Every year around this time Larry Fedora hopes that members of North Carolina’s incoming recruiting class will be able to contribute during their freshman seasons. Now at one position, at least, it’s not so much a hope as it is a desperate need.
UNC’s running back depth chart entering next season includes one player, Durham native Jordon Brown, with any college carries. Which means that UNC will be especially reliant on Michael Carter, who enrolled at UNC in January, and Antwuan Branch, who signed with UNC on Wednesday.
“They don’t have a choice, do they?” Fedora said on Wednesday, reminded that his two incoming freshman running backs will have to contribute. “You know, Antwuan Branch and Michael Carter, they’ve got to come in here and play for us next year. Along with Jordon Brown, that’s what we have.”
Branch, a 6-0, 205-pound back from Clarksville, Tenn., and Carter, the 5-9, 185-pound native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., are part of a 20-man recruiting class that UNC formally announced on Wednesday, the annual college football holiday known as National Signing Day.
The composition of that class had been known for weeks, if not months. By the time signing day arrived the class had mostly been completed. Only Dazz Newsome, a defensive back from Hampton, Va., waited until Wednesday to announce that he was headed to UNC.
Fedora, as he does every year on this day, raved about his incoming class. He spoke of the “high character” of the players within it, and about their “high football IQs” and about how they’d come from strong families.
“I really do believe that his group is going to be part of multiple championships while they’re here,” Fedora said.
It was the kind of typical signing day bluster that college football coaches repeated behind microphones around the country. Yet for UNC there was also some tangible evidence of recruiting progress, especially among in-state prospects.
A year ago, Fedora and his staff didn’t sign one player ranked among the top 10 prospects in North Carolina, according to 247sports.com, a website that specializes in evaluating high school prospects. In this class, UNC signed four such players.
The most heralded among them are Jonah Melton, a 6-3, 305-pound offensive lineman from Mebane, and Jake Lawler, a 6-3, 220-pound defensive lineman from Charlotte. Both Melton and Lawler graduated early from high school and enrolled at UNC last month.
Fedora disputed the thought that he and his staff “did a better job” recruiting the state. He attributed the success among North Carolina prospects to two factors.
“I think not having that black cloud hanging over us in the state, not everybody reporting that the sky is falling on North Carolina every day is a positive thing, and it helps us,” Fedora said, referring to the ongoing NCAA investigation. “I think winning 19 games in the last two years, and that there are only 10, I think, Power 5 schools that have won more games than us in the last two years.
“I think you do those kind of things and I think these kids that are coming out of high school now in the state of North Carolina are seeing nothing but positive things about the program.”
Fedora and his staff clearly prioritized offensive linemen and defensive backs, and that’s reflected in the make up of the class, which includes five offensive linemen and three defensive backs. Melton is the only incoming offensive lineman who enrolled early.
Tre Shaw, a 6-0, 180-pound defensive back from Ellenwood, Ga., also enrolled early. The Tar Heels also took three defensive linemen, three linebackers and two receivers. Wide receiver was a position of need given that UNC’s three best receivers last season were all seniors.
Fedora rejected the thought that the depth at receiver is of concern.
“Nobody knew who Bug Howard was before he got here,” Fedora said, referring to one of UNC’s top receivers last season. “Nobody knew who Mack Hollins was. I mean, those guys developed into great players.
“And we’ve got other guys in this program that we’ve been recruiting and bringing along.”
The cycle continued on Wednesday with the completion of one recruiting class and the official beginning, Fedora said, of the next one.
Tre Shaw: DB, 6-0, 180 pounds, GA - ranked No. 31 cornerback in the nation by ESPN.com. Was an All-State player.
Brian Anderson: OL, 6-3, 290 pounds, AL- Listed as the No. 6 center in the nation by ESPN.com.
Jordan Riley: DL, 6-6, 300 pounds, NC - rated No. 16 defensive tackle by 247sports.com.
Beau Corrales: WR, 6-4, 205 pounds, TX - Caught 90 passes for 1,158 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Jonah Melton: OG, 6-3, 305 pounds, NC - No. 3 rated offensive guard in the country by 247sports.com.
Caleb Rozar: DB, 6-3, 195 pounds, TN - played both safety and cornerback in high school.
Jeremiah Gemmel: OLB 6-1, 210 pounds, GA - Had 101 tackles, 14 tackles for loss and four sacks during senior season.
Malik Robinson: LB 6-0, 225 pounds, GA - ESPN.com’s No. 22 rated inside linebacker.
Antwaun Branch: RB, 6-0, 205 pounds, TN - rushed for 1,852 yards and 22 touchdowns as a senior.
Marcus McKethan: OT, 6-6, 330 pounds, SC - Shrine Bowl selection, No. 2 offensive tackle in South Carolina
Jake Lawler: DE, 6-3, 220 pounds, NC - No. 9 weakside defensive end in the country according to 247sports.
Xach Gill: DE, 6-4, 275 pounds, NC - helped Wake Forest win 4AA state championship. Had 18 sacks, 34 tackles for loss during his senior season.
J.T. Cauthen: WR, 6-1, 220 pounds, NC - Had 60 catches for 981 yards and 12 touchdowns as a senior in high school.
C.J. Cotman: ATH, 5-10, 175 pounds, FL - Member of the ESPN 300, rated the No. 4 athlete in Florida.
Jordan Tucker: OT, 6-6, 335 pounds, GA - rated the No. 55 offensive tackle in the country by ESPN.com
Michael Carter II: RB, 5-9, 185 pounds, FL - USA Today Florida offensive player of the year. Had 3,345 all-purpose yards and 45 touchdowns as a senior in high school.
Kanye Roberts: ATH, 6-3, 200 pounds, TN - Had 2,200 yards and 37 toucdowns on offense, 60 tackles and three intercpetions on defense.
Noah Ruggles: PK, 6-3, 180 pounds, FL - rated the No. 12 place kicker by ESPN.com.
Billy Ross: OT, 6-3, 315 pounds, WV - rated the No. 1 offensive tackle in West Virginia by 247sports.com.
Dazz Newsome: 5-10, 165 pounds, three-star, VA. Would likely play special teams or defensive back. He chose UNC over Virginia Tech and Maryland.