SHELBY, N.C. --- Mike Ekeler, North Carolina's new linebackers coach, used his first opportunity to hit the recruiting trail to leave yet another positive impression on four-star linebacker Dax Hollifield.
"I'll tell you right now: UNC does so much for me that it's insane," Hollifield said. "There's no comparison how much they do for me; that's Coach Ekeler and Coach [Gunter] Brewer -- it's pretty incredible how much attention they show me."
"There's nothing left for Carolina to do," Shelby head coach Lance Ware added.
According to Hollifield and a couple members of Shelby High's coaching staff, Ekeler, accompanied by Brewer, arrived at Camp Fieldhouse promptly at 8 a.m. At that time, Hollifield's weightlifting class commenced.
"He watched us work out -- we had a really good workout," Hollifield said. "After that, I went to all my classes and he stayed with my coaches."
That's exactly what most recruiters do. But, after conversing with Shelby's coaches for a couple of hours, Ekeler used Shelby's facilities to sneak in a workout of his own. Following a lift in its weight room, he ran a few laps on its track. Noticing that Ekeler was understandably sweaty, the Shelby coaches offered its showers for him to freshen up.
"After that, he went to go eat somewhere and then drove to my track meet and watched us run," Hollifield said.
Hollifield's track meet that day wasn't simply around the corner -- it was on Lenoir Rhyne's campus, roughly an hour away.
"This man was here the whole day," Hollifield said. "He could have easily went down the road to Crest or East Rutherford. He stayed here the whole day just to show how much he cares about me. That means a lot."
Hollifield says Brewer's and Ekeler's knack for going the extra mile helps their cause.
"They're never going to be out of it," Hollifield said. "I love that coaching staff so much and they've been there for me the whole way through."
Within the past couple of weeks, Brewer's and Ekeler's recruiting efforts have begun to receive assistance. Shortly after committing to UNC themselves, Dyami Brown and Payton Wilson reached out to Hollifield.
"Dyami hit me up on Twitter," Hollifield said. "And when I got invited to the [U.S.] Army [All-American] Game on Wednesday, Payton hit me up. He said, congratulations and how he wants me to play with him one day.
"Coach Ekeler keeps telling me that he wants the best linebacker core in the whole country. I think with [Wilson] and with me, we could probably have that, hopefully."
Hollifield not only wants to be a part of the best linebacker core in the whole country -- he wants to be a part of the best team.
"I want to go in with somebody good," Hollifield said. "I don't want to be the only guy in my class that is one of the top recruits. I want to come with other great players. I know it's not an individual sport, so I have to have 21 other players on my team to actually win a game. And with players like [Brown and Wilson] I know I can win."
Hollifield is fully cognizant that some of the schools recruiting him regularly sign top 10 recruiting classes. But, being a part of a great class at his state's flagship university has an added feel.
"There's something special about doing it in your home state," Hollifield said. "Especially with kids who also want to represent something.
"And I don't think the state of North Carolina gets a lot of respect for their football. And I'm telling you: we're good in this state. I'd love to see that happen."
Hollifield says he has always thought that a way to earn respect for N.C. football is for its best high school players to represent at one of its in-state universities.
"Everybody here loves UNC," Hollifield said. "I know I'm always going to be loved if I go [to UNC] and I'm always going to have support from my state.
"I'm not planning on leaving; when I get out of college -- or hopefully NFL -- I'm coming right back to Shelby. I'm not going anywhere. I love North Carolina."
However, Hollifield's recruitment is far too complex to just simply commit to UNC. A year-long battle between three schools has turned into a battle royal with the recent influx of new high-profile offers.
"I don't really want to say I've narrowed it down to eight schools, because I'm still wide open," Hollifield said. "But there are eight schools that stick out more than any other."
Florida, Florida State, LSU, Notre Dame, and Stanford join stalwarts UNC, South Carolina, and Virginia Tech for Hollifield's pledge.
"I really didn't have those options before a couple of months ago," Hollifield said of his five new additions. "I want to look at everything and see how it is. Those schools really intrigue me about playing time and they're going to win. So, I have to take a good look at those."
Hollifield has already visited each of his top eight schools, with the exception of Stanford. He has a trip scheduled to Palo Alto on May 19.
Prior to the infusion of new offers, Hollifield wasn't exactly sure how he'd tackle his recruitment. Now, it's even more difficult. One idea he has had is establishing a final five and then officially visiting those schools before deciding.
"If I knew where I wanted to go right now, I'd [commit] right now," Hollifield said. "But, I don't. The sooner the better for me, because I want to get it out of the way and maybe help recruit. When I know, that's when it's going to happen."
Hollifield wants to avoid taking his recruitment to Signing Day.
"That's when it really gets dirty and gets bad," Hollifield said. "The latest will probably be December -- maybe January."
Hollifield recognizes the problem -- himself. He says for over a year now, his leader changes on a daily basis.
"My dad asks me every day and my mom asks me," Hollifield said. "Some days I say Florida, some days I say Florida State, some days I say UNC or Virginia Tech or maybe South Carolina. There's never really a lead dog. It depends on how I'm feeling."
Hollifield admits that he's scared by his capriciousness.
"Hopefully I don't commit on the day I'm feeling one school and then the next day, 'Oh crap, maybe I should go there,'" Hollifield said.
Hollifield's changes aren't purely random. Typically, something occurs to prompt the change.
"Like today, Coach [Clark] Lea from Notre Dame came in," Hollifield said. "I'm really feeling Notre Dame today.
"It's who I've talked to recently."
The good news: Hollifield isn't being worn down by the process, like many other nationally recruited prospects.
"I'm enjoying it," Hollifield said. "It's fun going everywhere and seeing everything. And the people you meet -- I've met people who are going to be future All-Americans. It's just amazing.
"The only negative is my fingers hurt a lot from texting everybody."