FIRST FIVE COMMITMENTS
Garrett Kline ( )
Mike Greco ( )
Jeraill McCuller ( )
Andy Barbee ( )
Levin Neal ( )
LAST FIVE COMMITMENTS
Alan-Michael Cash ( )
Matt Kushner ( )
Kyle Newell ( )
Jamelle Eugene ( )
Quentin Brown ( )
Despite NC State's 5-6 record in the 2004 season, head coach Chuck Amato was still able to go out and land a strong 2005 recruiting class that ranked No. 23 nationally according to Scout.com and No. 27 according to Rivals.com.
The clear headliner of the class was Jamestown (NC) Rasgdale tailback Toney Baker. The state's top recruit, Baker picked the Wolfpack at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl over Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, and Virginia Tech among others.
A Parade and SuperPrep All-American, Baker finished his career as the state's all-time leading rusher, breaking former NC State rusher T.A. McLendon's record by over 1,000 yards. Baker totaled 10,231 rushing yards, third highest in national high school history, and also recorded 161 touchdowns.
"I always thought that I would probably want to go there," Baker said after signing with the Pack. "My heart was telling me to go there really. I've been visiting all these schools: Virginia, Virginia Tech, Tennessee, [North] Carolina, and of course North Carolina State.
"I've been visiting these schools since my freshman year and my heart was telling me that I needed to be in Raleigh."
Another factor in Baker's decision was the offensive line class State assembled. Led by junior college All-American Garrett Kline and former Tennessee Vol Brandon Jefferies, NC State inked seven offensive linemen on Signing Day. The group, expected to be the foundation of the Wolfpack's offense, consisted of Kline, Jefferies, Virginia prep standout Jeraill McCuller, and four in-state stars: Doug Palmer, Curtis Crouch, Andy Barbee, and Julian Williams.
Mix in highly-rated athletes such as J.C. Neal, Kyle Newell, and Geron James and factor back in three re-commitments in Willie Young, Andre Brown, and Chad Green, and it's easy to see why this class was so highly regarded.
However, looking back the inability of this class to live up to it's expectations (for a variety of reasons) certainly setback the NC State football program.
FIRST vs. LAST INITIAL THOUGHTS
The class started strong as former NC State signees Chad Green, Andre Brown, and Willie Young firmed up their commitments while at junior college and prep school respectively.
The first "new" commitment actually came from Fort Lauderdale (FL) quarterback Mike Greco, a 6-foot-3, 200-pounder speedster who earned an offer from the Pack at camp. Greco chose the Wolfpack over offers from Auburn, Iowa, Rutgers, and Boston College among others, and had plenty of physical tools that intrigued the Wolfpack coaches.
"From an athletic standpoint, Greco goes off the charts," wrote Scout.com's Mike Bakas. "He was timed at sub 4.4/40 at two separate camps that I saw him at this spring, he has a 34-inch vertical jump, and has blazing quickness as his shuttle time has been as low as 3.90. Athletically, you couldn't ask for a whole lot more. His arm is strong enough. Physically, everything is there if you're looking at a quarterback prospect."
With all that being said, Greco was extremely raw as a quarterback and it showed on his highlight tapes and final senior season numbers when he completed just 34-of-98 passes for 397 yards and two touchdowns.
He never developed, or really had a chance to develop, at NC State. After redshirting the 2005 season, he capped a strong spring in 2006 by completing a 60-yard touchdown pass and ripping of a 60-yard scoring run n the Spring Game. However, he chose to transfer that summer and head to junior college. After a year at Pearl River Comm. College, Greco transferred to Central Florida. He played sparingly at quarterback before eventually settling in at safety for UCF.
Like with Jay Davis and Marcus Stone before him, the Pack missed on Greco. They had him in at camp and believed he had the physical tools to develop into a top-flight quarterback. However, he didn't allow himself the chance to do that in Raleigh, but at the end of the day he just couldn't cut it as a high-level college quarterback.
Lackawanna (PA) offensive lineman Garrett Kline verbaled a couple of months after Greco and his commitment came out of nowhere. He wasn't in the recruiting databases, but NC State had been recruiting him for several months and believed the junior college standout could transfer in and help the offensive line out right away.
