Andy: UNC or UT? Consider this ...

Before Waynesville Tuscola quarterback Jonathan Crompton makes his anticipated early 2005 commitment, he might want to take a look at a few other highly touted N.C. prospects that opted to take their talents across the state line.

Just prior to the start of the 2003 season, Crompton and his family told Inside Carolina that North Carolina was the prohibitive favorite to land the 6-foot-4, NFL-prototype signal caller.

"Our family has just been blown away by the UNC coaching staff," his father David Crompton said on Aug. 19.

But a lot has transpired since then, including the Tar Heels' 2-10 mark and a considerable recruiting push by nearby Tennessee.

Loyalty in the western mountainous region of the state is divided almost in half according to Asheville Reynolds coach Steve McCurry.

"I guess it's because we've got the mountains in common and they're so close," McCurry said. "Tennessee does a great job. They're huge. When you ride home, you see all these people with all this Tennessee stuff on their cars. They have a huge fan base here and I think that draws the athletes in.

"I would still say there are a few more Carolina fans here than Tennessee. It's Dean Smith and the basketball. They love Carolina basketball and they love Tennessee football."

On Signing Day 2004, UNC coach John Bunting said, "When I first got here, Tennessee was in a lot of this state, but I don't think they have been here in the last two years."

That drought could end early if Tennessee can get Crompton's verbal, as many believe it will.

The way it seems to work for UT coach Phillip Fulmer is he'll usually sign two promising quarterbacks in transition years. In 1994, it was Peyton Manning and Branndon Stewart. In 2000, it was Casey Clausen and John Rattay. Last week, the Volunteers signed two standout quarterbacks – Erik Ainge (6-6, 200, Hillsboro, Ore.) and Brent Schaeffer (6-3, 190, Deerfield Beach, Fla.). If history repeats itself, whoever wins the job will start for four years, leaving the other no choice but to transfer.

UT's quarterback situation is less certain now than it was in 1994 or 2000. The top candidates for getting the starting nod next fall are senior C.J. Leak – a North Carolina recruit that originally signed with Wake Forest and then transferred to Tennessee and has seen minimal snaps in the last two years – and Rick Clausen, Casey's brother, who sat out the 2003 season after transferring from LSU. A third returning quarterback, junior James Banks, is considered a longshot since he has played mostly wide receiver. While Leak and Clausen are the early favorites, the possibility of one of the freshmen making a run at the starting role – as was the case in 1994 and 2000 – is not out of the question.

Thus, by the time Crompton would enroll at Tennessee as a freshman, Clausen and Banks would be seniors, while Ainge and Schaeffer would be seasoned sophomores (though as The Tennessean sportswriter David Climer remarked on UT's recruiting philosophy last week, one of the then-sophomores probably will have left by 2005: "Which one will not make it to his sophomore season at UT? … Which one will play and which one will transfer?" Climer wrote.)

Still, despite having Ainge and Schaeffer a year ahead, the UT coaches are hoping to convince Crompton he could become the next Peyton Manning.

The last time Crompton spoke to Inside Carolina he said that he was split 50-50 between the Vols and Heels. He appears to remain undecided after canceling a Wednesday appearance on Fox Sports' Countdown to Signing Day, on which he had previously said he would announce his decision.

Now when he makes it is anybody's guess. Many expect it to come soon, however Crompton did mention once that he might wait as late as this summer.

In the meantime, the Tar Heels, perhaps feeling that they could lose Crompton to UT, have likely turned their eyes to other quarterbacks as well.

While Crompton has some time, he might want to check out the status of a few of these well-known former N.C. prep stars that tested the waters at Tennessee:

C.J. Leak was thought to be going to Notre Dame and in a signing day shocker, went to Wake Forest where his dad was a friend with the coach. He played some his freshman year and then as a sophomore played only three games before suffering season-ending knee injury against Clemson. It was already clear that the Wake experiment wasn't working.

While he was recovering, Leak kept popping up at major colleges football programs, regularly at UT. Leak was telling people he was visiting friends but it wasn't a shock when he announced he was transfering to play for the Vols. When starter Casey Clausen went down, Leak was given a chance to start against Georgia - he was pulled after only two shorts series. His father and younger brother, Florida's Chris Leak, were there that day, which ended any interest Chris had of joining the Volunteers. This upset Fulmer so much that he ended up booting Chris and his father from the field at a later date.

C.J. Leak
"I always dreamed of playing for Tennessee," Chris Leak wrote last December in a diary published on "I pictured myself parading with my teammates through the Vol Walk and splitting the ‘T' like hundreds of Vols before me. But that dream is dead. I've dropped Tennessee from my list."

The reason, he said, was trust. He claimed Fulmer never fulfilled his promise to give C.J. a legitimate chance to start.

"Deep in my heart, I could never trust what the Tennessee coaches tell me. So I'm finished with the Vols," Chris Leak wrote.

North Stanly running back/defensive back O.J. Owens of the 2000 recruiting class, and Aaron Kirkland, a 6-foot-4, 250-pound tight end from Fayetteville Britt -- a big miss for UNC in 2002 -- faced a similar decision as Crompton.

Both chose Tennessee then, and both transferred to Western Carolina this year.

Kirkland would likely be a starting tight end for the Tar Heels had he chosen UNC, instead of buried on the Vols depth chart and being moved back in forth from tight end and fullback as a sophomore.

Carolina actively recruited Owens, the 1998 Central Carolina 2A Conference Player of the Year. But again, a struggling 1999 UNC team with impending coaching instability – and perhaps Owens' grades – led him to Knoxville. However by the end of his junior year he was still basically a third-string free safety, that made just four tackles last season – all on special teams.

And then there is former Vol Brandon Jefferies, a 6-foot-5, 265-pound five-star offensive lineman from Shelby Crest, who is back home and as was reported here, may have come full circle as he is now considering transferring to North Carolina.

But as the Tar Heels continue to struggle on the field, recruiting the state like Bunting desires will remain difficult.

"The in-state schools are getting some, but they need to keep more here," The recruiting analyst Miller Safrit told the Raleigh News & Observer. "[They] have to win more games. If they do that, the attitude will change, too. ... North Carolina's best kids want to play for great programs."

Bunting agrees.

"For the most part, I think we've done a pretty good job keeping them in-state," Bunting said. "We're doing a better job. We're not where we want to be, but this is going to be the No. 1 state we want to recruit and branch out from there. We know we're going to be able to recruit great players, especially once we get them here and see this great campus.

"Our high school coaches have done a terrific job here, since I've been here. I think this year we will have the biggest number of Division I players in this state."

A good start in achieving Bunting's goal would begin with Crompton.

Senior writer Andy Britt is in his second year with Inside Carolina. His work has appeared in major newspapers across the nation such as The Raleigh News & Observer, The Chapel Hill News, The State, The Seattle Times, The Houston Chronicle and The Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. He can be reached at

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