Heels hope to tap Southern pipeline

DURHAM, N.C. -- So you think Greensboro Dudley enjoyed a wealth of future Division I talent at the high school level last season with Demario Pressley (N.C. State), Martel Thatch (UNC) and Jamaal Edwards (FSU) – all top 2004 commitments to Atlantic Coast Conference schools?

  • Target 2005: Brandon Woods
  • Target 2005: Ronnie Mason
  • Target 2005: Maurice Covington
  • Target 2005: Jordan Daniel
  • Target 2005: Whitman Reese
  • Target 2006: Carl Johnson

    Well, Southern Durham could double that output in 2005, and has perhaps its best prospect coming out in 2006.

    And for a point of reference, Southern effectively neutralized Pressley and Edwards in a 5-0 win over the Panthers last season, on its way to a 13-2 finish.

    "We stuck [Edwards] all night long," said Spartans coach Gordon Walters, the former head coach at Wilmington Laney and a UNC Class of 1988 football walk-on. "There was probably more talent on the field that night than there are in some college games. The speed of the game was unbelievable. The best player on the field was Charles Gamble and the second best player on the field was Brandon Woods. The third best was [Martel Thatch]."

    Defensive end Ronnie Mason, wide receiver Maurice Covington, linebacker Charles Gamble, defensive back/wide receiver Brandon Woods, defensive back Whitman Reese, defensive lineman Monterey Self and linebacker Jordan Daniel are all being actively recruited by the Tar Heels; as well as mammoth offensive tackle Carl Johnson – a rising junior.

    UNC coaches John Bunting, Kenny Browning and Gunter Brewer have almost established a temporary residence in the Spartans' football office, in hopes of persuading one or more to choose Carolina come Signing Day next February.

    Once considered a high school "cesspool" by at least one current ACC football coach due to its lack of credibility with recruiters, Walters has changed all of that in just two years at the helm. And the nation's top programs, which once shied away from Southern, are back in abundance.

    Walters gets so much mail from major college coaches that the school's administrative personnel asks him to empty his mailbox several times throughout the day.

    Coach Walters in his office
    "I get about 60 or so letters a day, after I clean out my mailbox the first time," Walters told Inside Carolina on Monday.

    Walters coached Kitwana Jones, Rashaad Tindall and Marcus Hands, as well as Virginia's Willie Davis, and Tarence Williams and R.D. Montgomery of Wake Forest in six years at Laney; among others.

    "We could go on and on," Walters said. "Taqiy Muhammad – the starting wide receiver at the University of South Carolina – Lou Holtz called him one of the most dynamic players he's ever coached."

    But Walters makes no attempt to disguise his loyalty to his alma mater. In fact, six of his assistants – including defensive backs coach and UNC football letterman Victor Bullock – are Carolina graduates. His latest addition, Jeff Simpson, formerly of Richmond County, was hired practically sight unseen after Walters discovered he was a UNC alumnus.

    Walters' UNC practice jersey and official team photo adorn his office wall, along with a framed autographed picture of former Durham resident and well-known collegiate coaching icon Steve Spurrier.

    However his players' academic and professional futures are of supreme importance to him, and he is happy to see them at any college where they can best fulfill their potentials. And frankly, most of them are more than a little concerned with the current status of the Tar Heels' program, both as it pertains to wins and losses and long-term coaching stability.

    "There is no secret when you walk into my office that I bleed Carolina Blue," Walters said. "And my players know how proud I am of my degree. Whether or not they go to Carolina, I'm concerned about them going to a good school.

    "As long as I've got that Carolina degree hanging above my head, you can call me a lot of things, but you can't call me dumb," he said. "That demands a great deal of respect as soon as you walk into the room. But there are a lot of other good schools, too.

    "We're truly academics first. I'm not worried about the football career as I am academics and they know that."

    Walters, a stickler for weight room devotion, patterns his conditioning program after UNC strength coach Jeff Connors, who he calls "the best in the business." Each of the prospects compete in AAU powerlifting, when at one time just getting through with football season in order to play basketball was the emphases of Southern's top athletes.

    "Since I started this, we're 15-0 in powerlifting meets – we've never been beaten," Walters said. "It's just a common thing that we expect our guys to do. Everything we do is based on what Coach Connors does."

    Stay tuned as Inside Carolina will post the player profiles and photos from Southern throughout the day Tuesday. Gamble and Self were not available, but will be profiled here as well in the near future.

    kneeling: (from left) Daniel, Walters, Reese; standing: (from left) Woods, Covington, Mason, Johnson. (not pictured) Gamble, Self.

    Senior writer Andy Britt is in his second year with Inside Carolina. His work has appeared in newspapers across the country such as The Raleigh News & Observer, The Chapel Hill News, The State (Columbia, S.C.), The Seattle Times, The Houston Chronicle and The Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. He can be reached at a.j.britt@mindspring.com.

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