RALEIGH, N.C. --- Particularly recently, schools have taken notice of Joseph Boletepeli's potential. Though North Carolina isn't one of the 11 schools to offer the 6-foot-5, 245-pound defensive end, the Heels' staff has expressed a strong interest in the Millbrook High product.
"No. 1, he's still learning the game," Millbrook head coach Clarence Inscore said. "He's pretty raw, as far as experience playing. So, he's one of those kids who's trying to soak up everything. He's one of those kids who really listens and takes to heart what you're telling him to do and does it step-by-step. He's a very coachable kid. His best football is probably in front of him. He's gotten better every year that he's been here and I see that continuing as he goes into college."
Boletepeli didn't begin playing football until the eighth grade. And he admittedly didn't take the sport seriously until his sophomore year. No matter, he earned a starting spot at defensive end late into his 10th grade season.
This past season, Boletepeli broke out with 82 tackles, includes 17 for a loss and three sacks.
"Everybody has to plan for him a little bit," Inscore said.
Seemingly every week -- especially recently -- Boletepeli scores a new scholarship offer. Nearly a dozen schools have tendered -- Boston College, Charlotte, East Carolina, Georgia Tech, Louisville, Maryland, Miami, NC State, Old Dominion, Rutgers, and Syracuse. He's also hearing from LSU, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Penn State, Virginia Tech, and Wake Forest.
"He's starting to hit it really big," Inscore said. "I think people are starting to take notice of who he is."
UNC noticed Boletepeli late last season, but the turnover on its coaching staff -- particularly on the defensive side -- has slowed its pursuit.
"They like him," Inscore said. "Coach [Terry] Joseph has taken over this area and he came by his second or third day. I'm assuming as soon as the Dead Period is over with we'll see him back during the spring and get a better idea of where they're at."
The Heels staff invited Boletepeli to an upcoming junior day. He plans on accepting the invite, but hasn't identified which junior day.
In November, Boletepeli attended UNC's 2016 regular season finale against NC State.
"For UNC, it wasn't a great game, but it was a good game overall," Boletepeli said. "The atmosphere was pretty good -- there were a lot of people there and it was loud and energetic."
Fellow in-state programs, Duke and NC State, are the only other schools Boletepeli has visited.
"I just want to stay neutral and just pick the place that best fits me, academically most importantly but also athletically," Boletepeli said.
Boletepeli hopes to have a finalists list construct prior to his senior year.
His last name is pronounced BOWL-lit-ta-pell-lee... Prior to his junior year, Boletepeli played basketball. As part of his newfound focus on football, he has since given up the sport.