Recruiting character at UNC

In the last few years, the Tar Heel football program has seen its share of roster entries show up on police blotters. While many of those players were inherited, head coach John Bunting and recruiting coordinator Brad Lawing have improved the team's perception and renewed its recruiting focus on character.

It's not important to categorize each past incident. What is important since Bunting took over at UNC in December of 2000, he has emphasized discipline as much as any other concept.

Many still remember the car key curfew and mandatory on campus dwelling during Bunting's first training camp in the summer of 2001. But now he and his staff have the power to control the type of student-athlete it desires through recruiting.

"All we can do is continue to trust the high school coaches and continue to learn as much as we possibly can about his character," Bunting said. "Every time I go into a school, I want to see the guidance counselor and I want to see the principal. I want to hear what they have to say about this young man.

"And when we have him on campus for an official visit, we have that ‘48 hours' to get to know that kid as well as possible."

As the Atlantic Coast Conference is now, with regard to its academic requirements, it's going to make it even more important that the UNC coaching staff recruits the right athletes.

The UNC System (UNC, NCSU, ECU, etc.) requires additional core courses to enroll, however there can be exceptions and the formula for qualification is somewhat variable. Those requirements will increase in the next couple of years. For example, three maths are currently required. In 2006, four maths will be required.

"Our standards to get into school here are very high," Lawing said. "For the most part this year, the coaches in state have done a good job in putting these guys in position to not only qualify, but to meet our course requirements. Some states don't have the course requirements that we do here in our university system.

"We're going to recruit a kid that can make it here in our school."

There's proof in the early stages of this recruiting season; the philosophy is not just lip service for the school administration or fan base. Four, perhaps five members of the 2003 class will attend prep school this fall, in order to qualify academically for UNC. But there seems to be a trend developing with first six commitments of 2004. The Tar Heels are looking much deeper into the moral makeup of a prospect, not just on the field statistics.

"I've made a couple of changes in the way we recruit, and I think it's going to pay off for us," Bunting said. "I've taken my offensive and defensive coordinators off the road, so they can just evaluate players.

"I want kids that look me in the eye and say ‘I love football, and I want to work at it.'"

As for the four future Tar Heel defensive linemen about to relocate to dorms at Hargrave Military Academy, it's not necessarily a bad thing to take the prep school route. It didn't fail Melik Brown (Hargrave) and Kareen Taylor (Fork Union), both who appear ready to contribute in their freshman seasons at Carolina.

"We would like for all of our guys to qualify, but it is not all that bad for that to happen – especially in that type of military environment," Lawing said. "A lot of times it can get a player adjusted to being away from home, and not being in an environment where they are sometimes overwhelmed."

So does a recruit that fails to qualify right out of high school inherit any new requirements for admission into UNC by going to prep school – either of assistance or restriction?

"It all depends on when you graduate," Lawing said. "When they go off to prep school, they can't use the class work; they can only use the SAT prep stuff if they have graduated. If they haven't graduated for some reason, then they can use those classes to raise their GPA."

Mark Ellington contributed to this report.

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