By Bill Cole
Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal
February 20, 2007
CHAPEL HILL Butch Davis tried to cram one year's worth of recruiting into eight weeks at North Carolina. He didn't succeed completely, but he came awfully close.
Davis signed 24 recruits in his first effort as UNC's coach. He finished almost shockingly strong on national signing day, landing one of the nation's top defensive linemen, luring a nearby star from Notre Dame's clutches, and keeping another close-by talent from leaving for Tennessee.
Most recruiting analysts rated UNC's class No. 2 in the ACC and among the top 20 in the nation. (One had it at No. 11.) Davis called signing day an exciting time for his rebuilding program and said he was thrilled with the results.
In the aftermath, many asked the obvious question: If Davis can succeed while recruiting on the run, what will his future classes look like, when he has an entire year to assemble them?
Davis left no doubt about his vision for the future.
"We are going after the absolute very best football players, not only in North Carolina, but we're going after the best in the United States every single year," Davis said. "We're going to be in knock-down, drag-out battles for the best players."
SuperPrep publisher Allen Wallace said UNC's class was the result of Davis' reputation, one built when he coached Miami powerhouses in the late 1990s and when he spent four seasons with the NFL's Cleveland Browns. Davis worked almost non-stop after replacing John Bunting on Nov. 27 and made recruiting his top priority, but he thought the credit should go elsewhere.
Davis praised the work of Ken Browning and Tommy Thigpen, the only assistant coaches from Bunting's staff who were retained in the end. Browning, a UNC staff member since 1994, has strong connections to the state's high school coaches. Thigpen is a relentless, energetic, young recruiter. Five early commitments left the class for various reasons, but Browning and Thigpen held on to 12 others, and Davis added 12 of his own.
"(Browning and Thigpen) were the two guys that were the glue that held this recruiting class together," Davis said. "Their credibility as men and their passion and love for the University of North Carolina and this football program meant volumes to today's success. Today's success wouldn't have happened at all without those two guys."
Davis delayed assembling his staff to use the time to recruit, and to make sure that he made the right hires. John Blake joined the staff from Nebraska as the recruiting coordinator and defensive line coach. A jolly bear of a man, he is considered by many one of the nation's finest recruiters.
Blake's ability to land top prospects became clear on signing day, when UNC landed Marvin Austin, a 6-3, 295-pound defensive tackle from Washington, D.C. Austin is the type of player Davis wants yearly, but he also is the type UNC has failed to sign previously, with the exception of a period late in the coaching career of Mack Brown in the mid-1990s.
SuperPrep ranked Austin the No. 2 defensive lineman nationally. As a senior at Ballou High, he had 85 tackles, 17 sacks and 14 other tackles for loss. In his last two high school seasons, he had 29 sacks and 26 other tackles for loss. His other finalists were Florida State, Southern Cal and Tennessee.
"Marvin was an unbelievable pleasure to recruit," Davis said. "I've had the opportunity to be involved in recruiting some extraordinarily high-profile players, and you have to absolutely just love this young man. He's passionate, he's charismatic, he's got an unbelievable personality. He's one of those guys that's like a magnet. People want to be around him."
Austin was among three important signing-day additions for UNC. The others were Greg Little and Dwight Jones. Little had appeared to have gotten away, and Jones had appeared to be slipping away.
Little, a star all-around player in Durham, committed to Notre Dame on Nov. 9, only 18 days after Bunting was fired effective at season's end. Little made several visits on his own to Chapel Hill in the month before signing day, however. By the night of Feb. 6, signing day eve, his thinking had changed. He called Davis at about 11:30 p.m. and said he wanted to play for UNC. Davis accepted his commitment. Little called coach Charlie Weis of Notre Dame the next morning to withdraw. Weis was not happy.
Little was among eight SuperPrep All-Americans in the class. (That counts Bruce Carter, a 2006 signee who delayed entry at UNC until this year while recovering from an injury.) Little was the state's most versatile player as a senior, splitting time at six positions at Hillside High. He caught 55 passes for 969 yards and nine touchdowns at receiver. He rushed for 800 yards and scored 14 touchdowns at running back. In the secondary, he had four interceptions. He will play offense at UNC.
Jones, a 6-5 receiver from Burlington, committed to the old staff but wavered in January and looked seriously at Tennessee and Clemson. He went to bed the night before signing day convinced that he would sign with Tennessee the next morning. He awoke and, in his words, realized he loved UNC too much to pass on the chance to play for Davis.
Jones caught 67 passes for 1,396 yards and scored 12 touchdowns as a senior at Cummings High, helping his team win the Class 2A state title. He had 112 catches for 2,315 yards and 20 touchdowns in his last two high school seasons. SuperPrep ranked him the No. 11 receiver nationally. UNC also landed No. 6 receiver Rashad Mason, a 6-5 prospect from Nashville, Tenn.
