Charlotte is home to over 17,000 University of North Carolina alums and produces more FBS football players than any other area in the state. The Charlotte metro area is a clear region of focus for the Tar Heel football staff.
“We’ve got to do a great job in Charlotte,” head coach Larry Fedora said. “There’s a lot of good football players in the Charlotte area… and we got a lot of fan support in this area so it just makes sense that the players in this area ought to stay at the University of North Carolina.”
There was no doubt the team wanted to suit up and put on a show for the fans that braved the weather on Thursday. Likewise, fans were looking forward to getting their first look at the new up-tempo offense installed by Fedora.
While fans and players may have come away frustrated with the lack of football, all was not lost on the trip.
“It’s very disappointing, but I’m glad to be back here because this is where I played ball at and I put everything in on Friday nights,” said quarterback Marquise Williams, who was named the 2010 N.C. Preps Player of the Year as a senior at Mallard Creek. “It just feels wonderful to be back here and just to see so many people that I grew up with.”
Norkeithus Otis, who also played his high school football in the Charlotte area at Ashbrook (Gastonia, N.C.) High School, said the trip still had its advantages.
“It was good that we came down to this area so [recruits] get a chance to see what Carolina is all about, how we play, all that good stuff.”
Asked whether or not an event like this would have impacted him as a recruit, Otis replied, “I would be thinking, 'Hey, if they came all the way down, that’s the school for me.'”
That thinking is exactly what many Tar Heel supporters and coaches are hoping for. The trip to Charlotte is an important way to let North Carolina’s presence be known in a market that is littered with other programs such as Clemson, South Carolina and Georgia.
“Our football program is on the rise and I figured if we got this done, a lot of guys would start showing the North Carolina football team more love than what they’ve been showing,” Williams said.
Recruiting aside, the scrimmage was intended to be a showcase for North Carolina fans in the Charlotte area. Those who stuck around long enough were rewarded with the opportunity to meet and get autographs from their favorite Tar Heels.
The mere idea of scrimmaging in the Queen City was enough to build excitement about the future of North Carolina football.
“It’s great, because I won’t get a chance to go to the Spring Game, which was always one of my favorite things to do,” said Jack Moore, a North Carolina supporter and alum who now resides in Charlotte. “I’ll for sure be excited for the season. It will get people pumped for this new chapter.”
When asked about the best part about the trip to Mallard Creek, Jhay Boyd, another Charlotte area product from Ashbrook (Gastonia, N.C.) High School, pointed towards the fans.
“Reaching out to the community, so the fans can come and support us, because I know some fans can’t make it to the games,” said Boyd. “I felt like this was something that supports them and helps them out.”
Charlotte is ripe with high school talent and home to what many believe is a somewhat untapped North Carolina football fan base. Bringing the North Carolina program to Charlotte is an innovative and unique way to showcase the program to recruits as well as fans.
“I think Coach Fedora is creating a trend,” Boyd said. “I think you might see State or even Duke or ECU try to do something like this. I really like it. A lot of people from back at home really appreciate what he is doing.”
Fedora indicated this is not merely a one-time event.
“We’ll probably do a couple sites in the future, so this kind of gives us a start.”
It should excite North Carolina fans all across the state to hear Fedora say the program will hold similar events elsewhere. However, there is no doubt Charlotte was a good place to start.