Saturday marked the final Shrine Bowl combine and the event drew roughly 100 of the state's very best football prospects for the class of 2006. Since the hiring of Chuck Amato, fans of rival schools have propagated the untrue notion that NC State overlooks in-state talent in favor of players from Florida. How ironic then that the Wolfpack coaches would descend on UNC in force while Carolina head coach John Bunting was relegated to sending a letter of condolence for his absence at the event. The Pack coaches actually attended two of North Carolina's biggest combines this spring while no other in-state school bothered to show up. While patrolling the practice fields at UNC, the Wolfpack coaches had an opportunity to be seen by, and observe, dozens of the state's best and they certainly didn't disappoint. Pack Pride was on hand and has a breakdown of the standouts. Because of the sheer number of players, it was impossible to observe every single player but these are the prospects that caught our eye.
Overview- For the first time in several years, North Carolina doesn't boast a "no-brainer" at QB for the division one level. There are several talented rising seniors but each would appear to have at least one shortcoming that prevents him from being an obvious target for major college football programs. However, there are several that are gifted on the high school level but will need impressive senior seasons to take their game to the next level.
Standout- Kevin Atkins from S Durham High School will probably not get the nod as the starting QB for the Shrine Bowl squad but he probably has as much potential as any junior in NC to play the position in college. At 6-1, 210 pounds he has one of the better frames and looked impressive at times on Saturday. A lefty, Atkins looks comfortable when throwing on the run and made several beautiful tosses across the middle. He also has a quick release and the arm to throw deep. However, the drawback with Atkins is his lack of experience and just being raw at the position. Southern is a team that has historically run the ball so there's never been a big need for a passing QB. That is expected to change somewhat in 2005 as head coach Jeff Parker has stated he plans to open the offense up and that's exactly what Atkins will need to impress recruiters.
Where does State stand- Pack is solidly in Atkins' top five
Worth watching- OC Wardlow from Mt Tabor will likely get the starting spot for the NC squad and is probably the most experienced of all the junior QB's. However, from the standpoint of college recruiting, Wardlow's size (5-11, 180 pounds) has to be a huge concern for recruiters. Wardlow has a good command of the passing game for the high school level and is efficient managing the offense. He has a good arm and is accurate but it would appear unlikely that Wardlow's talent will get him a spot as a QB at a major D-1 school.
Where does State stand- Pack in top three but probably trails Tennessee
Overview- There were several talented RB's in attendance this weekend and many of those will end up on college rosters in 2006. However, the state doesn't boast the obvious blue-chippers from the past several years like Andre Brown and Toney Baker.
Standout- LaMarcus Bond from Hertford County is a highlight film waiting to happen every time he touches the ball. He has tremendous cuts and acceleration and the ability to make defenders look silly when he gets in open space. The drawback with Bond is his size (5-10, 175 pounds) but he could be an excellent prospect at slot receiver (the position he'll likely play on the next level)
Where does State stand- Pack is way up the chart on Bond's list and may be a quiet leader
Worth watching- Devon Moore from Cedar Ridge High School is another player that is limited only by his lack of size (5-9, 180). Moore is probably more of a natural at RB than Bond but is likely to end up at CB once he gets to college. Moore made several nice runs Saturday and showed good patience and the willingness to duck it up inside against the big boys when need be.
Where does State stand- Pack is evaluating and would move up were they to pick up their interest.
Overview- North Carolina never seems to produce a lot of tight ends and this year isn't much different.
Standout- Dennis Godfrey from Lee County hasn't received a lot of fanfare but he is clearly the top TE prospect in the state from what we have seen. We only saw Godfrey catch one pass but he plays extremely physical and blasted LB Brandon Spikes on one route which left the all-american LB looking around to see who had just tattooed him.
Where does State stand- Pack is probably a top five choice currently
Overview- 2005 has turned out to be a fairly impressive year for WR's in the state. While there doesn't appear to be that obvious 5-star player available, there are several players with the potential to make an impact on the D-1 level, nonetheless.
Standout- Although skinny as a rail, we came away most impressed with Owen Spencer from N Brunswick High School. He will have to certainly get stronger and can be slowed when jammed at the line of scrimmage, but when in his route he was next to impossible to cover on Saturday. Spencer showed super speed and we loved his concentration and hands cutting across the middle.