An outstanding prospect at quarterback would like to make sure that the receivers get the ball in future seasons. Mike Paulus, also
6-5, committed to the old staff. He never wavered in his devotion to UNC, according to Davis, and his presence in the class helped lure Mason out of Tennessee and kept Jones from going there. Paulus passed for 2,304 yards and 29 touchdowns as a senior in Syracuse, N.Y., and completed 58 percent of his passes. His older brother Greg is Duke's point guard in basketball.
UNC landed more of the state's top seniors than any other school, and it wasn't close. The Tar Heels signed six of the state's top 12 in SuperPrep's rankings and nine of the top 35. Carter was the state's No. 7 senior in 2005-06.
While pleased with the results, Davis was not even close to being satisfied.
"When you look at this class, there's 10 players from North Carolina and 14 players from outside the state," Davis said. "That's not reflective of the way we would like for recruiting classes to go. I don't know exactly what the number is going to be here year-in and year-out, but we want to make North Carolina a major emphasis in recruiting. I think we made up a tremendous amount of ground in a short amount of time with the players and the coaches in this state."
JONES COMES FULL CIRCLE WITH COLLEGE PICK
Dwight Jones is the prototype of the 21st century receiver tall, fast and gifted, with hands that can snare almost any pass.
Jones should be ready to play at North Carolina as a freshman, after spending his high school career at Cummings High in a pass-oriented offense. He had 67 catches for 1,396 yards and 12 touchdowns as a senior, helping his team win the Class 2A state championship in North Carolina.
"The Carolina coaches seem very excited," Jones said, "and they seem like they have a plan for me down there."
SuperPrep, a high school football recruiting magazine, ranked Jones the No. 1 senior in North Carolina and the No. 11 receiver nationally. Jones, 6-5, had an outstanding senior season despite defenses geared to stop him, after a junior year in which he caught 45 passes for 919 yards and eight touchdowns.
He also seriously considered Tennessee and Clemson, but he cited Davis' work in developing Santana Moss and Andre Johnson as receivers when coaching at Miami as a reason for sticking with UNC. Jones originally announced for the Tar Heels last summer, then wavered after the team's coaching change.
"I think the more that Dwight started to get to know us and realize that this was the same great place that he originally visualized it as being," Davis said, "I think he felt very good about his decision.
"It came down to (the night before signing day). We had to continue to recruit him and talk to him. His family felt extraordinarily good about his decision. I think he just wanted to feel comfortable that this was the right decision for him. And I think it definitely was."
NORTH CAROLINA 2007 SIGNEES
Name Pos. Ht./Wt. Stars High School/Junior College
Marvin Austin* DT 6-3/295 5/5 Washington (DC) Ballou
SP-2 DL; Parade/PrepStar A-A; over FSU, So.Cal, Tenn.
Charles Brown CB 5-10/190 2/2 Maple Heights (OH) High
Also PR/KR; 37-985-12 as sr.; 4.5 40; over UConn, MAC
Kevin Bryant OL 6-7/375 4/3 Lauderdale Lakes (FL) Anderson
SP-34 FL; 2nd-team 6A all-state; over Louis., Miss. (?)
Bruce Carter^ LB 6-3/210 3/3 Havelock (NC) High
Re-sign; 2005 SP A-A as QB/RB/S; early over ACC/SEC
Albert Craddock LB 6-2/200 3/3 High Point (NC) SW Guilford
SP-11 NC; Shrine Bowl; early over Aub., USC, VT (?)
Mike Dykes OL 6-4/275 3/3 Pittsburgh (PA) Woodland Hills
SP-26 PA; 2nd-team 4A all-state; over Duke, Miss., NW (!)
Linwan Euwell LB 6-2/210 3/3 Pinetops (NC) SW Edgecombe
SP-20 NC; 1st-team all-state DE; NCSU switch; USC (?)
LeCount Fantroy^ DB 5-11/175 2/2 New Berlin (NY) Milford
Re-sign from Washington (DC) Ballou; early over MAC
Carl Gaskins OL 6-5/245 2/2 Melbourne (FL) Palm Bay
1st-team 5A all-state; very late over ASU, Ill., Miami (?)
Brian Gupton WR/DB 6-3/190 2/3 Nashville (TN) Pearl-Cohn
14-478-3 as sr. WR; hurt jr. (wrist); sprinter; over I-AA (?)
Cameron Holland OL 6-2/275 2/3 Pittsburgh (PA) Perry
SP-27 PA; 1st-team 3A all-state; over Ky., Pitt, MAC (!)
Ryan Houston* RB 6-2/245 4/3 Matthews (NC) Butler
SP-16 RB; 377-2219-32; over Clem., Fla., Louis., Miami
Dwight Jones* WR 6-5/210 4/5 Burlington (NC) Cummings
SP-11 WR; 1st-team all-state; over Clem., Tenn., VT (?)
Greg Little* WR 6-3/210 4/4 Durham (NC) Hillside
SP-6 ATH; 1st-team all-state; ND switch; Mich., OSU, PSU
Rashad Mason* WR 6-5/210 4/4 Nashville (TN) Pearl-Cohn
SP-6 WR; 26-610-13 sr.; over Ky., Mich., Miss., Tenn.
