Fortunately for the Tar Heel fan base, head coach Butch Davis and his coaching staff are known commodities in the ever-changing, super-competitive world of college football recruiting. It would be logical to think that the Carolina program could take a collective deep breath following the season-ending victory over Duke on Nov. 24, but that could not be further from the truth.
Recruiting has become a year-round activity. For evidence, just check out Davis’ opening statement from his postseason post conference designed to address the highs and lows of the Tar Heels’ 4-8 mark this fall.
“If you’re going to assess the 2007 season, I think you have to start with where we’ve come in the last 12 months, and it starts with the very first recruiting class,” Davis said. “I think that was the beginning of the signal that we were moving in the right direction. Having a very positive recruiting class was a definite move forward for the program.”
There are plenty of clichés available about recruiting being the lifeblood of a program, but the first-year UNC head coach’s haul last February lit a fire under supporters and fans alike. After all, for the first time in over a decade, Signing Day was cause for celebration – North Carolina garnered letter-of-intent signatures from elite-level prospects such as Marvin Austin, Greg Little, Mike Paulus, Kevin Bryant and Dwight Jones.
Compare that success to the devastating events of Signing Day 2002, when UNC lost three commitments and numerous head-to-head battles for top recruits in the final hours.
The lingering effects of that recruiting nightmare served only to build pessimism throughout the North Carolina fan base, but Davis’ reputation as a recruiter and talent evaluator have calmed the nerves and replaced the hesitancy of hope with an abundance of confidence with eight weeks remaining before Signing Day ’08.
“We’re off to a great start in recruiting and we’re optimistic about it,” Davis said about his program, which currently has seven known commitments. “It’s never easy 6-7-8 weeks prior to Signing Day – it’s going to be a grind. But you’re optimistic about it and you’re hoping that you have a positive recruiting class and I think that we’re moving in that direction.”
It obviously helps having a nationally-renowned recruiter like John Blake as your recruiting coordinator. Longtime recruiting analyst Tom Lemming recently tabbed the UNC defensive line coach as one of the country’s top recruiters over the last decade.
Blake indicated that North Carolina’s national name recognition in both athletics and academics made for an easy sell to recruits during an interview on CSTV’s "Generation Next" last month.
“You’ve got to know what young men are looking for, and what their parents are looking for,” Blake said. “People think it’s always about national championships, but that’s not always the case, because there are a lot of kids that play on national championship teams that are not happy, or don’t get to play and are not successful, and then maybe leave that university not having changed as young men.
"So the things that I sell don’t always have to deal with national championships. Now that is my ultimate goal – to win a conference championship and a national championship – but the championship that I want to win is developing a young man himself.”
Davis echoed his longtime friend’s comments, while adding that having such a great product to sell makes it simple to focus on just the University of North Carolina.
“I absolutely don’t care about any of the other competition,” Davis said. “We just talk about Carolina. We talk about the great academics that we have here, where the program is headed, the quality of the assistant coaching staff – I feel like we’ve got one of the best coaching staffs in the entire country, and players are going to come here and they are going to love to play for them.
“And the best testimony that we’ve got are our own players. I say, ‘Wait until you get a chance to talk to Deunta Williams and Marvin Austin and Kentwan Balmer and Hilee Taylor. What did they think about this year? What do they think about the direction and where this program is headed?’”
The players’ roles in the recruiting process cannot be underestimated. While the coaching staff is only permitted 20 hours a week with their roster during their season and even less in the offseason, recruits will end up spending far more time with their future teammates off the field and out of the locker room.
Davis values input from his players on how certain prospects interact with current team members, and he counts on individuals like Williams to sell the University and the program to any visitors on either official or unofficial visits.
“He’s one of the best recruiters we’ve got,” Davis said of Williams, a redshirt freshman safety. “He’s doing it all for this University. He loves to know what players are coming in for official visits [and] he wants to be involved in hosting them.”
Check back later this week for Part II...