Basically, once I started getting all my offers, I decided it was time to figure out what I liked in a school. I had three general things I was looking for in a school: 1) I wanted to make sure that I could see myself on the campus – that's just as a general student, even if I wasn't playing football; 2) academics – I wanted to have a good degree from the school that would support me during life after football; and 3) my relationship with the coaching staff and the players, and how I fit in. Using that blueprint, I evaluated every school that was recruiting me.
I took some visits. Since my junior year, I visited about ten schools. I visited Boston College a bunch of times, Connecticut, Rutgers, West Virginia, North Carolina, Virginia, Miami, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia. After I visited each school, I put a list together and listed the pros and cons to help me weigh things out.
I narrowed my list down in the summer time with, I think, my final seven being Miami, North Carolina, Rutgers, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin. I didn't really have any particular order at the time, but I had a top three in my mind and it was UVa, Miami, and North Carolina. They all fit the mold of what I was looking for.
At that point, I was basically finished with visits. I was just thinking things through and talking to coaches. I was trying to figure out where I had the best relationship, which was very tough for me.
Miami was in my top three, but North Carolina and UVa were my co-leaders. It was tough, because Coach Al Golden is a Jersey guy and I had a really great relationship with him, but Miami was just too far away from home and nobody knew what was going to happen with the NCAA sanctions.
What was pushing me away from North Carolina at the time was I didn't really know Coach Larry Fedora and that staff, because they were at Southern Miss and hadn't even been at UNC for a year. Also, I was a little more comfortable with UVa, because I had been there more times than I had been to North Carolina. I think I took three visits to UVa and I only visited North Carolina one time.
I was sort of in a hurry to make a decision and UVa kind of pressured me towards the end. They told me they were only taking one more lineman. At the same time, I felt comfortable enough and close enough to there where I felt it was okay to pull the trigger at the time.
It came to a point where recruiting was getting a little stressful. I wanted to get it done before my senior year so that I could focus on my team. I was kind of on the clock. I was looking forward to having all this off my shoulders.
I was committed to UVa for a pretty long time, all the way through football season and up until December. And then Coach Shawn Moore got fired – he was my recruiting coach – and they didn't have a great season, so I figured it was time to reevaluate where I was going to go to college.
North Carolina was obviously No. 2. So, I had kept in contact with Coach Dave Duggan over the months, because I knew that anything could happen.
There were a few reasons why I wanted to keep the UNC official visit quiet, but the biggest one was I didn't want anything to happen with UVa. I didn't want them to discourage me from going. Before I went down there, there was a chance it was just going to reaffirm my commitment to UVa. I really didn't plan on de-committing and then committing to UNC when I was down there.
It's a tough business and it's even harder when you're committed somewhere and you're rethinking things.
Once I was there, I just fell in love with it. I realized it was the place I needed to be. Just in talking to Coach Fedora and the rest of the staff, I felt comfortable. I really felt like Coach Chris Kapilovic is the best offensive line coach in the country and I feel like he's going to really push me to be the best I could be. I also will receive a great education, be around great players, and be at a great, beautiful campus. The main goal is to win an ACC Championship and I know Coach Fedora can get that done and I wanted to be a part of that.
After I committed to UNC, in talking to my family we figured the best thing to do was to call Coach Mike London and let him know. I wanted to let him know, because I have all the respect for him in the world. I think Coach London is a great football coach. It was a tough decision – UVa and UNC - they are both great schools with beautiful campuses and they both have great football coaches. But at the end of the day, UNC was a better fit for me personally. I felt more comfortable there. Coach London didn't do anything wrong and he's a great guy.
When I called Coach London, it was the hardest thing I had to do in my life. It was so difficult to go back on my word, because I try to be a man of my word the best that I can. But the situation at UVa did change. I just basically told him that it was all about my decision and it had nothing to do with him personally and I wished him all the best of luck. He was very respectful and handled it with a lot of class. He didn't really try to talk me out of it per se – he just said, "Maybe you should take some more time to think it over." He was a class act all the way and I respect him for it.