Matt Merletti RB/DB 5-11/185 2/2 Cleveland (OH) St. Ignatius
All-district; 202-1113-12 w/injury (toe); late over Navy (!)
Mike Paulus* QB 6-5/220 4/4 Syracuse (NY) Christian Bros.
SP-15 QB; 4388-52 (2 years); over Ala., So.Cal, Tenn. (!)
Zack Pianalto^ FB/TE 6-4/215 4/3 Springdale (AR) High
SP-10 AR; injured sr. (collarbone); Texas switch; Ark. (!)
Tydreke Powell* DT 6-3/290 4/4 Ahoskie (NC) Hertford Co.
SP-43 DL; league POY; over Aub., Clem., FSU, VT (?)
Devon Ramsey FB/LB 6-2/240 3/3 Lawrenceville (NJ) School
SP-17 NJ; all-area; BC switch; Md., Pur., Syr., Vandy (!)
Da'Norris Searcy S 6-0/200 4/2 Decatur (GA) Towers
SP-17 GA; 1,607 rushing as sr.; over Md., Miss., VT (!)
Jonathan Smith S 6-2/185 2/3 Durham (NC) Hillside
SP-22 NC; career 216 tackles, 19 sacks, 7 int.; very early
Quan Sturdivant^ LB 6-3/225 4/3 Oakboro (NC) West Stanly
SP-12 NC; mostly QB in HS; Florida switch; NCSU, USC
Jay Wooten P/PK 6-3/180 2/2 Laurinburg (NC) Scotland
SP-35 NC; 4-year starter; all-state; over Clem., LSU (!)
*-All-American (top 250 by two/more services) ^-enrolled (!)-strong academics (?)-unconfirmed academics STScout.com RVRivals.com SPSuperPrep STARS: By Scout/Rivals.
WHO GOT AWAY?
The following prospects had firm scholarship offers from North Carolina and/or took official visits to Chapel Hill but signed with other programs: Neeses (SC) Hunter-Kinard-Tyler DT William Brimfield (Tenn.), Charlotte (NC) Victory Christian DE Kourtnei Brown (Clem.), Chatham (VA) Hargrave Military DE Miguel Chavis (Clem.), New Berlin (NY) Milford RB Graig Cooper (Miami), Washington (DC) Ballou OL Lamar Milstead (UVa), Princeton (NJ) Hun DE Ernest Owusu (Cal), Durham (NC) Riverside TE Weslye Saunders (USC), Vian (OK) High WR Londell Taylor (Okla.), Pittsburgh (PA) Central Catholic OL Stefen Wisniewski (PSU).
The following prospects also claimed scholarship offers from UNC but eliminated the Tar Heels early in the recruiting process: Woodbridge (VA) Hylton OL Will Alvarez (VT), Charlotte (NC) Independence WR Jason Barnes (USC), Newport News (VA) Denbigh OL Jaymes Brooks (VT), Wilmington (NC) New Hanover TE George Bryan (NCSU), Ft. Lauderdale (FL) Dillard DE Antoine Carter (Aub.), Midlothian (VA) Clover Hill OL Blake DeChristopher (VT), Wendell (NC) East Wake DB Dominique Ellis (NCSU), Highland Springs (VA) High DB C.J. Fleming (Tenn.), High Point (NC) Andrews DB Marcus Gilchrist (Clem.), Homestead (FL) High LB Maurice Harris (FSU), Highland Springs (VA) High DB Cris Hill (VT), Lakewood (OH) St. Edward TE Kyle Hubbard (Pitt), Duncan (SC) Byrnes LB Stanley Hunter (Clem.), Rockingham (NC) Richmond LB Melvin Ingram (USC), Wheaton (MD) Good Counsel DT Nick Jenkins (UVa), Oklahoma City (OK) Millwood WR Gerald Jones (Tenn.), Greensboro (NC) Page DE Kevion Latham (PSU), Midlothian (VA) Manchester OL Khalil Latif (VT), Anderson (SC) Hanna RB Brian Maddox (USC), Cheraw (SC) High DE Cliff Matthews (USC), Bunn (NC) High DE Kerry Neal (ND), Sumter (SC) High OL Kyle Nunn (USC), Columbia (SC) Spring Valley OL Quintin Richardson (USC), Laurinburg (NC) Scotland DE Travian Robertson (USC), Wadesboro (NC) Anson OL Trinton Sturdivant (Ga.), Ronda (NC) East Wilkes OL Landon Walker (Clem.), Brooklyn (NY) Lincoln TE Lansford Watson (Md.), North Miami Beach (FL) High DB Doug Wiggins (Miami), Christchurch (VA) School S J'Courtney Williams (UVa), Decatur (GA) Southwest Dekalb LB Scottie Williams (Miss.), Marietta (GA) Walton TE Bailey Woods (Aub.).
Compiled by David Glenn