM's nickel back, starting four games this fall.
The jury is still out on Leon Williams, a Parade All-American linebacker from New York who has yet to live up to his considerable hype. After serving as Jonathan Vilma's understudy during his first three seasons at UM, Williams is struggling to fend off redshirt freshmen Jon Beason and Glenn Cook for the starting middle linebacker spot this fall. A broken hand, suffered in the season opener against Florida State, hasn't helped Williams' development. He typically leaves the field in obvious passing situations.
As is the case with any recruiting class, there were a couple of misses for Miami, even in Coker's amazing first crop as the Hurricanes' head coach.
Mark Gent, the top high school kicker in Florida in 1999, signed with Miami in 2000 but delayed his enrollment until January 2001 and thus is on the same eligibility timetable as members of the Class of 2001. Gent was beaten out for the starting spot at UM by Jon Peattie, a 2002 signee, and it's a possibility that Gent will finish his college career elsewhere. Similarly, offensive lineman Robert Bergman has spent the majority of his career on the scout team, getting consistently passed over on the depth chart by underclassmen.
Buck Ortega, a local prospect who chose UM over Clemson and N.C. State, never panned out as Miami's next starting quarterback, and he switched positions after his redshirt season. He bounced around to two other positions before finally settling on tight end, where he's a third-team player this fall behind Everett and redshirt freshman Greg Olsen. Ortega sees the majority of his action on special teams.
Brandon Sebald, a PrepStar All-American from New York, never lived up to Miami's tight end pedigree. Playing time was the least of his worries in 2003, when he nearly had his football career ended because of cancerous polyps that were attacking his body's red-blood cells and sapping his energy. The polyps were removed late in the fall, enabling him to return to the team and serve as a reserve behind Winslow and Everett. This season he moved to the offensive line, where UM's coaches believe he has the potential to be their next successful tight end-to-tackle convert, following in the now-famous footsteps of Eric Winston. After injuries to Winston and several others this fall, Sebald moved into a second-team tackle slot.
Three of UM's 2001 signees offensive lineman Randy Boxill, defensive tackle Jeff Littlejohn and defensive back Jovonny Ward failed to qualify academically and, unlike Everett, never worked their way back to the program. Another player, defensive end Miguel Robede, was dismissed from the team for violating a team rule.
Boxill enrolled at Rutgers in January 2002. After suffering a serious knee injury that spring, he's had difficulty earning playing time with the Scarlet Knights, but he remains a reserve lineman for the team this fall. Littlejohn enrolled at Middle Tennessee State as a non-qualifier. After sitting out 2001 under NCAA rules and playing as a reserve in 2002, he's in his second season as a starter with the Blue Raiders.
Ward was denied admission to Miami, reportedly because he failed to pass the state-mandated exit exam for all would-be high school graduates in Florida, so he enrolled at Pittsburgh as a non-qualifier. He left the Panthers that fall, without ever playing a down for the team, and wound up at Florida Atlantic in 2002. Although many still believed Ward had a promising career ahead of him, he reportedly became a problem in the locker room at FAU, bringing about his quiet dismissal three weeks into fall practice.
Robede, the top-ranked recruit in Canada in 2001, wound up playing for the Universite Laval Rouge et Or, which is one of the best teams in the Quebec Student Sports Federation (university-level competition) in Canada. He became a two-time All-Canadian tackle at Laval Rouge.
Even with the non-qualifiers and the misses, this signing class likely will go down as one of the best in Miami history because of the impact it has had on the program. The group already has been a part of UM's 2001 national championship, and the goal for the remaining signees is to get a national title of their own.
Coker knows the potential is there.
"That class was the most amazing part of this whole story," Coker said. "They have a great deal to do with my success."
Omar Kelly, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Top-10 Class Bolstered Bowden
CLEMSON After whipping Clemson 54-7 in 2000, Florida State coach Bobby Bowden offered his son Tommy some advice at midfield: "Go recruit, son."
Tommy Bowden heeded those words by signing a 2001 class that, to this day, remains his highest-rated group of recruits. At the time, national analysts rated Clemson from ninth to 14th in the country and second or third in the ACC.
