Class of 2003: First vs. Last Commits

In the first segment of this feature we take a look back at NC State's 2003 recruiting class that may go down as arguably the top haul in school history.

Increasingly, commit dates are hard to nail down, because there have become degrees of commitment.

Soft, solid and verbal commitments turn coaches' hair prematurely gray, as they have to wait out kids who switch commitments, are determined to take all five official visits and face intense pressure from family, high school coaches, other college coaches, teammates and hangers-on.

In the absence of an early signing period for football, coaches are now challenged to try to control when a prospect commits to his school. Some coaches aim for the early offer and commitment, others ask multiple players at a position to choose from one available scholarship, and others have prospects delay their commitment announcement for hype and publicity purposes.

So do early commitments now represent players that the staff has gotten in on early? Are they players with a strong "institutional love," in State coach Tom O'Brien's words, of a specific school? Are they players who shined early in their high school careers? Are they prospects that impressed so early that the staff considers them can't-miss players? Can they, in some cases, be considered reaches?

How about late commitments? Are those players that the staff benefited from extending the evaluation process on? Are they prospects from smaller high schools that got film out late and added senior highlights to their portfolio? Are they filling holes that have been missed when higher-rated players head elsewhere? Are they players with academic issues that are likely placements at a prep school?

Players who commit early in the process generally picked up scholarship offers based on their performances at underclassmen camps or early in their high school careers. Those who commit late could be highly-rated recruits looking to take their decision up until Signing Day or under-the-radar prospects who picked up late offers. Either way, those who decide late have additional film available to coaching staffs and gives them more of a profile for the programs to base their recruiting decisions on.

In an effort to try to determine whether commitment date has an effect on college impact, Pack Pride has decided to take a look at the first five commitments and the last five commitments from each of the last six classes (2003-08) using the Scout.com timelines.

Today we look at the Class of 2003 that featured prep All-Americans such as Mario Williams, Derek Morris, Marcus Stone, and Darrell Blackman.

NOTE: Players who had signed in previous classes were not included in this story.

2003 Recruiting Class
NC State had misses early and late in the heralded 2003 recruiting class.

LeRue Rumph

FIRST FIVE COMMITMENTS
OL Yomi Ojo ( )
OL Kalani Heppe ( )
QB/WR Chris Hawkins ( )
LB Ernest Jones ( )
QB Marcus Stone ( )

LAST FIVE COMMITMENTS
S Miguel Scott ( )
S/LB LeRue Rumph ( )
DE Maurice Charles ( )
TE Jamesly Jean ( )
DT/OG Shane Lucas ( )

CLASS BACKGROUND
On paper, this may go down as arguably the best class in NC State's history. With the Wolfpack coming off a Gator Bowl appearance and 11-win season, head coach Chuck Amato was able to turn that success into a 28-man class that was ranked No. 9 nationally by Scout.com and No. 7 nationally by Rivals.com.

Leading the way was the "Magnificent Seven." NC State had seven recruits enroll in January that year, including defensive end Mario Williams, defensive tackle Tank Tyler, offensive tackle Derek Morris, and wide receiver LaMart Barrett, four-star standouts according to some publications. In-state pickups Yomi Ojo and Ernest Jones also enrolled, along with safety Garland Heath from Florida.

The class would add high-level recruits Marcus Stone and Darrell Blackman, and secure commitments from two-star pickups such as Stephen Tulloch, Kalani Heppe, and Martrel Brown who exceeded expectations.

Overall, the class had plenty of star power and was expected to be the foundation for the program following the departure of Philip Rivers.

FIRST vs. LAST INITIAL THOUGHTS
Yomi Ojo, Chris Hawkins, and Ernest Jones were in-state prospects who landed early offers from State, and Kalani Heppe also secured an early offer from the staff. Marcus Stone committed to NC State with dozens of scholarships on the table and was one of the most heavily-recruited quarterbacks in the 2003 class.

While Heppe was arguably the least-regarded of the group, he ended up being the most productive. The Bealeton, Virginia native was a first-team all-district and all-state selection as a senior, but flew under the radar after committing to NC State before the combine/camp circuit.

He developed into a three-year starter for the Wolfpack and proved to be one of the few offensive linemen signed by Amato that panned out.

Yomi Ojo committed to his hometown school prior to Heppe's commitment. A Southeast Raleigh alum, Ojo was the Wolfpack's first verbal, as he jumped on a scholarship offer from Pack assistant Joe Pate in the spring of 2002. Ojo never developed into a strong contributor, though he was an outstanding student and finished with his degree.

Southern (NC) Vance athlete Chris Hawkins was Amato's first big-time pickup in the class. A consensus top-10 prospect in the state, Hawkins averaged a staggering 16.6 yards per carry during his junior season running Southern's triple-option attack.

