By David Glenn
February 6, 2007
Here's something to keep in mind on and after Feb. 7, this year's national signing day for college football: Every coach in America believes in the idea of building a program with as many local prospects as possible, but some jobs including those in North Carolina require extra discretion in that regard.
It makes sense.
Football, far more than basketball, is a sport in which most recruits want to stay relatively close to home. Many people regard gridiron games as weekend social experiences rather than mere television dates, and most football prospects like the idea of their parents, extended family, friends and/or prep teammates being able to see them play with a reasonable trip by car.
"That's the starting point for just about everybody," Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe said. "The (military) academies are different, and some states obviously have a lot more players than others, but that's the starting point."
College coaches also know that relationships are the lifeblood of recruiting, and nothing builds in-state or regional ties better than signing, teaching, developing and graduating large numbers of home-grown prospects. Every successful local kid provides a built-in sales pitch that can be presented to later prospects who come from the same region, city, high school or prep coach.
"We've had a lot of success with players from (the Tidewater area of Virginia)," Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said. "We're always going to start with in-state players, and it certainly helps when you can point to other players from the same areas who have had great experiences here."
Beyond this build-from-within starting point, of course, coaches veer in all sorts of directions with their recruiting philosophies.
Those in California, Texas, Florida and Georgia the four states that produce by far the most Division I-A football signees each year could be successful without ever crossing state lines. There are that many good local players in those states, year after year, and that fact is reflected by data that takes into consideration Division I-A signees, college starters, all-conference performers, NFL products and various other measuring sticks.
In many other states, coaches face more complicated decisions on the recruiting trail. In North Carolina, for example, the state's five Division I-A head coaches must deal with the unfortunate reality of the worst demographics in the ACC's traditional Maryland-through-Florida geographic footprint, according to more than 10 years of research by the ACC Sports Journal and ACCSports.com.
North Carolina's average of about 60 Division I-A signees per year isn't bad that ranks among the top dozen states in the nation but the presence of five I-A programs (UNC, N.C. State, Wake Forest, Duke, East Carolina) in the state, along with numerous others within a reasonable driving distance, offers a significant complication.
"The state of North Carolina has got outstanding high school football players in it, but can the population of the state handle four (ACC) schools, plus an East Carolina, plus the neighboring schools that are closer to the players than some of the in-state schools?" former N.C. State coach Chuck Amato said. "I think that has an awful lot to do with it, really."
Georgia, in contrast, has two I-A teams and produces about 150 I-A signees per year. The numbers in Florida (350/7), Virginia (50/2), Maryland (40/2) and South Carolina (40/2) also are an improvement over the comparable numbers in North Carolina (60/5).
Prospects are allowed to leave the state, of course, but the math of the situation combined with the more local nature of gridiron recruiting compared to basketball and other sports isn't pretty in North Carolina.
Here's the breakdown when you limit the same numbers to only BCS-conference teams, on the theory that non-BCS programs don't win many head-to-head recruiting battles with those affiliated with the BCS: 87 Division I-A signees per BCS school in Florida (350/4), 75 in Georgia (150/2), 40 in Maryland (40/1), 25 in Virginia (50/2), 20 in South Carolina (40/2) and 15 in North Carolina (60/4). The non-ACC schools involved in these BCS-only numbers are Florida (SEC), South Florida (Big East), Georgia (SEC) and South Carolina (SEC).
Some who follow these things have suggested that Duke and Wake Forest should be excluded from the North Carolina numbers, because those schools rarely win head-to-head recruiting battles with other BCS teams, and because the Blue Devils in particular take a national approach to building their program.
While that's a valid point in some years, at various times Duke and/or Wake Forest have been very important factors on North Carolina's gridiron recruiting trail. The Demon Deacons, for example, had eight very productive in-state starters fullback Rich Belton, guard Matthew Brim, linebacker Aaron Curry, guard Chris DeGeare, safety Josh Gattis, receiver/tailback Kenneth Moore, defensive tackle Jamil Smith and defensive end Jeremy Thompson on last year's ACC championship team. That's a very significant number, indeed a full third of the team's starting lineup.
