Two New Prospects Emerge From Mt. Tabor

DURHAM, N.C. --- For the third time in five years, Winston-Salem's Mt. Tabor will be a focal point of North Carolina's football recruiting efforts. While the Tar Heels missed on top recruits' A.J. and Derek Nicholson, and remain a long shot for the services of senior quarterback O.C. Wardlow, two other Spartan prospects have also caught the UNC coaches' eyes for 2006. And get this; they like Carolina right back.

Versatile wide receiver Ryan Taylor and linebacker Tripp Russell, both three-year starters, are currently receiving as much interest as possible from the Tar Heels, considering college coaches are not yet allowed to talk to prospects.

And both Taylor and Russell have Carolina high on their lists.

"I like Carolina, and Vanderbilt, actually," Taylor said. "Those are the two schools I've taken recruiting visits to. But I also like Carolina, Vanderbilt, Wake Forest, Virginia Tech, Tennessee and UVa."

Taylor, 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, started out as a defensive end as a freshman, but he was moved to tight end-wide receiver during the past two seasons. Last year, Taylor caught 54 passes for 999 yards (18.5 yards per completion) and 15 touchdowns, tallied over 300 return yards on kickoffs and was also utilized in the backfield as lead blocker and managed to rush for two scores.

"He played a lot of positions for us," Mt. Tabor coach Bob Sapp said. "What makes Ryan special is he's such a tenacious blocker. All wide-outs love to catch the football and so does Ryan, but he really loves to block. That's the nature of his game."

He likely projects as a college tight end judging by his size and athleticism. And after lacrosse season, for which Taylor has a Virginia scholarship on the table, Sapp said he will dedicate all of his energy towards fulfilling football aspirations.

"In talking to the Vanderbilt and Wake Forest coaches, they talked about moving me back and forth between the tight end and wide-out positions – and I would like to be able to do that," Taylor said. "A lot of the other colleges are just talking about tight end for me."

"One thing the coaches have noticed watching film on him is that he not only can catch the football, but he can also run with it," added Sapp. "He's pretty strong and trying to tackle him is tough. But his willingness to seek out blocks is what really catches their eye."

According to Taylor, he ran a 4.857-second 40-yard dash during Sunday's Combine at Duke. But nearly all of the 185 participants complained of slow sprint time running on the thick, deep field turf rug behind Wallace Wade Stadium.

"O.C. said it was like running in a marshmallow," Sapp said. "I'm not sure anybody ran good on that turf over there. "I've always thought Ryan's speed was pretty good. A lot of times, we would just throw the ball out to him and let him run with it."

Taylor said he was timed at 4.59 just prior to the Durham combine.

Linebacker Tripp Russell, 6-2 ½, 225, 4.8 second 40-yard dash, was invited to Carolina's spring game. He was the Spartans second leading tackler last year.

"He's probably going to take Derek's place in the middle," Sapp said. "He was a defensive end-type, because he can run. But we're moving him to middle linebacker this year.

Russell led the state in fumble recoveries last year.

"To us, that means he's always around the ball," Sapp said. "He's very tenacious. If something happens, he's going to have the ball because he has a motor that doesn't stop."

O.C. Wardlow, 6-0, 170, currently has offers from Tennessee and Georgia. But the Tar Heels haven't given up on him yet.

"Right now it's so early," Sapp said. "I know Tennessee has offered him, but he's very non-committal right now." East Coast Recruiting Analyst Miller Safrit said while it appears unlikely at this point, it was still not out of the realm of possibility that Wardlow could wind up at UNC.

"I wish he would go to Carolina," said Wardlow's father, also known as ‘O.C.' "But he grew up a Duke basketball fan."

After leading the Spartans to the 2003 4-A state championship game, he followed up in his junior year by completing 110 of 226 passes (49 percent) for 2,052 yards and 24 touchdowns.

"He really throws the ball like a rocket," Sapp said.

"Right now, I'm really interested in Tennessee and Virginia Tech, because I like their programs and the facilities," Wardlow said.

Wardlow's cousin, Antonio, from cross-town Parkland, is a 2005 Tennessee commit. But in a recent turn of events, Antonio was hospitalized, suffering a broken nose following an altercation with another student. He was allegedly hit in the face with a brick, but O.C. said on Sunday Antonio was ultimately going to be OK.

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