An Encore in '04?

<i>Inside Carolina</i> kicks off its coverage of UNC's recruitment of the 2004 class by talking with Tar Heel recruiting coordinator Ken Browning - closing the book on the stellar 2003 class and looking ahead at what positions UNC will eye in 2004.

While the euphoria of a consensus Top 20 recruiting class continues to radiate throughout Carolina fandom, the business of a follow-up performance is underway in earnest.

Ranked 13th and 16th respectively by top publications BorderWars and SuperPrep, UNC recruiting coordinator Kenny Browning agrees this year's class appears as good as any he has seen in his nine years in Chapel Hill…if that means anything.

"I think it was ranked higher, but I'm not as big on rankings as some people," said the 35-year coaching veteran. "It's hard to say at this point if it was as good or not, because those guys we get to look at after they have played. We'll know that after a couple of years with this group.

"The fact that we thought it was a good class is the most important thing."

The celebrating on the Kenan Center fourth floor ended abruptly after Signing Day 2003.

"This was another step in the right direction in building the foundation for our future and creating long-term stability in our program," said UNC coach John Bunting, who quickly moved the staff's focus to areas of improvement.

"The need for offensive linemen/tight end-type guys will be a big area of emphasis," Browning said. "We will also put a little more emphasis on the defensive back position and maybe fullback."

From a geographical standpoint, Carolina must continue to improve on its home state influence.

From the Philly area to the nation's capital through the Tidewater and into talent-laden Florida, Carolina's recruiting tentacles spanned nearly the entire east coast. Twenty-two of UNC's 26 signees hail from states that sell real estate on the shores of the Atlantic.

"We were very successful throughout the seaboard," Browning said. "If you do a good enough job [there], then that winds up being a big enough area. There is enough population there to find good players."

Although the Tar Heel coaches savored this year's regional achievements, competing with four other Division I schools here at home is on top of their to do list.

UNC assistant head coach Jim Webster greets parents at the Kenan Football Center.

"We want to recruit the state of North Carolina first," Bunting said. "We need to continue to get better and continue to reach out to those coaches and recruits. We didn't get them all, but we got a significant amount. The ones we got, I wouldn't trade for anybody else's. At the same time, we've got to do an even better job in the years to come."

During a late crucial stretch, some feared the departure of Rod Broadway would be damaging. After all, he was the primary link to several key commits and prospects. But after Browadway left UNC and was eventually tabbed to replace the retiring head coach Rudy Abrams at N.C. Central, the Tar Heels rebounded. In fact, they didn't miss a beat.

"The players that [Broadway] was recruiting knew some of the other guys on the staff already," Browning said. "A lot of times it still comes down to players wanting to play at a certain school to a degree. That's still a big factor."

For the upcoming recruiting effort – the third full installment of the Bunting Era – topping this most recent haul makes for a stiff challenge. The staff will continue to hang its hat on UNC's impeccable reputation for academics, the first class athletic facilities and the stunning beauty of the campus.

"What we have to sell here is very important," Bunting said. "I wouldn't coach at any other school."

Inside Carolina looks forward to continue bringing you the best coverage on the 'net as the Tar Heels aim to do it again.

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