It was the core of this class that, as juniors and redshirt sophomores in 2003, helped Tommy finally defeat his father. Yet in a telling example of the unpredictability of recruiting 18-year-olds, Clemson enjoyed a 9-4 season last year with minimal contributions from the highest-profile names of 2001.
Instead, the group's best efforts came from quarterback Charlie Whitehurst, cornerback Tye Hill, linebackers Leroy Hill and Eric Sampson, rover Jamaal Fudge and free safety Travis Pugh. There was no sign of Roscoe Crosby, Tymere Zimmerman or Leo Reed during the season-ending, four-game winning streak that saved Bowden's job.
Almost four years after putting the 2001 class together, Bowden marveled at producing 13 starters out of 24 enrollees. But he also lamented some who got away, including five recruits who ended up as non-qualifiers academically.
"That's probably the thing about that class," Bowden said. "Charlie wasn't a high-profile guy, Travis wasn't a high-profile guy, Leroy wasn't high-profile. The high-profile guys didn't pan out as much."
Sitting at his office desk in late October, Bowden glanced at the names from his 2001 class with the understanding that the Tigers started 1-4 in 2004.
"It looks pretty good," he said, laughing. "I wish we were winning more games."
The 2001 class was mostly about skill players i.e., players who could catch the football. When the recruiting cycle began, Bowden had gone 6-6 in his first season and displayed a pass-happy, no-huddle offense never seen before at Clemson, where four-yard runs used to represent a thing of beauty.
As the 2000-01 recruiting cycle intensified, Bowden's offense with quarterback Woodrow Dantzler and wideout Rod Gardner took off, and so did Clemson. The Tigers started 8-0 in 2000, climbing to No. 5 in the Associated Press poll, and finished 9-3 and 6-2 in the ACC for a second-place finish.
In the aftermath of that on-field success, Bowden signed a quartet of talented wide receivers: Crosby, Zimmerman, Airese Currie and Derrick Higgins. SuperPrep analyst Allen Wallace vaulted the Tigers into his top 10 after they landed Crosby on signing day, calling Clemson's receivers the top group in the country. It was the program's first top-10 class since 1989, when Danny Ford signed his last group.
"People in the ACC ought to really be nervous," South Carolina coach Lou Holtz said on signing day in 2001, "and that includes Florida State."
Eight of the recruits played as freshmen in 2001: defensive tackle Eric Coleman, Crosby, Currie, defensive end Moe Fountain, tight end Ben Hall, free safety Tavaghn Monts, Pugh and Sampson.
Crosby, a USA Today All-American and second-round baseball draft pick, played one season at Clemson in an off-and-on career. He caught 27 passes for 465 yards and four touchdowns as a freshman while fighting injuries. An elbow injury forced Crosby to redshirt in 2002, and he never could decide between a football or baseball career. In a surprise move, he returned to Clemson briefly in 2003, but he quit again early in the season while fighting emotional problems.
Crosby never took a regular-season at-bat with the Kansas City Royals, his baseball organization. The last report was that Crosby and the Royals were in a legal fight over whether the club owed him the remainder of his $1.75 million signing bonus.
Zimmerman, another prep All-American according to some analysts, did not qualify at Clemson on two occasions, first out of high school and then again after a year at Fork Union Military Academy. The inability to enroll Zimmerman frustrated Bowden, who often spoke about how quickly the receiver could have played for the Tigers.
"Roscoe, we knew, so that didn't surprise me. He's 50-50 coming in," Bowden said. "Tymere, we would have loved to have. We thought Tymere would get in. Tymere might play in the NFL."
Zimmerman attended South Carolina State in 2002, without a scholarship and unable to participate in spring football. He enrolled at Division II Newberry in January 2003 and now is a two-sport star in football and basketball who could finish his career with a slew of school records. A wing forward on the hardcourt, Zimmerman started 20 games in 2002-03, averaging 6.7 points and 6.2 rebounds for a 16-13 team. He had 771 receiving yards on the gridiron in 2003, the third-highest total in Newberry history, and eight touchdowns. Through eight games this season, he led the team with 54 catches for 750 yards and six TDs. Listed as a redshirt sophomore, Zimmerman is eligible to apply for entry into the 2005 NFL draft.
