NC Invitation Practice Recap

The off-season selection phases of the North Carolina Shrine Bowl roster concluded Saturday with the Shrine Bowl Invitation Practice. Over 100 of the top players from the Tar Heel State traveled to Chapel Hill in an attempt to garner a roster spot for the December 17th game.

Although smallish compared to the other quarterbacks in attendance, O.C. Wardlow looks to have earned the starting role. Wardlow, a 5-foot-11, 180-pounder from W-S Mt. Tabor, once again displayed accuracy and touch on his tosses, plus the ability to create time behind the make shift offensive line during 11-on-11 action.

Finding a back-up for Wardlow looks to be a tougher task. Based on Saturday's practice Kevin Atkins of Southern Durham and Steve Johnson of High Point Central look to be the front runners. But, option-style quarterback Chris Archer of Clayton and dual-threat gunslinger Keith Parker could be dark horse options.

Even with arguably the two best ‘backs missing the practice, tailback was the deepest position on display. Cannonball-like back Johnny White of Asheville shined the brightest, but speedster LaMarcus Bond of Hertford County, Devon Moore of Hillsborough Cedar Ridge, and Michael Angram of East Henderson all had solid showings.

Wide receiver is another position with so much depth that quite a few very talented players will be left at home on December 17th.

Josh Johnson of Avery dominated yet another one-on-one passing drill with his strong hands and ability to shield defenders.

Owen Spencer of North Brunswick, Corey Harrison and Marshall Williams of Durham Riverside, and Crezdon Butler of Asheville showed speed and the ability to pluck the ball out of the air.

Deunta Williams of Jacksonville White Oak re-injured his hamstring, but not before proving why he is one of the top three recruits in the Tar Heel State. The 6-foot-3, 180-pounder had some nice grabs including an amazing one-hander.

The North Carolina coaches will have a solid group of tight ends to choose from but Dennis Godfrey is the finest. Godfrey, a 6-foot-2, 250-pounder from Lee County, showed soft hands, and an uncanny ability to basically just come up with the catch.

Unless players emerge during the season, offensive line will be the weakest unit of the Shrine Bowl roster – for the second straight year. Of course the o-line will be anchored by All-American tackle Carl Johnson of Southern Durham, but the other positions along the line figure to see a huge drop off after Big Carl.

The defensive line received a boost with the late addition of Aleric Mullins. The 6-foot-1, 290-pound lineman recently transferred back to East Wake and immediately got to work Saturday. Mullins showed tremendous burst and power off the line and even took Carl Johnson to the limit during one-on-one line battles.

Friends Richardo Crawford of West Columbus and Greg Elleby of South Columbus also showed dominance. The two-some demonstrated the necessary mean-streak to play along the defensive line giving opposing offensive lineman fits.

It's obvious that North Carolina's linebacking corps will once again be solid come December.

Brandon Spikes not only showed his playmaking ability, but also much needed leadership skills. The 6-foot-4, 225-pounder from Shelby Crest constantly penetrated the offense and served as the pulse of his defensive unit.

Although not nearly as vocal, Matthew Woodlief was just as impressive as Spikes. The 5-foot-10, 235-pounder from Catawba Bandys showed a knack for finding the ball, and making the big hit – although it wasn't allowed.

While most of the invited linebackers had impressive outings, Devvon Sutton of Elizabeth City Northeastern, Mario Brown of Snow Hill Greene Central, Juan Corders of Durham Hillside, and Raeman Smith of High Point Central were a few others that also stuck out.

The defensive back position saw a Charlotte Vance cornerback go from unknown to superstar. Rico Bell used his closing speed to pick off two passes, while swatting away countless others. The 5-foot-11, 175-pounder recorded a 4.33-second 40-yard dash at Charlotte's Shrine Bowl Combine.

Additionally, Dekota Marshall of Southwest Onslow, Raeshon McNeil of Davie County, and Tavius Bigelow of Burlington Williams looked solid coverage ability during one-on-one passing drills.

Although uninvited players – or players who missed the practice – still have a solid chance to earn a roster position with a great senior season, the Shrine Bowl coaching staff took enough away from Saturday's practice to build the foundation for North Carolina's roster.

The coaches on the staff will now shift their focus back to their respective football programs for the next few months. They will pickup their position specific evaluations with the arrival of senior films after week three of the football season.


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