Illinois assistant coach Kurt Beathard has made major recruiting inroads in the state of North Carolina the last two years. And he has several top prospects interested this year. P.J. Clyburn, a physical safety from West Iredell High School in Statesville, North Carolina, visited the Illinois campus Wednesday with his mentor Jim Darty and son Jordan Darty.
Clyburn says he has visited several schools so far.
"We flew in this morning from Statesville, North Carolina. I've been to Chapel Hill (UNC), NC State, and Arkansas. I'll probably visit a couple more schools. I'm gonna try to go to a camp at ECU if we can. And whatever pops up next is where I go from there."
Clyburn has five official scholarship offers so far.
"My scholarship offers are Arkansas, Kentucky, ECU, Illinois, and NC State."
He only had time to tour Memorial Stadium by the time of the interview, but he was impressed.
"The facilities are real nice. I like it alot."
The 6'-2", 210 pounder prefers safety, but he is a versatile athlete who has played multiple positions.
"I've played a whole bunch of different positions for my school. Running back, receiver, safety, free safety, corner, wherever they need me. I prefer safety or wide receiver."
Darty has taken responsibility for Clyburn since he lost his family several years ago. He calls himself a mentor or stepdad, but P.J. calls him "dad." Darty is biased, but he speaks in glowing terms about Clyburn's ability.
"A lot of people see him on film, but the films just don't do him justice. I've watched him play football since the fifth grade, and I've been around sports my whole life. He's probably one of the best athletes you'll ever find anywhere.
"He's an incredible hitter. He's fast, his lateral movement's incredible. Anytime he touches the ball he's a threat to score, not because he has blazing speed but because he's so hard to bring down. He's physical, and he has all the tools you could possibly want in an athlete.
"Yesterday at Chapel Hill, the linebacker coach said he was by far the best athlete on the field, and that included Jeff Luk, who is supposed to be the number 1 linebacker in the country."
Clyburn has been listed as an outside linebacker by some scouting services, but Darty disagrees.
"His best position is obviously safety. I think because of his size, the coaches we spoke to feel he'll probably gain more weight. But he is an extremely menacing safety."
Clyburn described what he is looking for in a college.
"I'm looking for real good academics, good coaches, a dedicated program, stuff like that. I want to major in business."
He is in no hurry to make a commitment.
I have no timetable. I just want to go around and visit every school, make sure I'm making the right decision. I don't want to rush it and regret it later."
Clyburn has positive things to say about Beathard.
"He's real cool, a laid back dude. He's real nice, and I like him a lot."
Clyburn expects his West Iredell team to have a good season.
"We're gonna have a pretty good team this year. We should go pretty far in the playoffs. We had a young team last fall. We lost about 7 seniors, so we should make a run this year."
Darty said the only holdup on Clyburn is his academic situation. He says he is close, but he's trying to catch up from mistakes he made early in his high school career, the result of the trauma of living without a father and mother. If he qualifies, numerous additional schools will be knocking at his door.