When Fedora took over in Chapel Hill, the football program was clouded in uncertainty due to the remnants of the NCAA investigation. The NCAA had yet to levy any penalties against the program and negative recruiting had reached its highest level. Those antics have since subsided.
“That was probably more prevalent before the sanctions came out, because [opposing coaches] could say whatever they wanted to say,” Fedora said on Monday at the ACC Operation Kickoff media event in Greensboro, N.C. “Now, it is what it is, everybody knows. It’s not like we tried to keep it a secret. It’s been talked about and written about over and over and over.”
Despite the fact the sanctions were not announced until March, one month after national signing day, Fedora and his staff did not lose one commit. All 23 players who were verbally committed to the Tar Heels signed letters of intent. In similar situations, a player or two oftentimes jumps ship, citing the NCAA sanctions and unfamiliarity with the new staff as reasons.
According to Fedora, recruits were tired of hearing about the NCAA investigation. They were certainly aware of the situation, but a one-year bowl ban could not trump the relationship the incoming freshmen developed with the new coaching staff, even though they had only been on the job for two months.
“They care about kids and you can see that in them,” Fedora said. “It doesn’t take long and it’s not fake. A kid will be the first one to figure it out and they can see that [our staff] truly cares about them as people and not just football players. It’s easy for them. They do a great job in building relationships with players and they did that in a short period of time.”
The first thing any college coach will tell you the day after signing day is that they need to amp up recruiting efforts for the next class. The second thing they will tell you, especially at a state school like North Carolina, is that the focus is on keeping the in-state talent at home. Prior to taking the job in Chapel Hill, Fedora confided in former Tar Heel and current Texas head coach Mack Brown regarding the high school players in the Old North State.
“That’s one of the things I asked him - is there enough talent in the state of North Carolina to get it done?" Fedora said. "He assured me that there was. The key is getting them to stay. He said it took time for him to get that to happen too, but towards the end when he was here, he was getting the top kids in the state and they were staying here.”
It is no coincidence that Brown’s best teams in Chapel Hill came around the same time he was annually bringing in the top talent in the state. Brown fielded three 10-plus win squads in his final five seasons before heading to Austin. The Tar Heels haven't won more than eight games since Brown left.
“We just ordered a huge fence that will go up around the entire state with barb-wire on top,” Fedora said. “That’s the deal – to put up a border around the state and not let anybody in and to keep the players here.”
This mantra is not new to Tar Heel faithful. Locking down the high school talent in North Carolina is easier said than done due to the expanding shadow cast by nearby SEC schools as well as the four other FBS schools in the state. The resurgence of Clemson and Virginia in neighboring states adds another dimension to recruiting North Carolina talent.
The recruiting wars in North Carolina are certainly not for the weary. However, Fedora embraces and understands the challenge. After all, at Southern Miss, there were two SEC schools in his own backyard.
“You better go to work everyday," Fedora said. "You cannot a take a day off in recruiting and that’s the same thing right now. It’s always been my philosophy that you identify who the great players are and then you recruit the heck out of them. You don’t listen to people that say ‘Well, you can’t get him. His daddy went to this school, so you’re not going to get him or these schools are recruiting this guy, you’re not going to get him.’
"Well, you know what? I know one thing. If you don’t recruit him, you won’t get him.”
That persistent attitude paid off recently as Fedora and his staff received commitments from three highly regarded players. Timber Creek (Erial, N.J.) High teammates Dajuan Drennon and Greg Webb and Roanoke Rapids (N.C.) High product Nazair Jones have verbally pledged to play for the Tar Heels within the past three days.
“I think momentum is big in a football game," Fedora said. "I think momentum is big in recruiting. Momentum is big in everything. In whatever you’re trying to achieve, if you can get some momentum going, then usually good things are going to happen.”
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