COLUMBIA, Tenn. – From the start of his recruiting process, Fred Sparkman wanted to play football out of state. During his junior year, Central head coach Vance Belew asked him to make out a list of the top six schools that interested him.
From that list, which included Carolina, Belew determined which schools to send tapes of Sparkman along with a comprehensive information sheet about him.
"I know Coach Webster must have called me back the day that he received the tapes," Belew said. "He said, ‘Hey, we really like this guy. We need him, we want him, and we need linebackers.'
"Coach Webster did an excellent job from the very beginning," said the 17-year prep coaching veteran. "He made us feel like Fred was a priority from the very beginning."
UNC head coach John Bunting was scheduled to pay a visit to Sparkman either Wednesday or Thursday. During this hectic period before national signing day (Feb. 5), Bunting is working extra hard to avoid any late surprises.
And while there are probably other of the Tar Heels' verbals that need more reassurance than Sparkman, Bunting was not going to skip this visit.
"I really get along with Coach Bunting as much or more than any of the other coaches," Sparkman said. "He's just fun to be around."
The official scholarship offer from Carolina came by way of the U.S. Mail last summer. Bunting not only put it in writing to Sparkman, but to Belew as well. This impressed Belew, because it left no doubt as to UNC's intentions.
During his Jan. 10 visit, Sparkman was having breakfast, when Webster asked Sparkman to join him in Bunting's office where they sealed the deal.
"He's a livewire," Sparkman said of the Tar Heels' skipper. "He showed me this fish in his tank that swims upside down."
Since Tampa linebacker Larry Edwards had just announced he would attend UNC, Bunting told Sparkman that UNC would shut down the recruiting of any more linebackers if he would come on board.
"I just said that I was thankful, because I wasn't going to tell them right then," said Sparkman said, who knew the night before that he was going to choose Carolina. "I was going to wait until later, but I decided that I may as well go ahead and tell him now."
The Tar Heels penchant for placing players in the professional ranks had a big influence on Sparkman's decision.
Baltimore Ravens' linebacker Ray Lewis is the defensive athlete that Sparkman idolizes the most. If he can perform even close to that level, Sparkman too could realistically find his way into the National Football League one day – his ultimate goal.
"Fred has a lot of ability; there is no doubt about that," Belew said. "He has excellent quickness, size and strength. Probably, the thing that stands out most is his sense of timing – in all areas of the game. I'm talking about things like how he anticipates snap counts, how he releases his hips when he tackles and making the play at the moment that will turn the game around. I get the same thing back from the college coaches who have watched him on tape.
"I was always amazed at how often he made big plays on down third down and when the game was on the line."