Tar Heels recruiting amid uncertainty
The Associated Press
North Carolina will learn Wednesday how much the NCAA investigation into its football program has affected recruiting. The Tar Heels have generally ranked among the top 20 classes nationally heading into national signing day. But they could rise or fall depending on how many players back out of verbal commitments or decide to sign while Butch Davis' program awaits a ruling from the NCAA after its probe into agent-related benefits or possible academic misconduct.
Recruiting coordinator Allen Mogridge said the coaching staff has worked diligently to sell the university's positives and name recognition instead of dwelling on the NCAA uncertainty. "You can't sit there and pretend there's not a 500-pound elephant in the room, so you just address it with honesty and character and integrity,'' Mogridge said. "You've got to have some faith and you've got to trust that things are going to be fine.''
The NCAA investigation became public last summer and threatened to derail momentum that had built through Davis' first three seasons as head coach. In all, 14 players missed at least one game while seven sat out the entire season. It also led to the ouster of associate head coach and recruiting coordinator John Blake, whose close ties with NFL agent Gary Wichard became a key part of the investigation.
But the Tar Heels finished with a third consecutive 8-5 season, ending with a wild double-overtime victory against Tennessee in the Music City Bowl. Afterward, athletic director Dick Baddour said the school was eager for resolution and was "frustrated'' by negative recruiting from competing schools that were using the investigation to dissuade players from signing with the Tar Heels.
The early results, however, have been positive. Rivals.com listed North Carolina at No. 14 nationally in its rankings as of Tuesday afternoon, while Scout.com had the school at No. 19. Both recruiting sites had the Tar Heels at third in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Miller Safrit, a regional recruiting analyst for Scout.com, said the Tar Heels first had to hold onto committed players when the investigation began. There were no mass defections, though North Carolina did lose out on four-star quarterback Everett Golson out of South Carolina. He de-committed and signed with Notre Dame as an early enrollee last month.
"I don't think it greatly affected the players where they were finalists for the large part,'' Safrit said. "But in July and August when that stuff happened, I think some doors may have shut for some players they were on the outskirts of and could've brought in for an official visit and had a chance to recruit. I think the number of players that were recruitable players shrank a little bit as that happened.''
Yet the Tar Heels could still help themselves with late additions to the class. They were still in the running for a pair of five-star prospects in linebackers Curtis Grant from Richmond, Va., and Stephone Anthony from Wadesboro, N.C. -- a pair of players who were among The Associated Press Top 100 and AP South Region Top 25 lists.
Mogridge, who replaced Blake as recruiting coordinator in October, credited the coaching staff for staying positive through the uncertainty of the NCAA investigation. He doesn't expect Wednesday to be different from any other national signing day. "We're working business as usual,'' Mogridge said. "I don't think anybody is walking around here feeling differently. As we've worked through it together and talked about it as a staff, it's been, 'Hey guys, this is where it is. Let's go to work.'
"It's been an interesting ride. And I'm a firm believer you're never given more than you can handle.''