Higgins, another non-qualifier at wide receiver, also is at Newberry. He skipped around several different (Georgia Military, Claflin, Dodge City) junior colleges but left each of those schools in one case, after just a few days without playing a down of football. He signed in 2003 with Newberry, where he earned All-South honors as a freshman last fall, but he is not playing for the Indians this season.
Currie, a consensus prep All-American, emerged as Clemson's most productive recruit at wide receiver. He has fought injuries over his four seasons. Gradually, Currie became more than just a deep threat. (He had 70-yard catches in each of his first three years.) Entering the Tigers' game against N.C. State on Oct. 30, Currie led the ACC with 40 catches for 541 yards. He has become Whitehurst's favorite and most reliable target, with his sprinter's speed and improved hands. One drawback: problems finding the end zone. Currie had only one touchdown this season through seven games.
While Currie was on everyone's radar in high school, Whitehurst came out of nowhere. The interest in him was moderate compared with top Southeastern quarterback recruits such as D.J. Shockley, Ingle Martin and Adrian McPherson. A Georgia native, Whitehurst said he later heard that then-Georgia Tech offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen thought he was too emotional while camping there. It also didn't help that Whitehurst missed six games as a high school senior with a separated shoulder and a broken thumb.
North Carolina became Whitehurst's favorite until coach Carl Torbush was fired, along with his offensive coordinator, Mike O'Cain. A former Clemson player, O'Cain then joined the Tigers as quarterbacks coach. He wanted prospects with a drop-back style, in stark contrast to former coordinator Rich Rodriguez's preference for running quarterbacks.
On the weekend Whitehurst visited Clemson, new UNC coach John Bunting hired Gary Tranquill as his offensive coordinator. The Tar Heels had promised Whitehurst that their new coordinator would fly to Georgia and meet with him upon his hiring. But Tranquill couldn't make the flight for a few days because of food poisoning, according to Whitehurst.
Perhaps with the help of some bad food, Clemson then landed a commitment from Whitehurst, who was rated the 35th-best quarterback in the country by Rivals.com. The rest is history, as Whitehurst has set 35 school records despite his struggles this season. Through seven games, he had 13 interceptions and only six touchdown passes.
Hill was another relative unknown from Georgia who has emerged as a star for the Tigers. He's done it while wearing jersey No. 43, a special number at Clemson. Defensive coordinator John Lovett initially considered Hill too small for middle linebacker and tried him at whip linebacker, a hybrid safety/linebacker position.
Hill returned to middle linebacker in 2003 and made first-team All-ACC with 145 tackles, 27 tackles for loss and eight sacks. The tackles for loss total ranked second in the nation. Now in his second year starting, Hill ranked in the top three in the ACC through seven games this season with 65 tackles (second), seven sacks (first) and 11.5 tackles for loss (third).
Clemson's offensive line took a setback because of the 2001 class, which didn't draw any raves on signing day for either the number (just two) or the quality of its blockers. Chip Myrick has become a second-team guard for the Tigers, while Grant Oliver transferred to Appalachian State.
Oliver left Clemson's camp in August 2001 after the first day, because at the time he was uncertain if college football was for him. He's now a redshirt junior in his third year as a starter for Division I-AA Appalachian State at offensive tackle. That's the same position where Clemson has used a true freshman, a true sophomore and a former walk-on as its starters this season.
Coleman was recruited as a tight end/offensive tackle prospect, but he moved to defensive tackle shortly after arriving at Clemson.
"He ran too well," Bowden said. "We had (Todd) McClinton projected as tight end/tackle, too. With a priority being on defense, I said I'll take my hit. I'll scheme on offense, sprint-out, trap, draw. I just won't make it a power offense. I'll finesse it until I get the big guys."
Several other players came and went from Clemson's 2001 class, including four defensive linemen who either never arrived or did not finish their eligibility with the Tigers.
There was running back Michaux Hollingsworth, a little-known North
Carolina product who was denied admission by Clemson, reportedly because of
a suspiciously large test-score jump. This fall he is in his fourth year at
I-AA North Carolina A&T, where he rushed for 302 yards on 77 carries through eight games.
