Football in February

If you're a fan of Wolfpack football, then you have to love Chuck Amato these days.

Not for the obvious reasons, like his success on the field, his fiery, charismatic approach to the game or the national attention he has brought to the program. No, without all of these, you would still be thanking your lucky stars for Amato.

The reason is simple: your football calendar is now at least two months longer.

Whereas Wolfpack football used to end with the final whistle of the regular season, or a mid-December bowl game if things went well, football now has an equally exciting "postseason" that extends to the first week of February. It's recruiting, and for many Wolfpack fans it's a new and thrilling aspect of the game that Amato brought with him from Tallahassee.

It's not about pad-popping or trench warfare, but in many respects, the competition between schools for the nation's top recruits can be just as fierce as any Saturday afternoon ballgame. It can be, in fact, more cut throat than the nastiest game between the most bitter of rivals.

When the Pack faces the Tar Heels in their annual match up, you can count on a few nasty exchanges between players under the careful watch of league officials with a hair-trigger release on the penalty flag. But unlike on-the-field competition there are no refs in recruiting, and coaches (ones worth their salt, at least) will use every last inch of the NCAA law to gain leverage over an opponent in the hopes of landing the prized recruit.

Wolfpack and Tar Heel fans got a first-hand lesson a few years ago in just how nip-and-tuck it can be. A.J. Davis, a highly touted prepster from Durham, was highly courted by both the Heels and the Pack. Davis gave a verbal commitment to the Heels early, but Amato was not one to be deterred. He continued to court Davis up to the last minute and when signing day came, it was Amato's fax machine that lit up instead of John Bunting's. Tar Heels fans cried foul, claiming Amato was a cheat, a thief and a liar, along with a library's worth of profanity. But Amato said he'd seen it happen many times before. "That's life in the fast lane."

That battle awakened a football fan base that prior to Amato's arrival had no idea what the months of January and February held. Imagine a pair of new homeowners, after everything has been unpacked and arranged, discovering a door leading to a hidden attic they never knew about. It was if football, in some respects, became a new sport to these fans, one that lasts well into the cold months of basketball season.

These days, rabid Pack fans watch these winter battles unfold in their office, their home, and the computer labs—anywhere they can load a webpage. They dial up recruiting websites and gurus for the latest info on how Amato and company are doing on the recruiting trails. And thus far, fans have been treated to some exciting head-to-head competition. This season was no exception.

The big target—and I mean BIG target—was Demario Pressley, the nation's top defensive tackle. A Greensboro high school product, Carolina once again was the Pack's main competition for his services. According to whom you listened to, Pressley was a strong lean to the Tar Heels, the Wolfpack or even the Seminoles. With the February 4th signing day approaching, Pack fans flooded recruiting sites searching for dirt. The Insiders. Rivals. Tom Lemming. Miller Safrit. You name it, Pack and Heel fans read it. Word came of a press conference to be held in the early afternoon of the 4th, then reports trickled out that a decision had been made. Within the hour, the official word came: Pressley had chosen the Pack.

Though there was no audible cheering, no cannon boom or fight song playing; it was as if the Pack had scored the game-winning touchdown in their biggest game of the season. State had bested the Heels again, in the newest and fiercest aspect of the storied rivalry. An aspect that in a sense never existed five years ago.

Welcome to football in February.

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