For the longest time, tobacco was the most sought-after commodity produced by the state of North Carolina.
These days, it’s football talent.
The problem is, so much of that football talent has been exported to other states that there hasn’t always been enough to go around for schools here at home.
It’s a situation coaches Larry Fedora of UNC and Dave Doeren of NC State addressed directly and vowed to change from the day they were hired in 2012 and 2013, respectively. To their credit, both have begun making inroads toward keeping the best high school recruits closer to home.
Although the consensus No. 1 prospect, Scotland County running back Zamir White, is headed to Georgia, five of the top 10 players in the Class of 2018 as ranked by 247Sports and five of the top 12 according to Rivals.com signed with either the Wolfpack or Tar Heels. And one other ended up at Wake Forest.
In all, Doeren added 10 new players from the Old North State while Fedora landed six during the new December early signing period and last week’s traditional date for signing NCAA Letters of Intent.
“The importance of local and in-state talent staying home, to me, is critical,” Doeren said. “At my opening press conference, I talked about building a championship program and doing it with in-state kids and trying to get as many of them to understand the benefits of being home.
“We’ve been able to explain, educate and sell those things to recruits and families, and they’re hitting home with them. That’s great, because there’s incredible talent in our state and we don’t want them to leave.”
Doeren’s Wolfpack was able to attract outside linebacker Payton Wilson of Orange High School, the state’s No. 4-rated prospect who originally committed to UNC; No. 5 prospect Ricky Wilson, a running back from Heritage High; and No. 8 Alim McNeill, the defensive tackle from Sanderson High.
Wide receiver Devin Carter of Clayton, the state’s 19th-ranked player, is also a member of the Wolfpack’s incoming class.
Fedora’s local haul included No. 2-rated wide receiver Jordyn Adams of Green Hope, the son of Tar Heels defensive line coach Deke Adams; No. 9 Avery Jones, an offensive guard from Havelock; and a a pair of top 25 recruits — “athlete” Dyami Brown of West Mecklenburg (No. 13) and running back Davon Lawrence of Wake Forest (No. 22).
UNC’s in-state recruiting effort could have been even more successful, but it missed out on two other top players when linebacker Dax Hollifield of Shelby signed with Virginia Tech and defensive tackle Rick Standridge of Concord announced for Clemson on signing day last Wednesday.
“We’re always going to work hard on the guys in the state of North Carolina,” Fedora said. “We recruited two guys in the state this last signing period and unfortunately we didn’t get either one of them.”
Fedora is hoping the hiring of former Tar Heel player and Tennessee assistant coach Tommy Thigpen, noted as one of the nation’s top recruiters, will help prevent more of those big fish from getting away in the future.
There are certain factors, however, that even the best of recruiters can’t overcome. They include conference and national championships, high-profile coaches and a history of sending players to the NFL.
Among the programs that poached top 25 North Carolina talent are Georgia, Clemson, South Carolina, Missouri, Oregon, Northwestern, Stanford and Notre Dame. Virginia Tech did the most damage with four in-state stars.
Buoyed by a successful nine-win season, signature wins against Florida State and rival UNC, and seven players invited to participate in this month’s NFL Combine, Doeren believes the gap between his program and the national name brands is rapidly shrinking.
“We have something to sell right now,” he said, “and we have to keep working to make that a reality every year.”
Though most schools wrapped up the majority of their 2018 recruiting classes during the December signing period, there were at least a few new additions among local schools last Wednesday.
UNC was the most active with seven signees: DeAndre Hollins, a three-star cornerback from Tampa, Fla.; three-star linebacker Matthew Flint from Gurley, Ala.; Georgia three-star offensive tackle Joshua Ezeudu; offensive linemen Ed Montilus and William Barnes from Apopka, Fla.; three-star defensive lineman Gavin Lewis from Madison, Ala.; and four-star wide receiver Antoine Green from Rockledge, Fla.
State signed two players, Southern Cal transfer tight end Cary Angeline and JUCO defensive tackle Val Martin. Duke picked up three-star cornerback Ken Torain, a former UCLA commit, while East Carolina got four-star defensive end Dorian Hardy, who was headed to Penn State before being involved in an off-the-field altercation at his high school in New Jersey.