Defensive end Mark Jetton, another signee from North Carolina, also ended up back in his home state. After transferring to Division I-AA Elon in 2003, he started all 12 games last season and made 50 tackles. Jetton, who also tried tight end at Clemson, had 25 tackles (including six for loss) and three sacks for Elon through seven games this season.
Reed, a promising in-state defensive tackle, did not qualify and spent 2001
at Georgia Military College. He had 14 tackles in eight games for
NAIA power Pikeville in 2002 before transferring to Newberry, where he made 26 tackles in nine games last season.
"Daggum," Bowden said upon seeing Reed's name. "Wish he would have gotten in."
Another defensive lineman, Wendell Singletary of North Carolina, also failed to qualify. He was placed at Southwest Mississippi Junior College and planned to re-sign with Clemson in 2003, but he ended up at Division I-AA Western Carolina. Singletary is a first-year starter there at offensive tackle this fall, as a redshirt junior.
Defensive end Rod Whipple of Georgia, who struggled to keep weight on his thin body, left Clemson before the 2003 season. He transferred closer to home to Division II power Albany State, where he played in only two of the team's first seven games this season.
Two players got away from Clemson's 2001 class before ever signing: defensive tackle Jeff Littlejohn and linebacker Roger McIntosh of Gaffney High. The prep teammates both gave commitments to Clemson, but the Tigers ultimately had to back off because of NCAA violations that occurred during their recruitment. Littlejohn and McIntosh are full-time starters this fall at Middle Tennessee State and Miami, respectively.
The face of Clemson's 2001 class may belong to Hall, who symbolizes the expectations game placed on 18-year-olds before they ever take a snap in college. USA Today and Max Emfinger rated Hall the No. 1 tight end prospect in the country.
Hall caught only 23 passes for 291 yards in his first three seasons with the Tigers. Frustrated by the lack of throws his way and dealing with some personal problems at home, Hall quit the team in the winter of 2003 before returning that summer. He barely played last season but continued to work hard. This year, Bowden has praised the commitment of Hall (seven catches, 127 yards, one TD), who seems like a different person without a chip on his shoulder.
"It feels good to know somebody has that much confidence in me," Hall said of his high school rankings. "But it puts a lot of pressure on you. You've got all these eyes on you, and then you drop a ball and it's like, 'He's number one?' You've got a lot of expectations that you didn't really ask for. You just want to play ball."
Jon Solomon, Columbia (S.C.) State
Class Left "Hole" At Maryland
COLLEGE PARK Recruiting almost always suffers when there is a head coaching change, and that certainly was the case at Maryland after Ron Vanderlinden was fired in December 2000 and replaced by Ralph Friedgen.
Maryland's 2001 signing class was subpar as a result, and the Terrapins are still paying for it on the field this fall. Most recruiting analysts placed the class sixth or seventh in the ACC and in the 40-50 range nationally at the time, and this fall those rankings appear generous. As the Terps struggled to a 3-5 start, only one 2001 signee excelled as a starter.
On signing day, Friedgen praised recruiting coordinator Mike Locksley for retaining the players who had committed to Maryland prior to Vanderlinden's dismissal. Friedgen also crowed about the pickups the program was able to make after he came aboard.
"I feel very good about this class. It's one I think has great size, excellent speed and tremendous athleticism," Friedgen said. "I think we've done very well, especially in a transition year. Considering we were competing against some very tough schools you're not going to get every kid you want, but we're very happy with the ones we got."
Maryland announced an 18-member class on signing day that was loaded with in-state talent. A whopping 13 of the signees were from the Maryland-D.C. region, a byproduct of Vanderlinden's recruiting philosophy that brought a smile to Friedgen's face.
"The thing I am most pleased about is that the majority are local kids," the coach said. "Maryland kids going to Maryland. That's music to my ears."
Almost four years later, Friedgen cited the Class of 2001 as a primary reason for the team's struggles in 2004. He complained during spring practice about the attrition rate and once faulted Vanderlinden for taking so many "academic questionables" that year. During an April press conference, Friedgen said: "We had 13-14 players committed when I came in here. Many of those recruits that I inherited aren't around anymore. That class, from an attrition standpoint, is big. We've got a hole in our program."
