Allen Artis, Brandon Fritts, Elijah Hood, Bentley Spain, and M.J. Stewart began taking classes at UNC last Wednesday. The aforementioned group includes two four-star prospects and all five rank among the top 40 at their respective positions.
In particular, Spain’s early enrollment will drastically improve his chances of replacing James Hurst, UNC’s four-year starting left tackle whose name will be called during the NFL Draft.
“It’s a huge factor for his development to have a chance to play as a true freshman,” Chris Kapilovic, UNC’s offensive line coach, said. “Obviously, it happens without enrolling early – you look at Lucas [Crowley] who got here in the summer and he ended up playing as a true freshman, but it mostly wasn’t until the second half of the year.
“For Bentley to get in here [early], it’s critical for him learning the system, it’s critical him developing in the weight room and nutrition, and then it’s critical for him learning the technique and the things we want to get accomplished. He’ll get the spring and summer, so when the summer comes, it’s not the first time he’s learning it like the rest of the guys – he’s already a veteran who’s working on getting better instead of just learning it.”
Much in the same way one player is credited with the result of a big play despite the contributions of most – if not all – 11 on the field, it takes a complex team effort to secure a recruit’s verbal commitment. This is evident in assessing the midterm enrollees.
“It’s like the old saying goes: It takes a village to raise a child,” Kapilovic said. “Well, in recruiting it takes a staff to recruit a kid. And it’s not just the coaching staff – it’s everybody in this building to recruit these kids and their families.”
UNC assistant coach Gunter Brewer explained: “In the recruiting process at Carolina, there are many arms to it.”
The initial “arm” is the area recruiter. UNC’s main recruiting footprint – which generally encompasses the east coast from New Jersey to Florida and extends as far west as Georgia – is broken up into several territories. All nine Tar Heel assistant coaches are assigned territories within the footprint, including a region within NC.
“When you talk about the areas, obviously in-state is the main focus,” Brewer said. “And then as we branch out, we try to stay closer to home.”
Kapilovic added: “You’re bringing to the table all the best kids in your area and then decide as a staff who we’re going to offer and not offer.”
Since taking office, Fedora has preached the importance of keeping the state’s top talent in-state. The most important battle within that war is waged in Charlotte, which is Brewer’s primary territory.
“I’m a guy that doesn’t have a lot of other areas,” Brewer said. “I think maybe in the past, [previous coaches who recruited Charlotte] had Charlotte along with Atlanta along with Tampa along with several other areas. For us, Charlotte is the main focal point – that’s all I really have is metro Charlotte.”
Simply having a recruiter solely focused on Charlotte isn’t the lone ingredient to successfully recruiting the Queen City.
“I think it comes down to the relationships and how well you work the area,” Brewer said. “We’ve done mini clinics and tried to be as visible and have a presence in Charlotte. I think the emphasis you place on it and the time you spend there, that makes the difference. Also, having been in the state before [and] coming back, some of the coaches that I knew and the relationships I’ve built I’ve tried to stay in touch.”
Relationships are one of the reasons why UNC became the landing spot for Hood after he de-committed from Notre Dame.
“I think the turning point was the family aspect of it,” Brewer said. “The family felt like they were very comfortable at the University of North Carolina. It was a place that they felt like he could grow in more aspects than just athletics and admired the family atmosphere. I think that in the end, that was the deciding factor. I think the relationships with the staff and what they saw with the progress of our program. They could see tying for a [division] championship [in 2012] and winning six out of seven games [to end the ’13 season]. They could see the young talent playing and that the future was bright.”
After securing Hood and Spain, Charlotte’s top two recruits, Brewer figures to have a leg up on future classes.
“I don’t think there’s any question that having two big named guys like Hood and Spain allows future recruits to say ‘It is okay to stay in state [because] we can get it done here,’” Brewer said. “There are so many examples of teams turning it around with in-state guys. Guys are realizing that they don’t have to leave the state to be successful and make a name for themselves.”
Two turnaround examples that Brewer points to are Auburn and Missouri, the two SEC Championship combatants that went from bad to first with the aid of local prospects. Auburn, which is located in Alabama less than 45 minutes from the Georgia border, signed six four-star or higher Alabama or Georgia products, including star quarterback Nick Marshall, last February. Missouri, which went from 5-7 in 2012 to 12-2, leaned heavily on Dorial Green-Beckham, a Springfield, Mo. native and the ’12 class’s top recruit.
Regardless of region, identifying recruit-worthy prospects is a combination of watching film and making evaluation visits to as many high schools within your territory as possible. In fact, Fedora has mandated that his assistant coaches visit every high school within their in-state region.
“Probably even more so nowadays because you don’t get to go out as much as you used to you, you have to evaluate initially by film and by your relationships with the high school coaches,” Brewer said. “You can ask those high school coaches ‘Hey, what do you think of Bentley Spain or Elijah Hood?’ What you see on tape is great, but tape is just part of the equation. Their character, their grades, and what other things they are involved with. You have to use your resources – like the high school coach or guidance counselor – and you have to know it’s reliable information, which is established through developing those relationships.”
“It’s all of it – it’s every piece of information we can get,” Kapilovic said. “When we’re looking at these kids, we’re looking at their highlight films, we’re looking at their game films. I’ll get through and see if there’s any video of them at camps they’ve gone to where there’s some one-on-ones or movement – anything I can get my eyes on to watch and evaluate to help assure if this is the guy.
“It’s also calling [high school] coaches and when I can be on the road I’m at the school – and not just showing up, leaving, and checking a box. I let those people get to know me and know that I’m somebody that they can trust and not a snake oil salesman.”
Check back tomorrow for Part II of this three-part series providing a behind-the-scenes look at the UNC staff’s recruiting approach.