UNC targets Cerritos LBs

<i>Inside Carolina</i> introduces two highly-touted linebackers from Cerritos Community College in California. The Tar Heels have been targeting Justin Burks and Marcus Miller, and the duo are expected to make the trip east sometime in December to see what UNC has to offer.

North Carolina coach John Bunting has talked a lot about changing the football culture in Chapel Hill. Part of that change means doing things that in the past haven't been done. If that includes bringing in players who make an impact immediately -- so be it.

In some cases, that means looking to land junior college transfers that already have collegiate experience, and more importantly, can start from day one on campus.

Justin Burks and Marcus Miller fit that mold and would be big-time additions to what could be the best recruiting class -- talent wise -- that North Carolina has ever landed.

Both are linebackers from Cerritos Community College in Norwalk, Calif. and have the Tar Heels listed among their top five schools, despite never having seen any part of North Carolina.

In fact, the duo could come as a packaged deal.

Miller said he and Burks just might end up together again.

"We will sit and talk about what we like and where we can see ourselves," Miller said. "We feed off the chemistry we have now."

Burks seems more low-key about the possibilities.

"There is a chance we could end up at the same school," he said.

Burks and Miller have spent two years together in the linebacking core at Cerritos, but go back even further. The two played against each other as high school rivals in California.

Miller and Burks said they plan to visit UNC during an off week that could come before they play in a bowl game for one of the top JUCO programs in the country.

Burks, considered one of the best big linebackers in the nation among junior college players, recently took a trip to Florida and lists the Gators in his top five.

"It was outstanding -- different type of environment," Burks said.

But Burks (6-3, 240) is not totally sold on any program at this point.

He plans to visit North Carolina, LSU and Marshall. Arizona State is also on his short list. Burks is looking forward to seeing what the Tar Heels have to offer.

"I am just looking for an opportunity to start and to contribute to a winning program. I'm a little concerned about their (North Carolina) record, but I can't wait to check it out for myself," he said.

Cerritos coach Frank Mazzota said Burks is an instinctive player that just loves to play the game.

"He has the skills and talent -- he can run fast -- but is not the biggest guy in the world," Mazzota said. "He is leading our conference in tackles."

Burks has 85 tackles this season at the middle linebacker position and his team is 6-1 and ranked tenth this week in a JUCO Top 15 poll.

Burks said he will make his decision during the early signing period in December, which means North Carolina could get an early Christmas present this year. However, they could also be left in the cold.

Burks, who runs a 4.5-40, was impressed with Florida and North Carolina will have to persuade the sophomore that Chapel Hill is a better fit for him.

"I am a very exciting player -- fun to watch -- a lot like Ray Lewis," Burks said. "All that stuff -- big hits, interceptions and big plays -- all that. It really doesn't matter where, I just want to contribute."

Mazzota said that Burks will leave Cerritos with an AA degree, even though he isn't the best student.

"Justin has done a nice job here. He isn't a great student, but he works hard. Usually, those guys step up on the field and off. Every college this side of Atlantic Ocean is recruiting him. If he decides to go to UNC it's a good deal because everyone wants him."

At the same time, Marcus Miller is no slouch either.

Also a linebacker, he lists North Carolina in his top three schools with LSU and Marshall. If it sounds familiar, it is. Many feel Burks and Miller will head to the same school, even if they aren't tipping their hats at this point.

One thing is certain. Miller won't sign until the February signing period -- unlike Burks. "I'm going to do the February thing," Miller said. "At a big program it is exciting to get to take a trip out there (North Carolina) and see what it's like."

Miller said he is a guy who is basically a workhorse on the field.

"I'm a guy that can cover a lot of ground -- someone who sticks his assignments. I have a little bit of tenacity, not too much, just the basics."

Miller is also listing Kansas State and Fresno State as possible college destinations.

Mazzota said that Miller is the right kind of guy to have in your program.

"He can run the field, and he helped us win a 13-7 game in a slugfest this past Saturday," Mazzota said. "He is just a rangy guy -- tall long armed guy. He's graded out tops at these camps he goes to because he is fast. He is one of those guys you see and you go man we wish we could have him on our team."

Miller (6-3, 220) said he can understand the current situation at North Carolina because he said Cerritos went through it when he first arrived.

"That is all I see it as, it always happens because you can't progress without some struggle," he said. "They can learn from it and it is not going to affect my decision. I still think very highly of the program and Coach Bunting."

Mazzota said his coaching staff has tried to stay low-key at this point and let the duo sort things out for themselves.

"We are in season and that is not really our priority now. After the season, we will try to tell them who we think might be easiest for them to possibly transition to, and get playing time the fastest with."

Mazzota said it is not easy for JUCO players to get four or five visits in like most traditional recruits.

"I talked to coach Bunting about them Monday morning," he said. "They are trying to hook up something with a visit. Our kids are limited because they only have a couple of weekends they can visit."

Mazzota said he can see many reasons why Bunting and North Carolina are after both Burks and Miller.

"We are averaging 20 to 25 kids per year. We've had great success. Got guys all over the place and in the NFL. We have taken pride in getting kids out of here."

While Mazzota says he knows the stigma surrounding JUCO players, he says Cerritos has a solid reputation athletically and academically.

"We are good here; football is the easiest thing we do."

Sources close to the North Carolina football program told IC that it won't be a problem for Burks and Miller to get past the sometimes squirrelly North Carolina admissions office. Both Burks and Miller have met admission requirements and will be admitted to UNC.

"John Bunting has been calling here -- I've talked to him ten times in the last two weeks.

He is after them, and he is one of the few head coaches who call. He wants those kids, and he has said he will do what he can to get them there."

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