Friedgen's comments were a bit misleading on a couple of fronts. First, Maryland had 12 high school seniors committed before Vanderlinden was fired. Second, only three of those 12 are no longer in the program: offensive linemen Jason Holman, Raheem Lewis and Akil Patterson.
Holman, who was second on the depth chart at center as a redshirt freshman, failed out of school and was unable to re-gain admittance despite spending some time at nearby Prince George's Community College. The 6-2, 267-pounder, a Vanderlinden find from Midlothian, Va., had earned praise from Friedgen for his potential. Lewis, a roly-poly 335-pounder who never could get himself into proper shape, failed out after just one season. He later was murdered, in an apparently random drive-by shooting.
Patterson often annoyed the coaching staff with his boisterous behavior during his first two years on campus. He became infamous for running his mouth in practice and talking back to coaches. Patterson, who once told Friedgen his ambition was to become the governor of Maryland, was switched from defense to offensive tackle in 2002 and came on strong enough to start the season opener at guard against Northern Illinois last season. But the 6-3, 290-pounder was suspended midway through the 2003 campaign for a violation of team rules. A two-time state champion heavyweight wrestler in high school, Patterson felt the suspension was unwarranted and quit the team in anger. He is now a starting offensive lineman for Division II California in Pennsylvania.
Vanderlinden also received a commitment from one player who never signed a national letter of intent and never enrolled at Maryland. In-state receiver Mike Evans was removed from the class prior to signing day, because the staff knew he would not qualify.
Marcus Wimbush, a safety out of Dunbar High in D.C., was announced as a member of the 2001 class but also failed to meet NCAA standards for freshman eligibility. He sat out while working toward a qualifying SAT score, then re-signed with Maryland in 2002. He is currently a third-team safety.
Much of the attrition has involved recruits who came aboard after Friedgen was hired on Nov. 29, 2000. By far the biggest mistakes were running back Jason Crawford, offensive lineman Tim Donovan and defensive end Will Ferguson.
Crawford's bizarre recruitment has been chronicled many times. A product of nearby Parkdale High, he initially committed to Maryland in December 1999. The SuperPrep All-American then stunned Vanderlinden on signing day in 2000 by instead sending his national letter of intent to North Carolina. That became a moot point when Crawford came up 30 points shy on the SAT.
While still publicly committed to UNC during a year at Fork Union Military Academy, Crawford secretly contacted Maryland and asked to be recruited again. Shortly after Friedgen was hired, Locksley showed him tapes of Crawford, who rushed for 2,801 yards and 21 touchdowns during his final two seasons of high school.
"My first reaction as I watched the tape of Jason was to turn to Coach Locksley and say, 'So you're telling me we have a chance to get this kid? What are we waiting for?'" said Friedgen, who had been told that Crawford was a potentially risky recruit.
Crawford's character issues showed through time and time again during his turbulent two-year stay in College Park. The 6-2, 220-pounder virtually was handed a starting spot as a sophomore, after Bruce Perry went down with an injury. Crawford failed to impress, rushing for 16 yards against Notre Dame and 27 versus Akron. For all intents and purposes, Crawford's career at Maryland ended the day he complained to beat reporters about not getting enough carries. By the following spring he was out of the program, thanks to a combination of bad attitude and bad grades.
Neither Vanderlinden nor Locksley liked Donovan as a prospect, so they never recruited him. However, Friedgen decided to offer the offensive tackle from in-state power DeMatha Catholic after reviewing some tape and receiving a strong recommendation from DeMatha assistant Buck Offutt, a long-time friend of Friedgen.
Donovan, who simply was not a Division I-A caliber lineman in terms of athleticism, was the first high school recruit to commit to Friedgen. He left the program after one year to help care for his dying father and eventually had his scholarship revoked.
Ferguson was the last player offered by Maryland in 2001, a little-known prospect who was added to the class less than a week before signing day. A middle linebacker at Walt Whitman High in Bethesda, Md., the 6-3, 255-pounder had been considering Division I-AA Towson and Fordham before the Terps came calling.