They were wrong. Physically Kline had a ways to go and enrolled much lighter than the staff anticipated. He redshirted his first season and never cracked the rotation. Kline is currently playing semi-professional football in the Empire Football League.
One lineman who did produce was Chesapeake (VA) two-way lineman Jeraill McCuller. McCuller committed to NC State after defensive backs coach Manny Diaz extended an offer that fall. It was the first offer for McCuller, but it wouldn't be his last. Despite the early commitment, programs such as Maryland, Michigan State, East Carolina, West Virginia, and South Carolina extended offers, but McCuller remained committed to NC State, Diaz and offensive line coach Mike Barry.
He ended up being a solid player for the Wolfpack. McCuller started his final three seasons at NC State and is working out in preparation for the 2010 NFL Draft.
In-state stars Andy Barbee and Levin Neal were the Pack's next commitments in the 2005 class. Barbee, a center out of Shelby (NC) Crest High School, grew up a Wolfpack fan and accepted the Wolfpack's offer about a month after it was completed. He went on to have a strong senior season and a very good showing at the Shrine Bowl to earn a third star.
Barbee never developed into a starter at NC State, but he provided depth along the offensive line at guard and center his final two seasons. A very good student, he also was a high-character kid who received his degree.
Levin Neal had an up-and-down career after starring at wide receiver and corner at Wilmington (NC) Ashley High School. Considered one of the state's top athletes, Neal battled an ankle injury that hampered his recruitment but NC State remained heavily involved and eventually landed a commitment from the Shrine Bowl standout.
He spent three seasons at NC State, starting four games and totaling 39 tackles and five pass breakups. In 2007, Tom O'Brien's first season, Neal started the opener against Central Florida at cornerback. After playing 18 snaps against Boston College, his playing time dwindled over the next three games, as he didn't play against Louisville. He would quit the team during the season.
Neal earned his degree from NC State and eventually transferred to East Carolina where he completed his eligibility last fall.
Just one of the early commitments developed into a multi-year starter, and while the final five commitments didn't produce like the 2004 class three of them contributed nicely for the Wolfpack.
Bethlehem (PA) Catholic teammates Matt Kushner and Kyle Newell were hot topics for Wolfpack fans leading up to Signing Day. Kushner, an offensive and defensive lineman, committed first to the Pack and some fans thought it was a ploy to land Newell, a heavily-recruited defensive end/wide receiver. However, the Wolfpack coaching staff coveted Kushner despite the fact that he lacked offers and recruiting hype.
"When we first saw Matt, he was playing basketball and we could see that he is big and can run like the wind," Amato said on Signing Day. "He is really a diamond in the rough - he just has so much potential, and was coached really well fundamentally."
Kushner's career at NC State got off to a rocky start and he in fact left the program for a short period of time. However he returned and developed into a rotation player for the team at tight end. He caught passes in his area and was a strong blocker as well. Kushner was really starting to come into his own when he blew out his knee in the second game of the 2008 season.
He put in the hard work and returned in 2009 to give the Pack solid options at tight end with All-ACC first-teamer George Bryan.
Newell's career didn't quite turn out the same way. The 6-foot-5, 220-pounder was one of the more heavily recruited players in the Pack's 2005 recruiting class and landed a very early offer from State. He chose the Wolfpack over offers from Virginia, Tennessee, Maryland, Boston College, and West Virginia among others. A big factor in his decision was the Wolfpack electing to recruit Newell as a wideout while most other teams believed his future should be at defensive end.
"A lot of people were saying he can play several positions, but NC State came and observed practice and saw him play wide receiver," Bethlehem Catholic assistant coach Dan Kendra said at the time of Newell's commitment. "They've seen a number of receivers that have been effective in the ACC at 6'4 or 6'5, and I think they wanted a piece of the action."
Newell redshirted his first season in Raleigh and appeared to be coming on strong the following spring, but he abruptly transferred out of the program in 2006. Reportedly Newell decided that he wanted to pursue a career in basketball and enrolled in a junior college to play hoops.
While the Pack pursued Newell for several months, they really didn't turn up the attention on Alan-Michael Cash until Signing Day approached.
