NC’s best: The top offensive players from the state

The Old North State is one of the biggest producers of college football players

Clemson running back Will Shipley, who went to Weddington High School in Matthews, scores a touchdown in the Tigers’ season-opening win over Georgia Tech on Monday in Atlanta. (Hakim Wright Sr. / AP Photo)

This just in: There is no wall around the state.

Whenever a football coach takes a new job at a North Carolina college, he makes the same vow: to build a wall around the state, promising to keep the best local players right here at home.

North Carolina is home to plenty of promising football talent at the high school level, and coaches realize that if anyone could harness all of that talent it could be a ticket to competing at the sport’s highest level.

Over the years, there have been dozens of coaches, sounding like an army of Donald Trumps, talking about the wall. And yet, like Trump’s plans for the southern border, we’ve seen no wall erected.

While the state is home to four ACC programs as well as three other FBS teams that have all earned bowl bids in recent years, we’ve seen plenty of other college teams cross the border and make off with some of N.C.’s top talent.

For the last several years, the North State Journal has named an All-Bowl team for the state of North Carolina at the end of each season. This year, we’re expanding our awards to look at just where the top talent from within our borders has ended up. So we present the first annual Preseason All-North State Team.

To select the players, we took a combination of their recruiting ranking coming out of high school and their expected impact on this year’s college team. For example, Travis Shaw (Greensboro Grimsley) and Jalon Walker (Salisbury) were the top two recruits in the state’s class of 2022, according to 247 Sports, but Shaw is battling for the backup spot at UNC nose tackle and Walker is slotted as the second-teamer at middle linebacker for Georgia. They’ll crack the starting lineup before too long, and both will likely be candidates for next season’s preseason squad.

Preseason All-North State Team, Offense

Quarterback: Hendon Hooker, Tennessee (Greensboro Dudley, ranked No. 7 in the state in 2017)

The former Virginia Tech starter is on the watch list for most major offensive awards this season, along with early NFL mock draft lists. He gets the nod over ECU’s Holton Ahlers, Syracuse’s Garrett Shrader and UNC’s Drake Maye.

Running backs: Will Shipley, Clemson (Matthews Weddington, No. 2 in 2021); Omarion Hampton, UNC (Clayton Cleveland, No. 3 in 2022)

Shipley led Clemson in rushing as a true freshman last year, and with senior British Brooks going down for the year, Hampton has the chance to do the same for the Tar Heels this season. He’s not currently slotted as the starter but could win that job (over D.J. Jones, Fayetteville Pine Forest, No. 27 in 2020) by the opener. Louisville’s Trevion Cooley, South Carolina’s Christian Beal-Smith and injured Ohio State standout Evan Pryor also deserve mentions.

West Virginia wide receiver Bryce Ford-Wheaton, who went to Holly Springs High School, is hit while making a catch in the Mountaineers’ season-opening loss to Pitt on Saturday. (Keith Srakocic / AP Photo)

Receiver: Bryce Ford-Wheaton, West Virginia (Holly Springs, No. 26 in 2018); Donavon Greene, Wake Forest (Mount Airy, No. 11 in 2019)

In his fourth year with the Mountaineers, Ford-Wheaton is the consensus pick to be the breakout star for West Virginia this season. Greene returns from an injury that kept him out last season. NC State’s Devin Carter (Clayton, No. 25 in 2018) is the slot receiver when our team goes to the spread. USF’s Khafre Brown, Texas A&M’s Moose Muhammad III and State’s Porter Rooks are future playmakers to watch.

Tight end: Trent Pennix, NC State (Raleigh Sanderson, No. 31 in 2018)

The Wolfpack H-back gets the nod over ECU’s Ryan Jones.

Guards: Jacob Monk, Duke (Wendell Corinth Holders, No. 20 in 2019); Jovaughn Gwyn, South Carolina (Charlotte Harding, No. 13 in 2018)

Monk is in his fourth year as a Duke starter and his first as team captain. Gwyn, a right guard for the Gamecocks, is also in his fourth year as a starter and a team captain.

Tackles: TJ Moore, Charlotte (Charlotte Mallard Creek, No. 5 in 2017); Bryson Speas, NC State (No. 47 in 2017)

Moore is in his second year with Charlotte following four in Florida. Speas is in his second year as full-time starting right tackle for the Pack and has started at least six games each of the last three seasons.

Center: Grant Gibson, NC State (Charlotte Mallard Creek, No. 13 in 2017)

The sixth-year Wolfpack lineman is in his fourth year as a starter and gets the nod by a whisker over South Carolina’s Eric Douglas, a third-year starter who is also a sixth-year lineman.

Next week, we’ll look at the defense and special teams.