Locking Down the State

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Butch Davis has stressed the importance of recruiting the state of North Carolina ever since he arrived in Chapel Hill nearly 27 months ago, and on Wednesday, his coaching staff delivered by signing a top-10 national recruiting class that boasts eight of the top-10 players in the Tar Heel state.

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UNC dominated the state of North Carolina in a fashion that hasn't been seen in recent history, building a foundation for one of the nation's top recruiting classes.

"We wanted to do a great job in the state of North Carolina," Davis told reporters during his Signing Day press conference on Wednesday afternoon. "Every single one of our coaches on our staff has an area in North Carolina, and getting into those high schools and developing relationships with the high school coaches – I think that paid huge dividends… As much as possible, we want to turn over every stone in this state to try to find kids"

Two years ago, Davis talked about how his staff was nearly 18 months behind in recruiting as they desperately tried to forge relationships with high school coaches that other programs had secured years before. If this 2009 recruiting class tells us anything, it's that North Carolina is no longer behind in any regard.

A significant portion of Wednesday's national acclaim is due to the consistency of this Tar Heel coaching staff, which has replaced just one member (former defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano) in the last 27 months. The ability to walk into a random N.C. high school and be on a first-name basis with the coaches and the administration is essential in discovering homegrown talent.

Davis secured the country's No. 1 defensive end prospect in Jacksonville (N.C.) Northside's Donte Moss, and landed the state's top-two linebackers (Smithfield-Selma's Just Dixon and Butler's Hawatha Bell) to go along with N.C.'s top-two cornerbacks (South Stanly's Terry Shankle and Mallard Creek's Josh Hunter).

The Tar Heels also picked up the state's top wide receiver (Gastonia-Ashbrook's Jheranie Boyd), top defensive tackle (Chapel Hill's Jared McAdoo) and the No. 2 offensive tackle in Windsor-Bertie's Travis Bond.

In the three recruiting classes that Davis has brought in during his stay in Chapel Hill, North Carolina has signed 14 top-10 prospects from instate. Clemson is a distant second, stealing four during that time frame, while N.C. State is third with three top-10 signees.

But the Tar Heels' recruiting success was not limited to the cozy confines of their home state. Possibly the crown jewel of this class is Springfield (Va.) West quarterback Bryn Renner, ranked as the No. 3 quarterback in the country by SuperPrep Magazine.

Davis and Company raided numerous states along the East Coast, stealing the state of Connecticut's No. 1 player (WR Joshua Adams), Massachusetts' No. 2 prospect (OT Brennan Williams), and pulling in two of Georgia's top-15 recruits in quarterback/athlete Donovan Tate and offensive guard Johnnie Farms.

Toss in a couple of Florida speedsters (Seffner (Fla.) Armwood's Angelo Hadley and Mywan Jackson), and a couple of sleepers with NFL pedigrees (Greater Atlanta Christian linebacker Shane Mularkey and Ridgewood (N.J.) High School punter C.J. Feagles), and the makings of the nation's No. 5 recruiting class is clear and present.

North Carolina's coaching staff approached the 2009 class in similar fashion to how they would handle a Saturday in the fall, developing a game plan in deciding what they wanted – and needed – to get accomplished.

"In this class, we needed to have speed, athleticism and versatility – those were three of the major buzz words that we talked about in staff meetings," said Davis, highlighting the cornerback, wide receiver and offensive line positions. "Guys that, somehow, someway, they could make a dramatic impact in games."

Davis earned his reputation as a world-class recruiter during his stay at the University of Miami, but the third-year head coach was hesitant to compare his current class with any of the great Hurricane classes that he signed.

"It's a good class," Davis said. "The proof with all recruiting classes will come two years from now… There will be 8-10-12 of these guys that will play in games next year, maybe more, unlikely less, but probably half of the class will play at some point during the course of the season next year. But when they really become part of the core of your program in 2010, then you'll know how good the class is."

There has been a long-held belief by some members of the local media that the state of North Carolina simply does not have enough talent within its borders to allow an instate school to consistently compete near the top of the national rankings. Davis seems to be intent on disproving that notion.

"Carolina is kind of starting to explode," Davis said. "In spite of the economy, there's still an awful lot of growth. High school football, each year that I've been watching it, has gotten better… One of the things that's interesting that our coaches have started to notice – [they think] that 2010 will be somewhat comparable to this recruiting class, and that '11 and '12 might be the two best years maybe in the history of the state."

North Carolina also added four more prospects in the state's top-30, welcoming No. 15 David Collins (OT, Kernersville, East Forsyth H.S), No. 19 Ray Ray Davis (WR, Monroe, Sun Valley H.S.), No. 22 Jerrell Rhodes (RB, Durham, Jordan H.S.) and No. 29 Hunter Furr (RB, Winston Salem, Mount Tabor).

Erik Highsmith, a 6-foot-2, 170-pound wide receiver from Vanceboro (N.C.) West Craven, and D.J. Bunn, a 6-foot, 190-pound defensive back from Smithfield-Selma, did not crack Scout.com's final N.C. state rankings.

Two members of the 2008 recruiting class, athlete A.J. Blue (Dallas, 6-foot-2, 205 pounds) and linebacker Kevin Reddick (New Bern, 6-foot-3, 230 pounds), prepped this season at Hargrave Military Academy. Reddick enrolled in January for the spring semester at UNC, and Blue will join the Tar Heels this summer.

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