When Mack Brown was hired in November, he said he wanted to put a fence around the state and make the University of North Carolina the “cool” place to be for in-state recruits.
The problem was, he had less than a month to convince recruits that UNC was it. The early signing period began on Dec. 19, less than a month after he was hired. Roughly 80 percent of recruits signed during the Early Signing Period last year, according to data by 247sports.
But Brown managed to sign 18 recruits on Wednesday, including the No. 2 player in the state Sam Howell. Brown is also expected to sign another in-state recruit, four-star wide receiver, Khafre Brown, on Thursday.
Some of the players who had committed to UNC when Larry Fedora was coach, stayed.
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“The high school coaches that we dealt with in the last three weeks were tremendous,” Brown said. “They helped us. They tried to let us catch up.”
Nine of the 19 recruits UNC will have signed by Thursday are from North Carolina.
Brown said the plan going forward will be to build the team from within the state, and then go out and find the “out-of-state” superstars.
“I think guys want to stay at home,” Brown said. “If you can find what you want at home, you’ll stay. Your parents can see you play. Your friends can see you play. Your high school coach can see you play. It’s our job to make sure that we have a product that’s the cool place to be and something they would like to be involved with.”
Howell, who is the No. 3 pro-style quarterback in the country by 247sports, initially committed to Florida State. But after FSU offensive coordinator Walt Bell left for a head coaching job at UMass, Howell re-opened his recruitment.
On Wednesday afternoon, he chose UNC, where he will enroll in January.
“I think he’s got some Baker Mayfield in him,” Brown said, referring to the Cleveland Browns’ starting quarterback and former Oklahoma star, who was also a Heisman Trophy winner.
Brown said Howell’s signing sends a message to other players in the state that UNC will go after the best in-state recruits.
Of the 18 recruits UNC signed, one is four-star prospect, one is a two-star prospect, and 16 are three-star prospects, according to 247sports.
Storm Duck, a three-star defensive back from Boiling Springs, S.C., who was initially recruited by Fedora’s staff said he chose UNC because of the university. He said he liked the people, including Brown and new cornerbacks coach Dre Bly.
“Their pitch was let’s go to work and turn this program around,” Duck said. “I got to talk to them a lot when I went on my official. Being around them made me want to get to Carolina right then.”
The Early Signing Period ends on Dec. 21. Khafre Brown, who plays for West Mecklenburg High in Charlotte, announced on Twitter that he would sign with the Tar Heels on Thursday. His brother is UNC freshman wide receiver Dyami Brown. He will be the 19th signee.
After Dec. 21, UNC has one more chance to sign players. National Signing Day is on Feb. 6. Brown said he will be looking for cornerbacks, linebackers, and offensive and defensive lineman.
UNC will take the biggest hit on the defensive side of the ball. UNC had at least six seniors on defensive who started at some point this past season, including four on the defensive line, one safety and one linebacker. It will likely return the majority of its offensive starters.
As of Wednesday afternoon, UNC had the 36th ranked recruiting class in the country, and sixth out of 14 teams in the ACC. By comparison, N.C. State is ranked third in the ACC, and Duke is ranked eighth. Prior to Fedora’s departure last month, UNC had the 61st ranked recruiting class after a 2-9 season and was ranked 12th in the ACC. It was UNC’s second consecutive losing season.
List of players signed
1. Storm Duck, DB, 6-1, 180, Boiling Springs, S.C., Boiling Springs High
2. Sam Howell, QB, 6-1, 225, Monroe, N.C., Sun Valley High
3. Khadry Jackson, LB, 6-2, 200, Windermere, Fla. Windermere Prep
4. Emery Simmons, WR, 6-2, 190, Parkton, N.C., Southview High
5. Whyatt Tunall, OL, 6-5, 270, Chester, S.C., Chester High
6. Giovanni Biggers, DB, 6-1, 175, Columbia, Md. Boys’ Latin
7. Obi Egbuna, DB, 5-11, 180, Charlotte, Charlotte Christian
8. Tomari Fox, DL, 6-3, 250, Lawrenceville, Ga. Collins Hill
9. Josh Henderson, RB, 6-1, 205, Pennington, N.C., Hun School
10. Kevin Hester Jr., DL, 6-5, 255, Kennesaw, Ga., North Cobb,
11. Ben Kiernan, P, 6-0, 205, Raleigh, Wakefield,
12. Drew Little, DS, 5-11, 225, Richfield, N.C., North Stanly
13. Triston Miller, OL, 6-6, 290, Charlotte, Charlotte Country Day
14. Kamari Morales, TE, 6-3, 235, Buck Lake, Fla., Lincoln
15. Justin Olson, WR, 6-2, 185, Huntersville, North Mecklenburg
16. Asim Richards, OL, 6-5, 285, Philadephia, Pa. Haverford School
17. Welton Spottsville, WR, 6-0, 200, Havelock N.C., Havelock
18. Kristian Varner, DL, 6-4, 240, Hiram, Ga., Hiram