Friedgen became interested in Ferguson after receiving a highlight tape from the player's mother. He envisioned Ferguson growing into a defensive lineman and ignored Locksley's recommendation to take the youngster as a preferred walk-on.
"We got a tape on Will and liked the way he ran and hit," said Friedgen, who called Ferguson a "sleeper" and a "late bloomer" on signing day.
Ferguson lasted about two weeks into August camp before being told that he would never make it as a football player at Maryland. He quickly transferred to Division I-AA Towson, where he played for a few seasons.
Friedgen also gave his approval to sign junior college cornerback Jamal Chance, who spent two seasons as a second-teamer before exhausting his eligibility in 2003.
Friedgen does deserve credit for the two finest members of the Class of 2001: cornerback Domonique Foxworth and defensive tackle Randy Starks.
An impressive in-home visit by Friedgen got Maryland back in the game with Foxworth, who had pretty much settled on attending Purdue. Foxworth's parents were particularly taken with what the Fridge had to say, and the highly rated cornerback committed in December, then enrolled in January.
Maryland may have made a mistake by burning Foxworth's redshirt season with just two games remaining in 2001. However, there is no arguing with the whole of the player's career. He was first-team All-ACC as a sophomore and second-team as a junior, and he figures to make one of the teams as a senior despite a somewhat disappointing campaign.
Friedgen also did his part to help land Starks, a prep All-American who picked Maryland over Penn State exactly one month before signing day. He was by far the program's most important pickup that year, the dominant defensive tackle the program desperately needed at the time.
As expected, Starks became an immediate-impact player for the Terps. He appeared in every game as a true freshman, then made 27 straight starts as a sophomore and junior. He declared early for the NFL and was drafted by Tennessee after earning All-ACC and All-American honors in 2003. He's a second-team player for the Titans this fall.
Maryland actually stumbled onto one of the more productive members of its Class of 2001. Wide receiver Derrick Fenner of Hampton (Va.) High was still unsigned late that summer, when the Terrapins got a look at his highlight tape and liked what they saw in terms of speed and athleticism. A redshirt junior, Fenner started the initial seven games of this season and led the team with 20 receptions for 280 yards and two touchdowns. He was the Terps' primary deep threat in 2003, with 12 catches for 334 yards.
Tight end Derek Miller and cornerback Gerrick McPhearson were mid-level recruits who have become starters as redshirt juniors, although neither has been a standout this fall.
Another interesting case involves slotback Rich Parson, who originally committed to Maryland in 1999, then spent two years in prep school. The Newark (Del.) High product did not qualify because of a low SAT score, so he attended Milford (Conn.) Academy. He didn't earn a qualifying score until the fall of 2000, while attending Newark (Del.) Academy. Parson has been a solid four-year performer, playing in 43 games and totaling 56 receptions for 853 yards.
Vanderlinden made his living off sleepers and came up with some truly great ones during his four-year tenure in College Park, turning unheralded recruits such as Steve Suter, Charles Hill and Melvin Fowler into All-ACC performers. However, Vanderlinden swung and missed a lot in 2001.
Linebacker-turned-fullback Maurice Smith, fullback-turned-defensive end Ricardo Dickerson, offensive guard Matt Powell and offensive tackle Russell Bonham all were lightly regarded signees who have made minimal impacts so far and remain backups after almost four full years in the program. Tailback Mario Merrills, the 2001 Gatorade player of the year in Maryland and a SuperPrep All-American, could end up challenging Crawford and possibly Wimbush for the title of the biggest bust in the Terps' Class of 2001.
UNC: Many Misses On Defense
CHAPEL HILL A third straight losing season remained a possibility for North Carolina entering November, thanks in large part to the shortcomings of a 2001 recruiting class whose roots stretch back to a tumultuous 1999-2000 stretch for the Tar Heels and a delayed coaching change.
