Quality Over Quantity

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Defensive staff changes stymied North Carolina’s initial plan to load up and max out its 2015 recruiting class on National Signing Day after three years of scholarship restrictions.

The quality of UNC’s 2015 recruiting haul is unmistakable. The Tar Heels’ signing class of 19 currently ranks 25th nationally and third in the ACC, according to Scout.com, despite being the only program in the top-25 to sign fewer than 20 prospects. UNC ranks T-18th nationally in average star rating (3.42).

The quantity of signees and corresponding roster availability on Wednesday prompted questions amongst the Tar Heel fan base regarding the coaching staff’s course of action.

In March 2012, freshly-minted UNC head coach Larry Fedora had the option to delay the start of the NCAA-mandated scholarship restrictions - a reduction of five scholarships per year for three years, applied to both initial (20) and total counters (80) - until 2013, but he chose to begin the penalty phase immediately to work through the restrictions as soon as possible.

UNC’s updated roster as of Wednesday afternoon included 76 of the school’s announced scholarship signees dating back to 2011. That leaves nine available scholarship spots, not including walk-ons awarded scholarships nor any potential offseason attrition.

Fedora told reporters on Wednesday his staff’s intention was to use the full allotment of available scholarships. However, defensive coordinator Gene Chizik’s hire and his schematic adjustment removed some long-time prospects from UNC’s board and prompted the addition of several new prospects.

While UNC was able to get a late flip from four-star defensive end Jason Strowbridge, other late pushes “didn’t go the way we wanted it to go,” according to Fedora.

The departures of associate head coach for defense Vic Koenning and linebackers coach Ron West also played a role.

“The other part of it is you have some other coaches on your staff that have built relationships, and when they’re not going to be here anymore, the kid moves on,” Fedora said.

Recruiting relationships are often developed over a period of months, if not years, which makes late staff adjustments a challenge.

“The later in the process it happens, the harder it is,” recruiting coordinator and quarterbacks coach Keith Heckendorf said, “because of the less time you have to build those relationships.”

Once the staff changes settled down, UNC’s coaching staff had a choice to make: attempt to sign other prospects that weren’t as high on the board or wait for better options in another recruiting cycle.

“We decided instead of going for quantity, we thought we’d better go for the quality and save those scholarships for next year’s class,” Fedora said.

The fourth-year UNC head coach added that he would be open to adding more prospects to the current class. The Tar Heels added offensive lineman Will Dancy to the 2013 recruiting class in May of that year.

Walk-ons have become a vital part of Fedora’s program at UNC due to the scholarship restrictions. He estimated that he has put 16 walk-ons on scholarships during his three years in Chapel Hill.

Three walk-ons that earned starts in 2014 – wide receiver Mack Hollins, safety Dominiquie Green and linebacker Jeff Schoettmer – are expected to remain on scholarship in 2015. Redshirt freshman punter Corbin Daly walked on in 2014 with the understanding that he would receive a scholarship in 2015, thereby pushing the total scholarship count to 80.

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