North Carolina's top college football prospects are hitting the road again this year.
Five players on the ESPN.com top 10 list in the state have committed to out-of-state schools and ESPN recruiting analyst Dave Hooker wouldn't be surprised to see the other five choose to leave.
Traditionally, many of the top players have left the state to play college football, but a combination of factors might make this year's senior exodus even more pronounced.
"The state of North Carolina is in play this year," Hooker said. "The coaching change at the University of North Carolina opens things even more than usual and other schools are coming into the state looking for their players."
Leading the charge to the exits is D.J. Humphries (6-foot-5, 265 pounds, Charlotte Mallard Creek), who is the top-ranked offensive linemen in the country. He is committed to Florida and didn't have an in-state school among his top five.
"He has an NFL lineman's body. He is not just a big guy; he is an athlete," Hooker said. "He could put on 40 or 50 pounds in college and be huge. He is a fantastic prospect."
Western Guilford offensive tackle Brock Stadnick (6-5, 285) and Monroe Sun Valley receiver Jody Fuller (6-0, 200) are big-time recruits as well and they say they are going to South Carolina. Charlotte Berry receiver Germone Hopper (6-0, 165) is committed to Clemson.
Safety Rhaheim Ledbetter of Shelby (5-11, 190) also is committed to Florida.
Charlotte Mallard Creek receiver Jamel Harbison (6-0, 190) is headed to Minnesota, which is suddenly showing up on the North Carolina recruiting radar. Minnesota also has a commitment from Broughton linebacker Drew Davis.
Defensive end Jonathan Bullard of Shelby Crest (6-4, 255) is expected to pick from among Florida, Nebraska, Alabama, Clemson, Tennessee, Miami, South Carolina and Auburn. Forest City Chase defensive lineman Carlos Watkins (6-4, 275) has Clemson, Alabama, Florida and South Carolina on his list.
Competition is stiff
Millbrook running back Keith Marshall and Durham Hillside defensive lineman Jamal Marcus are considering in-state schools, but have strong out-of-state options.
Marshall (5-11, 190) is ESPN's No. 1-ranked tailback prospect in the country and the top-ranked recruit in North Carolina. He is considering the Tar Heels, but his list includes many of the top programs in the country.
ESPN's Hooker said Marshall's combination of great grades, great ability and great speed gives him the opportunity to attend essentially any school he wants.
"You watch the tape and he leaps off at you," Hooker said. "He really didn't get his name out much this summer at camps or combines, but everybody already knew him."
Marshall plans official visits to Georgia, Notre Dame and Florida and recently told Chad Simmons, the national recruiting analyst for the scout.com recruiting site, that he is thinking about a visit to Alabama, Florida State, Southern California or Virginia Tech.
"My personal opinion is that Marshall's decision will come down to North Carolina, Georgia or Notre Dame," Simmons said. "He hasn't done a lot of talking, but he really doesn't want to come off as bragging about offers and that type of thing."
Winning would help
Hillside's Marcus (6-2, 219) was leaning toward North Carolina before Butch Davis was removed as coach. Marcus still is interested in the Tar Heels, but is being recruited by Auburn, Florida, N.C. State, Southern Cal, Wake Forest and East Carolina.
Simmons said there are plenty of quality in-state players who will go to in-state schools, "but if you are talking about the five-star and four-star players, most of them look like they are leaving," he said.
Scout.com has Marshall and Humphries as five-star players, the top level. Watkins, Bullard, Brock Stadnick, Hopper, Ledbetter and Charlotte Berry linebacker Nick Dawson (6-2, 215) are four stars.
Hooker said the best way to keep the top players here is for in-state teams to win more games.
"If a team in North Carolina could win 10 games, it probably would help a lot," Hooker said. "It wouldn't help so much in February 2012, but it would help in the future."
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