During a coaching change, it's not easy to keep a recruiting class intact – especially with just a month to do it. This was the top priority for the new staff.
"We wanted to hold on to the kids already committed - and we had a lot of things working against us," Fedora said.
UNC had four de-commitments – Justin Meredith, Bryce Kennedy, Patton Robinette, and Desmond Owino. Three of those four were early enrollees, which prevented Fedora and his staff a chance to establish any sort of legitimate relationship.
The staff was able to keep 14 others on board, including halting the wavering of Kedrick Davis, Tyreece Jiles, Malik Simmons, and Joseph Jackson and fending off other outside coaching staff's advances.
The staff aced its first true test when Robinette decided at the last minute to enroll at Vanderbilt, leaving UNC suddenly with only two scholarship quarterbacks. Instead of jumping the gun and offering a quarterback that didn't fit its system or wasn't a legitimate Division I-A prospect, UNC swiftly zeroed in on Kanler Coker and James Summers, who were verbally committed to East Carolina and NC State, respectively. Both efforts paid dividends and earned a commitment flip, which improved the Tar Heels' talent at quarterback (Summers is ranked higher than Robinette) and added much needed depth to the position.
Had Robinette not had a change of heart, UNC was likely finished at quarterback and would have entered the 2012 season with three scholarship quarterbacks. Now, UNC will head into 2012 with four.
The de-commitment of another early enrollee, Kennedy, also turned into a blessing in disguise. It created room for Caleb Peterson, an offensive guard ranked nearly 30 spots higher than Kennedy. Peterson, who was committed to Southern Miss under Fedora, already had a strong relationship with offensive line coach Chris Kapilovic (who recruited both him and his brother to Southern Miss0. Thus, the eventual flip to UNC was an easy sell once Peterson officially visited.
The coaching staff change also brought a change in offensive and defensive systems, which created additional challenges in finishing the class.
Under the previous regime, which ran a pro-style offense, UNC was finished at wide receiver with two commitments -- Kedrick Davis and Damien Washington. The transformation to a one-back spread meant UNC needed to double the wide receivers it would sign. Tapping into its commitment list at Southern Miss once again, Fedora was able to snag Kendrick Singleton, while Gunter Brewer worked his magic to earn a big Signing Day splash from Quinshad Davis. Not to mention four-star Devonta Neal remains on the table after officially visiting last weekend.
Defensively, the move to a 4-2-5 from a 4-3 scheme created the need for more hybrid players. That meant convincing Joseph Jackson into playing the "spur" position (linebacker/safety) and identifying a "bandit" (defensive end/outside linebacker).
"If there is any need we're going to continue to work on, that's going to be the secondary because we're going to five on the field at all times," Fedora said.
With some assistance from lady luck, a prototypical "bandit" became available a week before Signing Day when Georgia Tech had to release Junior Gnonkonde, a 6-foot-4, 215-pound athlete, because of an admissions complication. Vic Koenning's persistence and pitch paid off in the form of an official visit, which eventually resulted in Gnonkonde's verbal commitment. "We're going to play Junior at bandit," said co-defensive coordinator Vic Koenning, who described the position as "a guy that steals the hopes and dreams of the other team. [Junior] is a guy that we think can do everything. He's got a great burst, and that's what we like to see as a bandit."
In summary, Fedora's staff was presented with major obstacles upon its arrival, and in a short time was able to assemble a solid class that can create a foundation for moving forward.
"I don't know about stars and ratings, but the future will tell," Fedora said. "Here in the next couple years, these guys have got to be players for us."
Headliner: James Summers. Any time UNC flips a recruit from an ACC school, it's a big accomplishment. To steal one from archrival NC State obviously has additional implications. Additionally, Summers has the potential to be a superstar quarterback in UNC's one-back spread – particularly as a read-option specialist. Summers is athletic enough that if quarterback doesn't work out for him, he could easily convert to several other skill positions. "The phrase 'extending plays' comes up a lot with him," offensive coordinator Blake Anderson said of Summers. "You've got to have a defender to account for James. I thought he was one of the most explosive guys on film of any position we evaluated."
Best in Class: Caleb Peterson. It's a crime that Peterson is only ranked three stars, but his offer list, which included the last three national champions, speaks more to his abilities. It's uncommon for an offensive lineman to play as a freshman, especially with the talent currently within UNC's interior. However, following the 2012 season the Tar Heels will graduate both their starting guards, opening up the door for Peterson to have a chance at being a three-year starter (or four if he red-shirts).
Sleeper Pick: Kendrick Singleton. Outside of Fedora's staff, Singleton was barely recruited out of Glen St. Mary (Fla.) Baker County High School until very late in the process, primarily because of his mediocre junior campaign (24 catches for 524 yards and four). With a year of maturity, he became his high school's all-time leading receiver and was named second team All-State after more than doubling his previous season's numbers (61 catches for 1,081 yards and 19 touchdowns) as a senior. With Dwight Jones now off to the NFL, no receiver on UNC's roster possesses Singleton's combination of strength and speed. Expect him to be a multiple-year starter and make a major impact in Fedora's one-back spread offense.
Immediate Contributor: Clint Heaven. UNC's secondary needs a boost and has lost three scholarship safeties to graduation. Heaven should receive every opportunity as a true freshman to get on the field at strong safety in co-defensive coordinator Dan Disch's 4-2-5 defense. "He's just a real versatile guy, he can do a lot of things," Disch said of Heaven. "He's a physical guy with toughness, but has the athleticism to play on the back end. Anytime you're recruiting safeties in this defense, you want guys that can cover man-to-man but are athletic enough to make plays in the open field and tough enough to get into the box. He comes from one of the best programs in Florida and has a chance to be a great player for us."