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Hargrave Policies May Earn Scrutiny

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

February 12, 2008

RALEIGH – It will be interesting to see, if any members of N.C. State's recent football signing class fail to qualify, at what prep school the Wolfpack will try to place them.

The usual location in past years has been Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va. That's a popular choice for many BCS-level programs.

When college coaches do a sign-and-place, they want that recruit to be kept essentially off-limits from other schools. Hargrave, in a remote and rural section of Virginia, had a reputation for being just such a place. It was notoriously difficult for coaches from other schools to get in touch with players placed there to see if they were planning to re-sign with the school that placed them there or were open to being recruited again.

No more, apparently. This year Hargrave had as much intrigue and drama as Hamlet's court, as several recruits switched their allegiances from the schools that originally had placed them there.

Quarterback Cannon Smith switched from Mississippi to Miami. Running back Enrique Davis flipped from Auburn to Ole Miss. North Carolina pried Zach Brown from Maryland. There were even moments of tension and uncertainty with players who eventually re-signed with the schools that placed them there.

N.C. State signee Sam Jones didn't actually sign with State last year after failing to qualify, but he was considered a lock for the Wolfpack and committed to the school in early December, calling the school "home" in interviews.

Then, in late January, after stating that he was done with visits, Jones made an official visit to Florida State. It was a move that caught the Wolfpack coaching staff by surprise and infuriated them.

You can argue the ethics of essentially shielding players from the attention of others schools, and that extenuating circumstances make each recruit's case unique. Jones, for example, had been recruited to State by Chuck Amato, who resumed recruiting him when he moved to FSU.

But the fact remains that the point of a sign-and-place is to make sure that the recruit signs again the following year. Given what happened at Hargrave this recruiting season, it would be understandable if State's coaches have lost some confidence in the school and its policies.

A possible future alternative for the Wolfpack could be Milford Academy in New Berlin, N.Y. That's where coach Tom O'Brien found offensive tackle Jake Vermiglio, a prized late addition to last year's recruiting class. The coach there, Bill Chaplick, also happens to be a Boston College graduate.


It apparently hasn't taken Amato very long to put his N.C. State days behind him.

Word from the recruiting trail was that Amato was negatively recruiting against the Wolfpack while at Hargrave by telling recruits that State didn't graduate players. That seems like an awfully strange argument for Amato to make, given that the graduation rates he'd be referring to likely were either accumulated under former coach Mike O'Cain or under Amato himself.

Perhaps Amato was trying to indicate that State's academic support system is weaker than Florida State's. Whatever the case, it wasn't enough to pry offensive lineman Jones away from the Pack.

It's hard to overstate how important a "get" offensive tackle R.J. Mattes was for State. It's not just that the Wolfpack beat out Mattes' presumed favorite, Clemson, or that O'Brien burnished his reputation as an underrated recruiting closer. Mattes' father played under O'Brien at Virginia and went on to play in the NFL.

There's plenty of reason to think Mattes could follow the same path. He still needs to add weight to his 6-6 frame, but technically he's extremely sound. Mattes also did a good job of holding his own in the Shrine Bowl against defensive end DeQuan Bowers, a Clemson recruit considered by many to be the top defensive end in the nation.

An impressive part of this recruiting class for State was how many different assistant coaches contributed to the haul. Dana Bible, Jim Bridge, Andy McCollum, Jason Swepson and Keith Willis all landed important recruits for the Wolfpack.

That's a marked contrast to the latter years of the Amato regime, when it became Curt Cignetti, Todd Stroud and pray for rain.

While there was balance among the State assistants in recruiting, the clear MVP was tight ends coach Bridge. He was the primary recruiter for six signees, including Mattes; linebacker Sterling Lucas, the South Carolina defensive MVP of the Shrine Bowl; Terrell Manning, the No. 1 recruit in North Carolina, according to Scout.com.


As a whole, the media has taken a fairly dim view of coach Sidney Lowe's second season in Raleigh.

But perhaps everyone should take a step back and take a look at whether the Wolfpack really is underachieving or whether the media just set unrealistic expectations for Lowe's second season.

Consider that at the halfway mark of the ACC schedule, State sat at 15-7 and 4-4 in the league. Consider that last year, it took the entire regular season for the Wolfpack to reach 15 wins, and State mustered only five conference victories. Consider also that three of State's league losses came on the road against arguably the ACC's top three teams – North Carolina, Duke and Clemson. Really, even with the rose-colored glasses many wore in the preseason, a 5-3 league mark probably would have been a best-case scenario.

So it's not bad. It's just not up to the media's preseason standards. Here are three reasons why many missed the mark on the Wolfpack in the preseason.

First, just as college football preseason rankings give too much weight to the previous season's bowl games, many writers got suckered in by State's run in the ACC Tournament. Yes, the Wolfpack looked great then, but a hot stretch at the right time shouldn't cover over the warts State showed the rest of the season.

Second, how many really appreciated Engin Atsur until he was gone? Remember how much State struggled when he was out with his hamstring injury? Remember how much better the Wolfpack was when he was in the lineup, even at less than half-speed? He was a master at running Lowe's sets and, in particular, the pick and roll. He was not going to be replaced easily. And bear in mind that his anointed successor at point guard, Farnold Degand, went down with an ACL tear. It's not easy to switch gears at point guard in midseason. Just check out how UNC did when it didn't have Ty Lawson earlier this season, or how Duke fared with Greg Paulus hobbled a year ago.

Third, many assumed that Brandon Costner would continue to be the player they saw in the ACC Tournament. Instead, he's regressed, struggling to find his place in an offense in which J.J. Hickson – not Costner – is the No. 1 option. Costner also has frustrated the staff by being unwilling to look for his offense down low, where his array of moves is a strength. He instead has drifted to the perimeter, where his shooting touch has disappeared for long stretches. Finally, even when Costner was at his best last season, he was never a good defender. That certainly hasn't changed this season.

It's fair to give Lowe at least some of the blame for Costner's struggles, and for his team's sometimes reckless and uninspired play. But the other reasons are things that fall on the media's shoulders, not those of the N.C. State coaches.