Perhaps most important to UNC's successful courtship of the nation's consensus No. 1 player at his position was the brashness with which Butch Davis and assistant head coach John Blake immediately contacted Austin as a Tar Heel prospect.
"I liked their confidence, because that's the kind of person I am," Austin said.
His coach Moses Ware, a former NFL receiver and college star at NC-Central, added, "The UNC coaches were saying the things we had been waiting to hear. I liked UNC because a lot of times coaches will just try to sell you on their school. They don't sell you on themselves. It's not the school that's going to coach you or tradition that's going to bring you to the next level. I was convinced (talking with Blake), not just about football but academics, as well. I was sold."
A standout freshman campaign put Austin on the map in the D.C. area, but it was during the following year he became a household name among coaching circles from coast to coast.
His first memory of notoriety was during a clinic showdown with four-star senior defensive tackle De'Shon Matthews (later committed to Washington).
Austin was a sophomore.
"I beat him up," Austin said. "He got me once; I got him twice."
That year his Coolidge team had traveled to face national power Lakewood (Ohio) St. Edward, and Austin impressed observers by holding his own against the country's top offensive linemen in 6-foot-8, 300-plus pound Alex Boone – now a starting left tackle at Ohio State.
That summer he received his first official offer from Maryland.
"After that, it just took off for me," Austin said. "I went to a NIKE camp and ran a 4.83 at about 285 pounds. I was just this big kid that came out of nowhere. I didn't go to a big school or come out of a big program. If you're good enough, they're going to find you. I just took my opportunities and ran with them."
As a junior, Austin recorded 80 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, eight sacks and five forced fumbles to lead Coolidge to a 9-3 record and a runner-up finish in the D.C. I-AA title game.
In between seasons he ran a 4.93 at a Virginia camp, where Austin said he "was the fastest D-Lineman out there." During what Al Groh called "The Big Man Game," a seven-on-seven scrimmage with just linemen, Austin went nuts.
"They couldn't stop me; I was too fast," Austin said. "We played like a whole game – I was running the ball, passing and catching. I was just out there dogging. I had like 15 touchdowns. They had some D-Ends out there that couldn't catch me.
"I was benching like 400 that year, and coaches were saying I was sick," Austin said.
Late in his senior season while wrapping up a 9-3 record with Ballou, Austin verbally reported his leaders to be Florida State, Miami, Southern Cal, Maryland and Tennessee. Following a beautiful Indian summer weekend in Chapel Hill in mid-January, he told Inside Carolina that "FSU, USC, UNC and Tennessee stick out right now."
He admitted in an interview at his school on Monday that he favored Carolina ever since his official visit, though it wasn't his first visit to the campus. He had traveled to North Carolina with one-time UNC verbal commitment Lamar Milstead, but Austin said – and Coach Ware confirmed – that John Bunting and his staff didn't recruit him.
But less than a week after Davis was named Bunting's successor on Nov. 27, the new coach was on his way to see Austin.
"He showed a lot of interest," Austin said. "He went to a banquet where one of my coaches was getting an award. Coach [Tommy] Thigpen also came up. Before them, I was thinking to myself, ‘Now that Coach Davis is at North Carolina, I've got to take hard look at him.'"
Yet it was Davis' hiring of Blake two weeks later that lifted the Tar Heels to frontrunner status in the minds of both Austin and Ware. Both consider Blake to be one of the finest defensive line coaches in the country, but it's his authentic charisma that they found most impressive.
"I saw a lot of me in him," Austin said, describing his first meeting with Blake. "I told him I thought there were a lot of good things I could do for him."
Austin agreed to take an official visit to UNC, and he brought his mother, uncle and little sister with him.
"My mother just fell in love with the place," Austin said. "It was a good place to be. I had a lot of fun down there. Kyndraus Guy took me in like I was one of his own. And the D-Tackles down there were like, ‘We need you here so you can make us better. We're tired of losing.'"
Stay tuned for Part III which focuses on Austin's future at Carolina and beyond.