Up Close: Martel Thatch, Part I

Andy is back on the road again this year to provide his unique two-part in-depth profiles of UNC's 2004 commitments. Today, he reports from Greensboro, N.C. on free safety Martel Thatch.

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- The coaching staff at the University of Virginia did everything right. While every other collegiate recruiter was intent on trying to bag the now infamous Dudley Trio, Al Groh and his colleagues took a different approach.

They focused all their efforts in Greensboro on the least hyped of the three, free safety Martel Thatch. They put him on a pedestal that no one else would, including the UNC coaches.

But it wasn't enough. Thatch is a lifelong Carolina fan, and ultimately, that was too much to overcome.

"We thought for the longest time that he was going to Virginia," Dudley coach Victor Floyd said. "The way he was talking…he was going to Virginia. I think Carolina really turned the tide in the last month or so. Virginia showed more interest in Martel than anybody else did that was recruiting him. Everybody else was pretty much like…Demario [Pressley], Jamaal [Edwards] and then Martel.

"I think Martel liked the individual attention."

Now that it appears no school will attain the group trifecta – Edwards declared for FSU within hours of Thatch's verbal to UNC – all that remains from the Panthers' stable of Division I prospects is the consensus No. 1 player in the state of North Carolina.

And at last count, Pressley's list still contained seven schools. His has all the earmarks of a signing day decision.

"The way they acted, I don't think Virginia thought they had a chance at Demario," Floyd said. "Martel was a good fit for them, playing on the hash and that type thing."

So where did Thatch's love for the Tar Heels originate?

From watching Michael Jordan and the rest of UNC's 1980s honor roll of hoops' legends, of course. Growing up, Thatch always fancied himself a future basketball star.

"I really wasn't thinking about football," Thatch said.

But around Thatch's tenth grade year, Floyd decided to take initiative and set him straight.

"I got him to come out," Floyd said smiling. "I said, ‘Why are you playing basketball?' That was an ugly sight. He was decent, but he wasn't what he was thinking. He wouldn't be coming to Carolina, trust me."

Thatch obviously heeded Floyd's advice and turned his emphasis towards football.

He finished his junior season with 91 tackles; and nine interceptions returning three for touchdowns en route to All-Conference honors.

Floyd, who coached starting Minnesota defensive back Johnathan Richmond three years ago, said that Richmond is "nowhere close to [Thatch]."

"The thing that gives Martel an edge, is that he is a prototypical free safety," Floyd added. "He's big, he can run, he's athletic and he can jump. He possesses all of the tools you would look for in a big time free safety. He'll come down and hit you and he can play man coverage."

"[UNC] had that great recruiting class last year and they pulled in mostly front seven guys. I think Martel was at a high-need area for them."

Stay tuned for Part II tomorrow…

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