John Bunting was hired by UNC on Dec. 11, 2000, returning to his alma mater
from the NFL's New Orleans Saints and a lengthy pro stay. He replaced Carl Torbush,
fired for the second time in Chapel Hill. Torbush had gained a reprieve from
athletic director Dick Baddour in 1999, apparently because of a two-victory
finish in an injury-filled
The Torbush regime did most of UNC's recruiting with the Class of 2001, and Bunting's staff with three retained assistants, and almost two full months until signing day did the rest. UNC signed 22 prep players, plus two major-college transfers. Recruiting analysts generally ranked the class among the bottom three in the ACC at the time, and in retrospect that seems right on target. Its help has been limited for almost four years.
The transfers, Bobby Blizzard and Dan Orner, both became solid contributors but are out of the program after exhausting their eligibility in 2003. Eight players left the team prematurely for various reasons. Receiver Derrele Mitchell did not qualify in 2001 but did meet standards after a year in prep school. Only 13 of the Tar Heels' 2001 high school signees remain on the active roster, and only five of them are full-time starters.
UNC won only five games in the previous two seasons combined, and just four of its first eight contests this season. Bunting's recruiting improved slightly in 2002 and dramatically in 2003 and 2004, but the coach's weak senior class is hampering this year's team, especially on defense.
"There's not a great deal of seniors on this team, but there's enough," Bunting said. "And they care so much about playing well and performing and getting better. They are doing a terrific job. I couldn't ask any more from that group of my players."
Senior center Jason Brown, who recently started his 32nd consecutive game for the Tar Heels, has been the cornerstone of the offensive line for three seasons. One of UNC's strongest and most intelligent players, Brown showed his courage last year when he played at N.C. State, less than a week after his older brother Lunsford was killed in Iraq while serving in the military. Jason, who holds numerous Carolina weight-lifting records, is an All-ACC candidate this fall and could have an NFL future.
Jarwarski Pollock was a curiosity when UNC signed him. He is only 5-8, and many recruiting analysts believed the Tar Heels took him mainly for leverage in their attempt to land his more heralded high school teammate in Bradenton, Fla., quarterback Adrian McPherson. UNC actually lucked out by not signing McPherson, who was kicked off the Florida State team in 2002 after tainting the program with his theft, forgery and gambling charges.
Pollock, meanwhile, has developed into a very dependable receiver. A partial qualifier under the NCAA academic standards in place at the time, he had to sit out his first season in Chapel Hill but caught 102 passes over the next two years. His 71 receptions as a junior set a school record. UNC's leading receiver after seven games in 2004, with 28 catches for 280 yards, Pollock could break the school record for receptions in a career (165) by the end of this season. He recently learned that he's eligible to return in 2005.
"He's a remarkable young man," Bunting said. "He's got a tremendous attitude. He's got a big smile on his face every day. He comes to work every day on the practice field and works hard. He's a little bit of a magician and acrobat out there sometimes. He's a little guy that plays big."
Senior tailback Jacque Lewis, a prep All-American who turned down Miami, is UNC's best all-around back in Bunting's opinion. Lewis rushed for 161 yards, his career high, in a 34-13 win over Georgia Tech this fall. He never became the dominant runner many thought he could be after a stellar high school career, in part because of nagging injuries. Lewis has started off and on at UNC but is the backup this fall behind sophomore Ronnie McGill.
Chase Page was Carolina's best and most experienced defensive lineman and one of the team's most respected leaders coming into 2004. But he suffered a freak hand injury during practice in August, and surgery to repair torn tendons in his left hand ended his season. Because he hadn't redshirted prior to this fall, he can return for a fifth year in 2005. He began his UNC career as an offensive lineman and played guard as a freshman before moving to defensive tackle in the spring of 2002.
Tommy Davis, a part-time 2003 starter at defensive end who earned a full-time job this season, isn't as big (6-2, 256) as most at his position but is one of the line's strongest players. Jeff Longhany has alternated starting at one linebacker position. Through seven games this fall, Davis had 24 tackles and Longhany 16, but neither player has become a consistent producer for one of the most porous defenses in the nation.
Blizzard and Orner were among UNC's best players for two seasons. Blizzard fought through illness to play last fall and finished his Carolina career with 48 catches and six touchdowns, after playing his first two seasons at Kentucky. Orner left Michigan State and became UNC's kicker. He made 21 field goals and enjoyed his most success in 2002, when he kicked a 47-yard field goal as time expired to beat Duke in the season finale. Orner also booted three field goals of at least 50 yards in a win at Syracuse that season to tie an NCAA record, including a kick that covered a school-record 55 yards.