That type of success led to multiple scholarship offers for Hawkins. Teams didn't know if he could play quarterback on the high-major level, but with 4.4 speed and the ability to make plays with the ball in his hands most assumed Hawkins could succeed at wide receiver or in the return game.

He never would make an impact at NC State. He transferred to James Madison after a sophomore year where he tallied three catches for eight yards and rushed for 32 yards on four carries.

His high school teammate, Ernest Jones, was much more successful. An early enrollee, Jones tallied 110 tackles, four fumble recoveries, and two sacks as a senior for Southern Vance.

He was mainly a special teams contributor early in his career but developed into a starting linebacker for the Pack as a senior.

At the time of his commitment some thought the Pack had offered him to help land Hawkins, but that wasn't the case. The staff was intrigued by the upside of Jones and while he never developed into a star he did provide some stability at linebacker.

Marcus Stone was an early coup for Amato, and most believed he would eventually replace Rivers as the starter at quarterback.

Stone threw for over 5,100 yards and 50 touchdowns during his high school career, and was named a Parade All-American, the Gatorade Player of the Year in Pennsylvania, a SuperPrep All-American, and a Top 100 prospect natinoally by several publications. Rivals.com even tabbed him the No. 3 dual-threat quarterback in the country.

Stone never seemed to have the feel and confidence to succeed at the quarterback position. He led the Pack to some wins but mainly managed the games along the way. After struggling as a quarterback and eventually losing his job to Daniel Evans, he became a contributor at tight end for State. As a senior Stone totaled 36 receptions for 452 yards and a score at the position, showing natural ability and very good hands.

It's ironic because fans griped and complained about Scout.com rating Stone as just a three-star prospect, the lowest of all recruiting services with the others listing him as a four or five-star recruit. Scout.com's Mike Bakas defended his ranking of Stone at the time by claiming he didn't think he would be an effective college quarterback but was intrigued by Stone's athletic tools... even going so far as to suggest he could become a productive tight end.

Stone was able to do just that late in his career, but the previous coaching staff had hoped he would be the successor to Philip Rivers and when he didn't pan out the program suffered because of it.

Miguel Scott, LeRue Rumph, Maurice Charles and Jamesly Jean all arrived to NC State from Florida, with all four being late commitments; the trend in the Sunshine State. Charles was productive... when he was able to stay on the field, and those issues ended his career prematurely in Raleigh.

Jean, a big-time tight end prospect who picked NC State over Auburn, LSU, and Ohio State, ended up being a bust. He played limited snaps at tight end before moving to wide receiver because of his inability to add weight.

Likewise, Lucas also departed Raleigh early on. An in-state standout in high school, off-the-field troubles led to him heading to Hargrave and apparently followed him to Raleigh. After redshirting in 2003 he left the team in the fall of 2004.

Scott and Rumph proved to be solid contributors for the Pack. Although Scott never was consistent enough to develop into a dependable starter at safety, he provided depth and was valuable as a special teamer. He also ended up being a member of the 2004 class after failiing to qualify academically.

Most thought Rumph would end up at Florida State or Miami early in his prep career at Clearwater (FL) Catholic, but a gruesome leg injury caused several programs to back off while the Pack remained involved and landed the talented safety. A special teamer for much of his career, Rumph started his senior campaign at linebacker after making the transition.

FIRST vs. LAST FINAL THOUGHTS
Looking back at the initial commitments, it's obvious that NC State reached on Hawkins and Ojo. Both were top in-state targets early in the process, largely based on junior film. Ojo was expected to contribute down the line and the staff obviously believed Hawkins could develop into a quality receiver.

Jones and Heppe were not game-changing contributors but stuck with the program and helped bridge the transition from Amato to Tom O'Brien.

Stone was perhaps the most puzzling signee, but NC State didn't just miss on him. Nearly forty other schools extended scholarship offers. He had all the physical tools in the world you look for in a quarterback but just wasn't able to get the job done.

The five final commitments included a huge bust (Jean) and two linemen who couldn't do the things off-the-field to stay on the team (Charles and Lucas). Lucas was a definite reach and Jean was a player most everyone expected to contribute.

Scott and Rumph were the exceptions. Scott didn't make it in with the 2003 class, and that could be why a lot of other teams weren't on him late in the process (academics), because in talking with Killian coach Billy Rolle most believed Scott could play on the highest level coming out of high school. Once he did matriculate to Raleigh he contributed.

As did Rumph although maybe not at the position (safety) fans expected him to when he signed out of high school.

Just looking at these ten signees allows you to see why the 2003 class OVERALL didn't provide the foundation and stability NC State had hoped for coming off the Gator Bowl appearance. The front seven received a bust, but misses along the offensive line and the skill positions setback the Wolfpack offense.




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