Even if, for the sake of argument, you combined Duke and Wake into one school for purposes of the BCS-only statistical analysis, the numbers would look like this: 87 I-A signees per BCS school in Florida (350/4), 75 in Georgia (150/2), 40 in Maryland (40/1), 25 in Virginia (50/2), 20 in South Carolina (40/2) and 20 in North Carolina (60/3).
Many of those who accept the unfortunate mathematics of the situation continue to insist that the North Carolina programs would be just fine if they simply prevented the top in-state prospects from signing with out-of-state teams. Undoubtedly, that's part of the problem, but even that doesn't explain everything not even close.
Ready for the long, impressive, overwhelming list of North Carolina high school football products who spent the 2006 season conquering the top level (BCS) of college football as truly outstanding, full-time starters for out-of-state programs? Don't hold your breath.
Here it is: Michigan safety Jamar Adams, Georgia offensive tackle Daniel Inman, Florida quarterback Chris Leak and Georgia wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi. This list, remember, was compiled from five years' worth of North Carolina recruiting classes, from the rosters and depth charts of the 62 out-of-state programs in the six BCS conferences.
Four players. Wow.
Granted, the list grows as the criteria change. Full-time starters from North Carolina at the 62 out-of-state BCS programs last season? That was about a dozen, including Clemson defensive back C.J. Gaddis (Raeford) and Maryland defensive tackle Dre Moore (Charlotte) from the ACC. With key reserves, the number grew again, but only to 18 or so. There also were a few prominent in-state products at East Carolina and other non-BCS programs last year, and a few more at the Division I-AA level.
Another way to measure the quality of high school football on a state-by-state basis is to look at the best college players and ask two simple questions: Who are they, are where did they come from? The best football states should have their high school products earning NFL attention, all-conference honors and other accolades at colleges all over the region, if not the nation.
Here, too, North Carolina fell short last year. Only five products of North Carolina high school football earned first- or second-team all-conference honors in 2006 from any of the six BCS leagues: Michigan's Adams (from Charlotte), Wake's Gattis (Durham), N.C. State center/guard Leroy Harris (Raleigh), Georgia's Inman (Fayetteville) and N.C. State defensive tackle Tank Tyler (Fayetteville).
Even when you add to the mix Leak (Charlotte) and Massaquoi (Charlotte), who were outstanding players this season but failed to make first- or second-team All-SEC, that's a remarkably short list.
The states of Florida (12), Georgia (10) and Virginia (eight) placed more of their products just on the All-ACC first and second teams in 2006 than North Carolina put on those top two squads from all of the BCS conferences combined.
See the accompanying "2006 All-North Carolina Team," then consider these building blocks for other states in the region. ACC players are noted below for making the 2006 All-ACC first team (1), second team (2) or honorable mention (HM).
Florida All-ACC: Georgia Tech defensive tackle Joe Anoai (1), Florida State linebacker Buster Davis (1), Virginia Tech cornerback Brandon Flowers (1), Wake Forest center Steve Justice (1), Wake Forest kicker Sam Swank (1), Miami defensive tackle Kareem Brown (2), Florida State wide receiver Greg Carr (2), Miami safety Brandon Meriweather (2), Georgia Tech defensive end Adamm Oliver (2), Miami safety Kenny Phillips (2), Wake Forest quarterback Riley Skinner (2), Clemson tailback C.J. Spiller (2), Miami defensive end Baraka Atkins (HM), Clemson cornerback Duane Coleman (HM), Florida State wide receiver Chris Davis (HM), Miami guard Derrick Morse (HM), Florida State guard Cory Niblock (HM), Wake Forest punter Sam Swank (HM).
