SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- The North Carolina 2011 recruiting class has taken its share of hits due to NCAA investigations into academic fraud and contact with agents, losing commitments such as Everett Golson, Daquan Romero and Jamar Lewter while other commitments like Marquise Williams and Shawn Underwood continue to keep their options open. However, when watching the North Carolina team practice at the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas, you'll find that things aren't looking so bad for the Tar Heels after all on the recruiting trail.
While Williams and Underwood and Brandon Ellerbe get most of the attention because, let's face it, committed players looking around is big news in the recruiting world, there are still eight players on the North Carolina Shrine Bowl roster that currently plan to play their college ball in Chapel Hill. And most of them aren't looking at anyone else.
"You have to put it in the hands of God," said James, who has never wavered from his commitment. "I never really doubted the coaches and what they were telling me and I have faith. There's no reason to look around because I'm content with where I am and where I am going. I picked North Carolina for many reasons that are beyond the NCAA issues."
Brown, who was also very interested in Clemson and others before committing to UNC, agreed.
"I'm not going to say that I didn't have love for Clemson but it just felt a little bit more of a place where I'm at in Chapel Hill," he said. "It's just a good place for me to be especially defensive wise. I felt good about that."
Thorpe, a four-star recruit like James and Brown with plenty of other options, has also kept the faith and chose UNC for more reasons than just football.
"I'm real excited. I can't wait to get there. I can't wait to get a jump (by enrolling in January) and playing some more football, just get around the coaches, and most of all just get away from the house," said Thorpe. "I know the ones that are now committed are definitely committed. We're all just now starting to get to know each other better, just hanging out and having fun. "
Ebron and Riley also chimed in.
"It's solid. I'm not going nowhere that I know of," said Ebron of his commitment to the Tar Heels. "I definitely know I'm not. My mom likes it. Everybody likes it. My dad is cool with it. It's solid."
"The school took pretty good control over the situation themselves, so hopefully the NCAA won't be as hard on them," said Riley. "It's real cool. I think there's like eight of us (UNC commitments) here, so it's crazy. We're just getting to know each other a little bit better, because I'm going to be living with them for four or five years, so we're just getting to know each other."
Even Underwood, who is taking at least another official visit in January, talked about his love of UNC football.
"This is an awesome experience being around these guys. You get to basically build friendships and everything like that. You get to see people's attitudes and things like that, and probably make a couple of friends for life---you never know," he said. "You get a feel for how their (the other UNC commitments') personalities are and how it's going to be there when you get to the school. As for right now it's going to be a lot of laughing from this class because these guys are some clowns. I'm also a clown too, so maybe I'll add something to it. I'm probably like 85 (percent committed to UNC)."
Underwood said he will likely take an official visit to NC State in January while Ellerbe will visit Clemson in January. Williams has already visited Virginia Tech (as well as NC State and Michigan) and will make his final decision between the Tar Heels and Hokies in late December.
With UNC being the focus of the NCAA world prior to Cam Netwon stealing the headlines, things have gone well for Butch Davis and his staff and they have a chance to close strong. The first part of that is keeping the current class intact, especially by keeping Williams, Underwood and Ellerbe in the fold. If they can do that and add some top targets down the stretch, consider this one of the better recruiting jobs in recent years.
Fayetteville (N.C.) Jack Britt tight end Eric MacLain is a veteran of the recruiting wars. How much so? His first verbal commitment was made to the Tennessee Volunteers - when Phillip Fulmer was the head coach. That sure seems like a long time ago.
It all started off in the Summer of 2008 when MacLain was at the end of his freshman season and was a camp standout in Knoxville. Tennessee assistant coach Dan Brooks and Fulmer offered MacLain and he fulfilled a lifetime goal of becoming a Vol. Little did he know that his dream would soon be crushed but he would be re-united with Brooks down the line at another school.
When Fulmer was fired, hotshot coach Lane Kiffin arrived and one of his first priorities was to make sure MacLain knew he was wanted. The 6-foot-5, 245-pounder re-affirmed his commitment to Tennessee and was even more excited about his future as a Volunteer than ever. Surely Kiffen would be at Tennessee for years to come and MacLain would be a big part of building the Vols brand again. Not so fast.
When Kiffin bolted last January for USC, Derek Dooley was hired and MacLain waited for the new coach to reach out to him quickly as Kiffin did. And he waited…..and waited…and waited.
"I didn't hear from him at all at first and I keep seeing that uncommitted players were being contacted and offered and it became obvious to me that I wasn't a priority," he said. "I was heartbroken, I really was. I had always dreamed of playing for Tennessee and saw two coaches leave, a third coach come in and I didn't seem to be in their plans. That's when I started opening things up again."
And that's when Brooks re-entered MacLain's life. Brooks, now at Clemson, asked him to come down for a visit and see if he liked things. MacLain didn't intend to commit on the visit, but after seeing other programs like Virginia Tech, Auburn and Tennessee (again), he fell in love with Clemson and chose a school for different reasons this time around.
