CHARLOTTE, N.C. --- Ostensibly overnight, Alexander “Xander” Gagnon went from high school tackling machine to future FBS linebacker. North Carolina was among the wave of recent scholarship offers. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Charlotte Catholic product plans to return to Chapel Hill soon.
“He’s always had height and size, and he has just slowly just worked at his trade,” Catholic head coach Mike Brodowicz said. “He’s become a very good outside linebacker… He has so much upside and I think he’ll make strides this year. This year, he’s bigger, he’s stronger [because] he’s really committed to the weight room this year. He’ll probably play at about 10-15 pounds heavier than he was this year. He has very good hands, very good instincts, and he’s one of the better tacklers on our football team.”
Gagnon began his prep career at safety. But, according to him, never saw the field.
The following offseason, Gagnon was moved to linebacker where he floated in and out of the starting lineup. That season, Catholic featured North Carolina running back Elijah Hood and reached the NCHSAA semi-finals.
Gagnon became a fulltime starter in 2014 at SAM linebacker compiling 132 tackles and three interceptions (returned one for a touchdown).
“We do a lot of stuff with our linebackers, so it takes a little time to naturally play into that position,” Brodowicz said. “This year, I think what you saw is Xander being more comfortable and when high school kids are comfortable they do less thinking and play faster and make more plays.”
Relatively speaking, Gagnon is somewhat of a recruiting late bloomer.
“I think him being comfortable at a new position – one that is his best fit – and the success that we had last year put him in the spotlight later in the recruiting process,” Brodowicz said.
Wake Forest extended Gagnon his first scholarship offer in late March. In the eight weeks that followed, he has added a dozen offers with Connecticut, Miami (Ohio), North Carolina, NC State, Northwestern, Vanderbilt, Virginia, and West Virginia being a sampling.
“I use the word ‘overwhelmed’ more than ‘stressful’ because it is a lot coming at me in a short period of time,” Gagnon said. “But my coaches tell me to have fun with it because it is the fun part.”
UNC offered about a month ago during a conference call that included area recruiter Gunter Brewer and Larry Fedora.
“They just said that they love the way I play in space and they would like to give me an opportunity to play there,” Gagnon said.
During UNC’s first week on the road for the Spring Evaluation Period, Brewer and Gene Chizik visited Catholic.
“They like his size,” Brodowicz said. “The football game is played with such length and he’s so long with his arms that he can keep separation and he can play in space. And that length makes it hard for quarterbacks to throw that quick passing game.”
Gagnon, who has twice visited UNC previously, plans to return to Chapel Hill in June. The trip will be among his summer travels that will help him gain a grasp on his dizzying recruitment.
“I’ve never liked a school growing up, so there’s no ‘no-brainer if I got an offer here I’ll go there,’” Gagnon said. “I’m really just still exploring right now. I’m not making a decision any time soon.”
Gagnon admits that he does have a mercurial list of six or eight schools in his mind that are sticking out. He prefers to keep said list private until it more settled.
“I definitely have a lot of interest in North Carolina,” Gagnon said. “It’s just how Coach [John] Papuchis and Chizik are fired up there. I can see that they’re going to get things going very quickly and get their defense back on track.”
Gagnon was born in Cincinnati, but moved to Charlotte in the eighth grade… Considering his birthplace, it’s unsurprising that Gagnon has a few ties to Ohio colleges – his mother is a Cincinnati alumna, his father is a Xavier alumnus, his brother is a Miami alumnus, and his sister is currently enrolled at Miami… Catholic alumni Mark Harrell (Notre Dame) and Elijah Hood (UNC) return to their high school often (Hood was working out in Catholic’s weight room last week), but Gagnon is closest with former Virginia linebacker Tucker Windle (2009-12) who coaches Catholic’s linebackers.
2016 Target: Alexander Gagnon
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