Heels missing on top in-state recruits more than usual?

With National Signing Day still eight months away for the 2016 class, six of the top 10 football players in the state of North Carolina (based on the 247Sports Composite rankings) have already made their college decision. Of those six prospects, not one chose North Carolina.

For decades, keeping the best players in the state has been a challenge for schools in North Carolina, even with four major programs in the area. While Duke and Wake Forest often do a lot of recruiting outside of state borders, North Carolina and NC State regularly pursue the most talented nearby players. Much of the time, they still struggle to land them.

Larry Fedora is the latest Tar Heel coach to stress the importance of “building a fence” and not allowing the most heralded in-state players to leave for programs such as Tennessee, Clemson, Georgia, Florida and Florida State. When it comes to the cream of the crop, however, the result has remained the same. In fact, UNC is struggling even more than usual when it comes to signing the state’s most highly rated players.

The Heels’ last two signing classes have consisted of only three top-10 in-state players, which ties for the lowest number they’ve signed in any two-year span over the last decade. With just one such player in the 2015 class and only two in the 2014 class, it’s also the only time in the last 10 years the program has gone two consecutive classes without signing at least three of North Carolina’s top 10 recruits.

In his three full recruiting classes as UNC’s head coach, Fedora has signed an average of two players ranked in the state’s top 10 per year. By comparison, Butch Davis averaged 3.5 per year in four full classes (Fedora’s first “partial” class in 2012 consisted of no top-10 players, while Davis’ first “partial” class in 2007 included four).

A couple factors at play can help explain why the Tar Heels aren’t luring in as many of the top athletes. First and foremost, UNC was down 15 total scholarships and five per year in 2012, 2013 and 2014. In addition to that, years worth of negative headlines surrounding the school’s well-documented academic scandal (as well as an agent scandal in 2010) have put Fedora’s staff at a disadvantage when compared to past coaching staffs.

Another issue is the amount of time that has passed since North Carolina last enjoyed national success on the gridiron. The program hasn’t won nine games in a season since 1997, which also happened to be the last time the Heels finished the season in the Top 25. With no ACC titles since 1980, no player UNC is recruiting was even born within 15 years of the school’s last conference championship.

No matter the reason, the decline in high-level in-state recruits choosing Fedora’s program is apparent, and it likely won’t end with the 2015 class. Of the state’s four uncommitted top-10 players in the class of 2016, it’s debatable whether North Carolina is a serious contender for any.

Despite the dropoff, Fedora and his staff aren’t going to stop pursuing top in-state players anytime soon. But if the decline continues, it won’t take long before the results are seen on the field.

PosSeniorsJuniorsSophomoresRedshirt FreshmanFreshman2015 Total
QBTim ByerlyJustin ThomasMatthew JordanChristian Campbell4
A-BACKBroderick SnoddyJ.J. GreenClinton LynchTaQuon Marshall7
Qua SearcyNathan Cottrell
Omahri Jarrett
B-BACKPatrick ScovMarcus AllenC.J. LeggettMikell Lands-Davis6
Marcus Marshall
Quaide Welmerskirch
WRMicheal SummersRicky JeuneHarland Howell6
Antonio MessickChristian Philpott
Brad Stewart
OTBryan ChamberlainEason FromayanTrey KlockWill Bryan7
Errin JoeChris GriffinJake Stickler
OGTrey BraunShamire DevineJake WhitleyBrad Morgan5
Gary Brown
CFreddie BurdenAndrew Marshall2
DTAdam GotsisPat GambleAntonio SimmonsKyle Cerge-Henderson8
Jabari Hunt-DaysFrancis KallonBrentavious Glanton
Scott Morgan
DERod Rook-ChungongKeShun FreemanAnree Saint-Amour7
Kenderius WhiteheadTyler MerriweatherTrent Sellers
Tyler Stargel
CBD.J. WhiteLynn GriffinStep DurhamMeiko Dotson8
Chris MiltonCorey GriffinDorian Walker
Dante Wigley
SJamal GoldenShaun KagawaJalen JohnsonDavid Curry9
Demond SmithLance AustinA.J. Gray
Lawrence Austin
John Marvin
LBAnthony HarrellP.J. DavisTerrell LewisTre JacksonVictor Alexander10
Domonique NobleBeau HankinsTyler Cooksey
Tyler MarcordesBrant Mitchell
LSSean Tobin1
PRyan Rodwell1
KHarrison Butker1