Georgia All-ACC: Wake Forest linebacker Jon Abbate (1), Clemson guard Nathan Bennett (1), Georgia Tech punter Durant Brooks (1), Clemson tailback James Davis (1), Georgia Tech wide receiver Calvin Johnson (1), Georgia Tech safety Jamal Lewis (1), Clemson wide receiver Chansi Stuckey (1), Georgia Tech tailback Tashard Choice (2), Florida State defensive tackle Andre Fluellen (2), Georgia Tech linebacker Phillip Wheeler (2), Georgia Tech quarterback Reggie Ball (HM), Georgia Tech offensive tackle Andrew Gardner (HM), Maryland offensive tackle Stephon Heyer (HM).
Virginia All-ACC: Virginia Tech linebacker Vince Hall (1), Virginia Tech tailback Branden Ore (1), Virginia Tech linebacker Xavier Adibi (2), Virginia Tech offensive tackle Duane Brown (2), Virginia cornerback Marcus Hamilton (2), Virginia defensive end Chris Long (2), Virginia Tech kicker Brandon Pace (2), Virginia Tech return specialist Eddie Royal (2).
Florida and Georgia have other all-conference performers, beyond those in the ACC, scattered all over the nation. Their numbers are truly overwhelming.
A more comparable state to North Carolina, Virginia produced the ACC players listed above, plus numerous other important contributors at UVa and Virginia Tech last season.
The Cavaliers had linebacker Antonio Appleby, cornerback Chris Cook, linebacker Jon Copper, defensive end Jeffrey Fitzgerald, quarterback Jameel Sewell, linebacker Clint Sintim and tailback Jason Snelling, among others, in their 2006 starting lineup. Tech had defensive tackle Barry Booker, tight end Greg Boone, defensive end Noland Burchette, defensive end Chris Ellis, quarterback Sean Glennon, offensive tackle Brandon Gore, cornerback Macho Harris, linebacker Brenden Hill, center Danny McGrath, rover Aaron Rouse, guard Ryan Shuman and punter Nic Schmitt, among others, in important roles.
In addition, Virginia produced out-of-state 2006 standouts such as Penn State offensive tackle Levi Brown, Penn State wide receiver Deon Butler, Kansas State tailback Thomas Clayton, Auburn linebacker Karibi Dede, Florida wide receiver Percy Harvin, Penn State tailback Tony Hunt, Penn State punter Jeremy Kapinos, Tennessee linebacker Jerod Mayo, Tennessee linebacker Marvin Mitchell, West Virginia wide receiver Brandon Myles, Purdue center Robbie Powell, West Virginia fullback Owen Schmitt, Tennessee cornerback Antwan Stewart and North Carolina safety Kareen Taylor.
The hypothetical "2006 All-Virginia" team has plenty of superstars and very few holes. The just-for-fun All-North Carolina team, in contrast, has few superstars, some major holes on the offensive line, a good-but-not-great defense, and little depth, relatively speaking. And remember, in practice, the North Carolina talent ends up being pulled in more directions than the Virginia-based crew on signing day.
UNC coach Butch Davis and N.C. State coach Tom O'Brien both said nice things about high school football in North Carolina this winter, during their opening weeks in their new jobs.
"We'll turn over every single stone in every single town in North Carolina and find the players that truly have the passion and the commitment that they want to come to school here and become the student-athletes that we're looking for, that want to excel in the classroom as well as on the field," Davis said. "Every place I've ever coached, that was the beginning place. You start at home."
"I want to start in North Carolina," O'Brien said. "I think that's most important, that we start at home and then work our way from Raleigh both north, south, east and west as best we can. That will be the priority, and then we will work our way north and work our way south. We are not going to drive past a kid in North Carolina just because there is a kid out in Tennessee or somewhere."
Regardless of what Davis and O'Brien may really believe, or what they ultimately may learn, they were smart to say what they did.
At least two former in-state coaches, Dick Crum of UNC and Amato at N.C. State, alienated segments of their constituencies (high school coaches, etc.) at times with their blunt assessments of the in-state talent base and their fascinations with out-of-state alternatives. Crum, previously the head coach at Miami-Ohio, signed lots of players from the Ohio Valley. Amato, formerly and presently a top assistant at Florida State, signed an extraordinary number of prospects from the Sunshine State.