Where does State stand- NC State leads
Worth watching- We've seen Marshall Williams from Riverside three weeks in a row and he's impressed us every time. He didn't appear as polished at the position as Spencer but Williams has super athleticism and speed and seems to thrive on making the tough catch.
Where does State stand- State in top five but Williams grew up a UNC fan
Overview- Another weak year for OL in the state although Carl Johnson from S Durham may be the best offensive tackle in the nation
Standout- Well, it didn't take an expert to name Carl Johnson the standout at Saturday's combine. His combination of size, strength and impressive footwork is rarely seen on the high school level. Equally impressive is his friendly demeanor and down-to-earth personality. On the field, the attribute we love most is simply his desire to compete. Johnson takes every snap of the ball as a personal challenge and rarely loses.
Where does State stand- Johnson has avoided naming favorites but we think State will get a serious look before all is said and done.
Overview- North Carolina boasts a fairly solid group of defensive linemen this year and the position got only deeper with the inclusion of Aleric Mullins.
Standout- Aleric Mullins from East Wake High School may not be the biggest DL but he was easily the quickest and most effective. He has tremendous enthusiasm for the game and always seemed to be right in the middle of the action whenever on the field. We watched him match up once against all-everything OL Carl Johnson and he more than held his own against the 5-star OT. Mullins gets great penetration and his pursuit is tremendous when running down the ball carrier. It was easy to forget this is a 290 pound lineman.
Where does State stand- Mullins denies a leader but we believe the Pack is in fine shape here.
Worth watching- Okay, so Greg Elleby from S Columbus High School is a UNC commitment but we had to be honest. Although his 40-yard dash time of 5.59-seconds was disappointing, strap the pads on and Elleby was impressive at DT. Although raw, he has the potential to become a force for the Heels down the road and was a disruptive force on several plays at Saturday's workout.
Overview- NC State needs LB's like crazy for the class of 2006 but, unfortunately, the in-state crop doesn't appear to be extremely deep. Once you get past all-everything LB Brandon Spikes, there's a huge drop off.
Standout- Who else but Brandon Spikes from Crest High School. Spikes is a player that, physically, looks like he could play college football today. We had our doubts about Spikes playing the LB spot given his size but those concerns were erased after watching him Saturday. In fact, Spikes is probably the top defender to come out of NC since Mario Williams. Spikes is a vocal leader that energizes the players around him. He backs up that talk with a tremendous combination of nastiness, speed and aggression. We watched him light up more than one offensive lineman on his way to the ball-carrier and he's simply a player that you enjoy watching.
Where does State stand- Although he is currently denying any favorite, we think State is likely his top choice in-state but the battle here will likely come from out-of-state powers like Miami and Oklahoma.
Worth watching- Like we mentioned earlier, there's a large drop off at the LB spot after Spikes but one prospect that caught our eye is Mario Brown from Greene Central High School. At 6-0, 210 pounds, Brown has been timed as low as 4.54-seconds in the 40-yard dash and benched 185 pounds 27 times. He looked good in drills and was slippery-quick getting to the ball carrier. He also looked good dropping into pass coverage.
Where does State stand- NC State is in Brown's top five
Overview- The state is loaded with athletes that excel on offense but may project on defense in college. Thus, this year's class of DB's may prove to be fairly deep.
Standout- The player that stood out for us was Rico Bell from Vance High School. Bell, at 5-11, 177 pounds and sub-4.4 second speed, has all the measurables to become a standout cornerback. He had two nice interceptions during workouts and looked great in coverage all day. In our opinion, he was the most impressive true CB in attendance based on what we observed.
Where does State stand- NC State is currently in Bell's top five
Overview- North Carolina typically produces one or two scholarship quality kickers each year and that will likely be the case in 2006.
Standout- Easily, Nathan Franklin was the most impressive PK we observed. We missed the punting portion of the workout so we had no results from that part of the testing. However, during the field goal kicking tests, Franklin was perfect from all over the field- including nailing a 55-yarder hat likely would have been good from 60 yards. Franklin is a skinny player with that odd ability to make the ball explode off his foot. If he can kick that consistently at State's camp this summer, we could definitely see him earning an offer.
Where does State stand- NC State is in Franklin's top five