Homegrown Success

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – As North Carolina prepares for its third straight College World Series this weekend, a quick look at the UNC roster highlights the fact that Mike Fox has built this program with homegrown talent, which adds a whole other level to the "Tar Heel Born, Tar Heel Bred" mantra.

The North Carolina lineup is dotted with in-state players – ACC Pitcher of the Year Alex White (10-3, 2.75 ERA) hails from Greenville, sophomore phenom Dustin Ackley (.408 batting average, 50 RBI) grew up in Walnut Cove and grizzly senior veteran Chad Flack (.275, 44 RBI) was born and raised in Cleveland County. In all, 26 Tar Heels decided to attend their state's flagship University, making the recent run of success even more gratifying.

"Since I've been born, I've been wearing Carolina blue," Flack said. "I love this University. It's definitely a lot better sense of accomplishment because of where I've come from – my parents came to Carolina, my sister came to Carolina, my grandparents came to Carolina. It feels very good to be able to do [this]."

Senior centerfielder Seth Williams' father Charlie lettered in football at UNC, and for the Hendersonville native, following in his father's footsteps has added another dimension to his career in Chapel Hill.

"I've been blessed," said Williams, who sports a career .357 postseason batting average. "Three out of the four years that I've been we've played for the national championship… [My dad] was asking me the other day if I could do it all over again, would I change it up, and I said, ‘No, this has been a great four years.'"

College basketball and football have become such mainstream sports with ample media coverage and billion-dollar television contracts that it's not uncommon for elite programs like Roy Williams' Tar Heels to sign recruits out of California. But that rarely happens in baseball – it's a complete grassroots effort that starts in a school's backyard, not 3,000 miles away.

"We wanted to start recruiting in-state talent when I got here a long time ago, and I think it speaks very well of the talent in this state," said Fox, who grew up in Asheville and has spent his entire coaching career in the state of North Carolina. "And I think the talent has continued to get better and better, and fortunately, we've been able to get our share."

This isn't some grand discovery of Fox's instate mining – former Tar Heel standouts Josh Horton (Hillsborough), Daniel Bard (Charlotte) and Jonathan Hovis (Gastonia) are just several of many that have helped North Carolina become one of the nation's elite programs. But Fox's ability to secure the top N.C. talent during this decade has allowed the 10th-year UNC head coach to become more selective nationally, with the 2009 recruiting class serving as a prime example.

Seven of the ten incoming recruits will be from out-of-state, as Derrik Gibson will travel down from Seaford, Del. and Matt Harrison will arrive from Henderson, Nev.

"[With] our recruiting class coming in this fall, we have more out-of-state than in-state [signees] for the first time ever," Fox said. "And it's just kind of the way things fell – our needs and that sort of thing – but certainly all up and down the East Coast, the national television helps our recruiting."

But while the state of North Carolina's recruits have formed the foundation of this quickly-developing perennial power, hometowns matter none during the heat of battle, especially in Omaha, Neb.

"I don't know that I pay that much attention to it, maybe as everybody else does, but I'm a Tar Heel born and bred, so I have a lot of pride in being from this state," Fox said. "But in the end, if Tim Fedroff gets the winning hit for us at any point, then we're going to call out New Jersey for him and give them a shout."

The Tar Heels begin their quest for their first-ever national championship against No. 7 LSU at 7 p.m. on Sunday (ESPN2).


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