When Nick Appel gave his verbal commitment to UNC, the first reaction of most was, “Who?” How did UNC come to get a verbal commitment from someone who was off the radar screen?
“Nick Appel, from Bishop O’Connell in Virginia, he came to our camp, and we measured him at 6-6, and he was 300 pounds, and he ran a 5.0 --something - a 5.01, or 5.06 or something like that -- and he is an honor student guy, and no one had recruited him when he came down here,” said UNC’s offensive line coach.
“He had been to some camps, and we were talking about him, and Butch said to me, ‘What about 6-6, 300, 5.06, 3-something grade-point-average don’t you like, Sam?’
“And I said, ‘I like all of it.’ It was the first day of camp. So we liked him. O-line recruiting is a little bit different, it just is. Some kids come from great competition, and they’ve got competition on their team, and some guys come in and they run the wing-T, and they’ve down-blocked their whole life, you’ve never seen them in pass pro(tection).
“With Nick, we did everything we could with pulling drills - we pulled him, we ran him, we did change of direction, we pass pro’d him. We did all of that and he did it all well. So we just offered him.”
That’s how Nick Appel became a Tar Heel. Russell Bodine was receiving more attention from other schools, but he wasn’t exactly a name that was on every recruiting fanatic’s list either.
“With Russell Bodine, we were looking for a center bad - at the time, we needed a center,” Pittman said. “I saw him on film, and he was really a “finish” guy. I mean, he was a mean, nasty player that could explode. You could see that he was very strong, my only question mark was how big was he?
“Come to find out, on film he was about 270 pounds. He came in here (on Junior Day) and he was about 6-4, about 290. I asked him to stay back, and asked Butch if he would offer him a scholarship. Now he is about 300 and just strong as an ox, very smart, comes from a very good program at Fork Union, had a good coach there in Mickey Sullivan, and Mikey loves him. We think we have our center of the future there.
“In the meantime, if (Jonathan) Cooper is the center or whatever, then we will play (Bodine) at guard for a while and have a center later on down the road.”
Neither player ever wavered, even though Bodine did have to fend off efforts down the stretch. Both are a part of a class than includes five-star James Hurst and four-star T.J. Leifheit, which Scout.com ranks as the sixth-best offensive line class in the nation.
How did Pittman sell these kids on UNC? One of the ways was to offer them the opportunity to go against one of the toughest defensive lines in college football next year.
“It was a big seller in getting T.J. Leifheit and James Hurst, and Bodine and those guys here, because I told them they’d go play against the best in the country every day in practice,” Pittman said. “You’re going to do one or two things, you’re going to find out about the kid because you’re not going to get him because he doesn’t want to come in and compete there, or you’re going to find out that he’s what you want.
“Those guys are going to embrace that.”
Check back tomorrow for Part III from Inside Carolina’s one-on-one interview with Sam Pittman …