Quarterback Matt Baker, UNC's backup to Darian Durant this fall, played decently in three relief appearances in the first seven games of 2004. He will be the logical replacement for Durant next season but has never started a game for the Tar Heels. Steven Bell is a reserve offensive lineman who holds the backup jobs at center and right guard.
Brian Chacos followed in his father's footsteps to UNC. He was recruited as a tight end but switched to offensive tackle in 2002. He is the starting left tackle this fall, after sharing playing time with Skip Seagraves (now injured) last season.
Other players never developed in the way the coaching staff thought possible.
Senior Jocques Dumas was one of the top-ranked recruits in the 2001 class, after earning consensus All-America honors as a high school senior. He had a body that reminded some of star UNC defensive end Julius Peppers. Poor foot movement has hampered Dumas, however. He played defensive end for his first two seasons and split time between end and tackle last year. He moved to tight end for 2004 and is used mostly as a blocker.
Linebacker Doug Justice also has struggled at UNC, despite being one of the smartest and most instinctive players on the team. He was considered a valuable late addition after committing to Michigan but has played mostly as a reserve. A lasting image of Justice for many Carolina fans will be the play on which he was caught from behind by an N.C. State offensive lineman in 2002 while trying to score after a turnover.
Safety Ronnie Bryant has fallen deep down the depth chart after playing in 11 games in 2003, mostly on special teams. Receiver Chris Curry, one of the first players to commit to Carolina after Bunting became the coach, gave up football this year but remains in school at UNC. Offensive lineman Arthur Smith, whose father is Federal Express founder Fred Smith, redshirted in 2001 and has been slowed by injuries over the last two seasons. He's often listed as a second-team guard on the depth chart, but he rarely plays.
Drew Hunter, a big offensive lineman, played mostly as a reserve before his career ended this year because of injury. Antavis Barrino, a once-promising in-state defensive lineman, contracted mononucleosis, left summer practice in 2001 to return home to recover, and never returned. John Lowery, the player's high school coach, said Barrino never played football again and is working in his hometown of Marshville.
Ike Emodi, a defensive end, was a project who came up short academically and subsequently enrolled at East Carolina as a non-qualifier. He lettered there in 2002 and 2003 but was academically ineligible for 2004 and is no longer in the program. He entered the NFL's supplemental draft in the spring but was not selected. Cornerback Chris Hawkins was kicked off the UNC team for a rules violation and enrolled earlier this year at Marshall, where he is sitting out 2004 under NCAA transfer rules.
Terrance Highsmith, a late addition to the class as a quarterback, did not last long in Chapel Hill. He left after one season and quickly surfaced at Fort Scott Community College in Kansas, where he played quarterback. He is now a backup receiver at Iowa State, with five catches for 31 yards in the Cyclones' first seven games this fall. Harry Lewis, another late addition valued for his athletic ability, never lettered at UNC. He transferred to home-state Louisville but never played for the Cardinals, either. Now a receiver for the Lexington (Ky.) Horsemen in the professional National Indoor Football League, Lewis had 602 yards receiving and 14 touchdowns last season.
Danny Rumley was a tall receiver from Alabama whom Bunting said reminded him of Randy Moss, an All-Pro receiver with the Minnesota Vikings. Rumley played sparingly at UNC and transferred to Division I-AA Murray State, where he is a starting receiver this fall. Rumley, who goes by Daniel now, caught 23 passes in his team's first eight games for 360 yards, both team highs, and two touchdowns.
"I think there's obviously a couple of things that could have been done better at that point in time," Bunting said. "But I'll say this: The most important recruiting year was the following year. Coming off the 8-5 season, beating Florida State and beating some other great ACC teams and winning the Peach Bowl, that was a critical year. We didn't do a good enough job recruiting (with the Class of 2002) and based on that, that's when we really overhauled this entire system of recruiting. And since that time, we've been doing a pretty good job."
Bill Cole, Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal