RALEIGH — A trip to Florida used to be an unofficial homecoming for about a third of N.C. States football team.
That wont be the case Saturday in Miami. Only three Wolfpack players are from the state (a fourth, running back James Washington from Orlando, is out with an ankle injury).
For all the personality differences between coach Tom OBrien and his predecessor, Chuck Amato, maybe the biggest difference is their approach to recruiting in Florida.
Amato, who was an assistant at Florida State for 18 years before taking the N.C. State job in 2000, prioritized recruiting in Florida, specifically the talent-rich southern portion of the state.
Amatos first four N.C. State teams finished with a bowl game in Florida, which by 2005, meant a high-water mark of 31 players on the roster from the state. Several of the Packs Florida products, notably Stephen Tulloch and Marcus Hudson, were NFL draft picks. Between 04 and 05, N.C. State had six players from Killian High in Miami.
By comparison, there were 29 in-state players on the 05 N.C. State roster.
"There are great players in North Carolina, but the state of Florida has the numbers," Amato said during practice for the Gator Bowl in December 2002.
A lot has changed under OBrien. The Florida connection consists of safety Brandon Bishop (Boca Raton), cornerback Jarvis Byrd (Pahokee), receiver Tyrrell Burriss (Daytona Beach) and Washington. Bishop is the only current starter, although Byrd and Washington have been regulars when healthy.
There are also more in-state FBS options for Florida recruits than when Amato was the Wolfpack coach. Florida International (in Miami) and Florida Atlantic (in Boca Raton) became Football Bowl Subdivision programs in 2004. South Florida (in Tampa), which went to the FBS level in 2001, has been ranked in the Top 10 in recent years and has a stronger foothold in the state.
And, of course, theres still Florida, Florida State and Miami, which each built national programs in the 1990s largely as a result of in-state recruiting. Alabama and Ohio State are just two of the national programs that regularly mine the state.
N.C. State has had more recruiting success in Georgia, with 17 scholarship players, compared to 26 from North Carolina.
"We never really stopped recruiting (Florida)," OBrien said. "We made a more concerted effort to get into Georgia because we thought it was closer and had as many good athletes."
Established relationships by assistants, OBrien said, helps explain the drop in Florida recruits and upswing in Georgia recruits. Two of Amatos top recruiters, Doc Holliday and Manny Diaz, had deep Florida connections, and Andy McCollum, OBriens top recruiter before he left for Georgia Tech in 2010, built a network in the state of Georgia.
Georgia has been good to OBriens staff, but North Carolina has been better. Seven starters for Saturdays game are from in-state, compared to five from Georgia.
Of the players that OBrien recruited who were drafted in April, three were from North Carolina. All-American cornerback David Amerson, a projected first-round pick if he enters this Aprils draft, is from Greensboro.
"You start in your home state and you work from there," OBrien said.
Next years trip to Florida State might be a bigger deal for N.C. State. The Wolfpack has already signed five recruits in the class of 2013 from Florida.