Davis and O'Brien may have been even smarter to limit their verbal bouquets to the idea of "starting" in North Carolina, rather than assuming that in-state prospects will provide them with all of the answers.
If they really view the home turf as merely a starting point, they'll have a chance to avoid a potentially deadly mistake.
2006 ALL-NORTH CAROLINA PRODUCTS
DIVISION I-A COLLEGE FOOTBALL TEAM
Player, 2006 Class College
Chris Leak, Sr. Florida
Daniel Evans, So. N.C. State
Toney Baker, So. N.C. State
Andre Brown, So. N.C. State
Rich Belton, So. Wake Forest
Nick Starcevic, So. North Carolina
Mohamed Massaquoi, So. Georgia
Kenneth Moore, Jr. Wake Forest
Aundrae Allison*, Sr. East Carolina
Hakeem Nicks, Fr. North Carolina
Andy Boyd, Sr. South Carolina
Davon Drew, So. East Carolina
Eric Graham*, Sr. East Carolina
Terence Campbell, Fr. East Carolina
Matthew Brim, Jr. Wake Forest
Seth Edwards, Sr. South Carolina
Leroy Harris*, Sr. N.C. State
Matt Butler, Jr. East Carolina
Curtis Crouch, So. N.C. State
Chris DeGeare, So. Wake Forest
Daniel Inman*, Sr. Georgia
Player, 2006 Class College
Martrel Brown, Jr. N.C. State
Marcus Hands, Jr. East Carolina
Tank Tyler*, Sr. N.C. State
DeMario Pressley, Jr. N.C. State
Dre Moore, Jr. Maryland
Jamil Smith, Sr. Wake Forest
Jeremy Thompson, Jr. Wake Forest
Hilee Taylor, Jr. North Carolina
Aaron Curry, So. Wake Forest
Durell Mapp, Jr. North Carolina
Patrick Lowery, Sr. N.C. State
Victor Worsley, Sr. North Carolina
Derek Nicholson, So. Florida State
Drew Fowler*, Jr. Air Force
Jamar Adams*, Sr. Michigan
Trimane Goddard, Jr. North Carolina
Josh Gattis*, Sr. Wake Forest
Pierre Parker, Sr. East Carolina
Keenan Little, Sr. Navy
Jacoby Watkins, Sr. North Carolina
A.J. Davis, Sr. N.C. State
C.J. Gaddis, Jr. Clemson
Player, 2006 Class College
Ryan Succop, So. South Carolina
Connor Barth, Jr. North Carolina
David Wooldridge, Sr. North Carolina
Brandon Tate, So. North Carolina
OTHERS FROM BCS-CONFERENCE TEAMS: North Carolina S Cooter Arnold (So.), North Carolina DE Kentwan Balmer (Jr.), North Carolina CB Bryan Bethea (Jr.), Duke RB Requan Boyette (So.), Florida State DE Everette Brown (Fr.), Clemson CB Crezdon Butler (Fr.), Duke WR Raphael Chestnut (So.), Georgia DT Ray Gant (Sr.), North Carolina DT Kyndraus Guy (Jr.), Tennessee RB Montario Hardesty (Fr.), Virginia Tech WR Justin Harper (Jr.), Georgia WR Kenneth Harris (So.), N.C. State WR Geron James (Fr.), N.C. State LB Ernest Jones (Jr.), N.C. State CB Levin Neal (So.), North Carolina LB Mark Paschal (So.), North Carolina CB Quinton Person (Jr.), North Carolina LB Chase Rice (So.), Wake Forest FB Mike Rinfrette (Fr.), North Carolina QB Cameron Sexton (Fr.), North Carolina CB Jermaine Strong (Fr.), North Carolina DT Cam Thomas (Fr.), North Carolina S D.J. Walker (Sr.).
REMINDER: Only products of North Carolina high schools (regardless of college choice) listed on 2006 Division I-A rosters were eligible. The team was based upon last years on-field performance, not long-term potential.
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