Cash was on the radar in the spring leading into his senior season but college programs balked at extending a scholarship offer because he lacked ideal height to play defensive tackle. Listed at 6-foot-1 and 285-pounds, Cash may have lacked height but he made up for it in athleticism as he ran a 5.0 40 and ripped off a blazing 4.26 20-yard shuttle at a NIKE Combine.
Cash also turned it up a notch as a senior and dominated his region by totaling 63 tackles, 13 tackles for a loss and six sacks at Richmond (VA) Varina High School.
Late in December Michigan State would be the first school to offer and Cash committed following an official visit. However, Wolfpack assistant Manny Diaz loved Cash's production on his senior tape and compared him to John McCargo, another underrated defensive tackle the Pack signed out of Virginia.
Cash would switch his commitment to NC State following an official visit and went on to have a very, very good career in Raleigh. A three-year starter, Cash developed into one of the Pack's most consistent performers and head coach Tom O'Brien labeled him his defense's MVP early in the 2009 season. Cash is currently working out in preparation for the 2010 NFL Draft and far exceeded the expectations of a two-star signee.
Another player who exceeded expectations is Jamelle Eugene. Despite Eugene's success running the football for Naples (FL) High, nearly everyone thought he would end up at cornerback even head coach Chuck Amato.
"Jamelle is very skilled, strong and fast and can play a lot of different positions," said Amato. "He played running back in high school but will play defensive back for us. He played in an excellent high school league."
Eugene averaged over 11 yards a carry as a senior when he rushed for over 1,200 yards and 16 scores. He also had a productive junior season when he was an all-state selection but a lot of the local schools didn't heavily pursue him.
When he arrived in Raleigh Eugene instantly changed the mind of his head coach after a couple of strong practices at tailback.
"I'll tell you what, remember the name Jamelle Eugene," Amato said after the first week of practice in 2005. "He's pretty good."
Eugene developed into a solid, solid player for the Wolfpack, starting parts of three seasons. He battled nagging injuries throughout his career, but gave it his all on the field and always competed. Pack fans will certainly always remember him for his three-touchdown performance against rival North Carolina in 2007.
State's final commitment in the 2005 class, Orlando (FL) Edgewater offensive lineman Quentin Brown, endured a bizarre situation during his brief stay in Raleigh.
A big-time recruit, Brown inked with NC State over offers from Florida, Florida State, South Carolina, and Georgia among others and like with Newell a big factor was NC State recruiting Brown as a defensive lineman despite the fact that he played mainly offensive line for Edgewater.
Just days after arriving at NC State he was involved in a robbery attempt on campus that resulted in Brown being shot. The bullet just grazed Brown, but likely the incident left an impression.
He redshirted the fall of 2005, but left the team prior to the fall of the 2006 season. He enrolled at Southeast Missouri and sat out the 2006 season before playing his final three seasons as a backup defensive end.
FIRST vs. LAST FINAL THOUGHTS
As with the 2004 class the last five commitments fared much better than the first five pickups in the 2005 class.
Mike Greco and Garrett Kline never played meaningful snaps at NC State while Levin Neal and Andy Barbee were mainly reserves. However, Jeraill McCuller did develop into a team leader and three-year starter at right tackle while ironically being the lowest-rated of the five prospects.
The same can basically be said for the final five commitments as Jamelle Eugene, Alan-Michael Cash, and Matt Kushner all out-produced the higher-rated Kyle Newell and Quentin Brown.
Eugene started two+ seasons and Cash was a three-year starter who developed into one of the league's better defensive tackles. Surprisingly, Kushner's career turned out much better than his teammate, Newell. Kushner battled some adversity throughout his five years in Raleigh but continued to compete and produced when given the opportunity. He also did a good job of helping George Bryan's development at the position.
Newell and Brown had high hopes when they inked with the Pack but both lasted just one year in Raleigh. Each spurned bigger programs but Newell preferred another sport (basketball) while Brown maybe never got over the circumstances he encountered once he enrolled. Off-the-field issues led to his transfer out of the program, but he never really developed into a standout player at Southeast Missouri either.
A tip of the hat should go to former Pack assistant Manny Diaz. He landed signatures from McCuller and Cash, two of the better performers in this class, and offered both when they had a total of one offer on the table.
Those types of evaluations often make-or-break not just recruiting classes but coaching tenures for most college programs.