"I love coach Brooks, but this time around I picked a school for the players," he said. "I really got along well with everyone on the visit and I know the players will be there even if the coaches aren't. I learned the hard way that recruiting is a business and it needs to be treated like a business. So I made a business-like decision in my mind and I couldn't be happier."
Since his commitment in April, MacLain has not looked back and feels like a veteran of recruiting.
"Man it seems like a long time since I committed to coach Fulmer," he laughed. "I've been on a unique journey to say the least but I think it's made me stronger and more mature as I head into the next chapter. I'm excited about the next step at Clemson and I think things turned out this way for a reason."
Being such a veteran of recruiting, MacLain will try to use his wisdom to help the Tigers add to its 2011 class.
"I'm working hard on Stephone Anthony to try to get him to come to Clemson," he said. "I think we have a good chance. I'm in his ear, you can bet because I want the best players to compete against and to make Clemson better. My teammate Devonte (Brown) really loved it at North Carolina and committed there, but I'm not giving up on him either. I might as well give it a try. I plan on becoming one of the top recruiters for Clemson in this class and beyond."
Much of the space in these notebooks since the beginning of the week has been devoted to the big names at the Shrine Bowl practices. However, there have been quite a few sleepers who have emerged during the week and could end up at FBS schools in the end. Here are a few of them…
OL Devin Flowers - Can a three star be a sleeper? He can if he doesn't have any FBS offers and that's the case with Flowers. There is no doubt that the Charlotte (N.C.) Mallard Creek lineman can play not only at the D-I level, but it's not a stretch to think he can do it at a BCS level program.
OL Jairon Harrison - Someone needs to offer this kid. He has a good body with very little bad weight at over 300 pounds, he anchors really well and he moves his feet. The James Island (S.C.) James Island School sleeper can play at a FBS level with a chance.
WR David Frazier - The Irmo, S.C., receiver isn't a burner, but he is a good route runner and he catches most everything thrown his way. He's currently committed to Elon, but it wouldn't be a stunner to see a smaller FBS school take a shot at him.
TE Derell Lamb - Lamb certainly looks the part at 6 feet 6 and 265 pounds and he moves very well. The Teachey (N.C.) Wallace Rose Hill School prospect has a D-I body and should get some serious looks.
DB La'Quavas Watt - No one has more interceptions and pass breakups on the South Carolina squad than Watt who always seems to be around the ball. The Abbevile, S.C., standout changes direction well and has adequate size for a safety.
LB Quinn Backus - He might be undersized and a stretch for FBS teams as a linebacker and he's not fast enough to be a safety, but he is a 'baller and a hitter and could be one of those overachievers at a small FBS school.
DB L.J. Stroman - He's not big, but he is very good in coverage and seems to be able to run with everyone. He has been one of the best cornerbacks in practice all week. The Rockingham (N.C.) Richmond County defensive back should get a few looks.
They are half brothers, Shrine Bowl teammates and on the same defensive line for the Sandlappers this week and in Saturday's game. And they are also likely a package deal to one school. While Gerald Dixon from Rock Hill (S.C.) South Pointe has more options than his half brother Gerald Dixon Jr. (South Carolina offer) from Rock Hill (S.C.) Northwestern with the likes of Arkansas, Michigan State, Wake Forest and others recruiting, it appears that the duo will end up in Columbia playing at South Carolina together.
Academics could be an issue as well as the ability of South Carolina to sign both in the 2011 class so they might not arrive at the same time in Columbia, but they should both be Gamecocks in the end if all goes well.
NEWS AND NOTES
Summerton (S.C.) Scotts Branch athlete Jerell Adams is currently a 'tweener between wide receiver and tight end with his 6-foot-5, 220-pound frame and ability to stretch the field or he could play defensive end in college. Right now the standout has three schools on his mind - South Carolina, Clemson and Arkansas - with official visits set to all three. South Carolina leads Clemson with Arkansas running a distant third according to most. He will visit the Razorbacks on Jan. 7, follow that with a visit to Clemson on Jan. 14 and finish with an official to South Carolina on Jan. 21. Adams has been favoring the Gamecocks throughout much of the process.
Manning, S.C., defensive tackle Phillip Dukes is a man of few words so it's hard to get a feel for who leads in this recruiting battle. However, barring a surprise, Dukes will end up in state it seems. South Carolina gets the last crack at him with an official visit on Jan. 21 and Clemson gets him on campus on Jan. 14. Alabama would have to pull a stunner to steal him away from the Gamecocks and Tigers but they did land his former teammate and friend, John Fulton, last year. But that doesn't seem to be a factor for Dukes and it's pretty certain he will end up in state. Right now more sources feel that the Gamecocks have the edge, but it's too close to call. Dukes missed much of Wednesday's practice with an ankle injury.
For the second day in a row, Jadeveon Clowney dressed, warmed up and then stood around and watched practice, once again resting an injured ankle. In fact, he left practice 45 minutes into the afternoon session and never returned. It is unclear at this time if he will play in the actual game on Saturday or not but with each missed practice it appears less and less likely.