GREENSBORO, N.C. – Senior All-Atlantic Coast Conference candidate Dexter Reid has been the vocal leader of the defensive secondary since his freshman season. And anyone who would argue that with him would probably lose.
In the years to come, the free safety position could be led by another rising star, Dudley senior Martel Thatch. Just don't expect him to be the loudest.
"You have to pull teeth to get him to talk," Dudley coach Victor Floyd said.
The Tar Heels' 2004 commitment doesn't say much. Thatch prefers to let his play on the field do his talking for him. He's not a mute, but he is focused on the path he has chosen – to be the best student-athlete he can.
In the area in which Thatch grew up, he has had to exercise a great deal of self-control to achieve the success he has today. He's a model student teetering on a 3.0 GPA. But there were some of his friends in his early teen years that would have liked to see him take a different path.
"Peer pressure," Thatch said "my friends that I used to run with were doing the wrong things."
But Thatch used sports to shield and eventually free himself from a pathway that might have ended his chances of earning a scholarship to play Division I college football.
"He's one of the few guys I've known that has been pretty focused," Floyd said. "He let it slip a little bit this semester – he's down to a 2.9 GPA overall, but he's never been a behavior problem or anything like that. I'm sure he's battled peer pressure, because they're going to battle peer pressure almost day in and day out."
In Thatch, the Tar Heels have secured one of the two best safeties available in North Carolina. Charlotte's Jamar Adams (Butler HS), the other one, has a UNC offer as well, although Georgia is foremost on his mind. It's no secret the UNC coaches are attempting to add other high profile defensive backs to the fold.
Robersonville's Trimaine Goddard (Roanoke HS) and West Charlotte's Rod Council Pare arguably the two top corners in the state. Both have the Tar Heels high on their lists.
But has Thatch's notoriety been a product of his two highly rated teammates, or could it have been even higher if he were the sole standout at another school?
ESPN football recruiting analyst Tom Lemming doesn't even list Thatch among his Top 25 safeties in the nation, but rather at cornerback (No. 18). At least two other known UNC recruits did make the list: Monroe running back Albert Ashcraft (15th) and No. 15 at the safety position, and C.J. Barber (12th) of Rock Hill (S.C.).
"If Martel is on a different team, he would probably be a Top 10 guy in the country," Floyd said.
But much of recruiting news is purely speculative anyway. And Thatch no longer needs to be concerned with what so-called experts may think of him. He said he would make his decision early all along. That makes him a man of his word; even though he may use fewer of them than most.
"I think [the UNC coaches] expect me to come in there open-minded and ready to work hard," Thatch said. "And that is what I'm going to do."