Charlotte recruiting coordinator Phil Ratliff thinks its probably coincidence that so many players from Indian Trail Porter Ridge High are playing for the 49ers this season.
But Ratliff also concedes there are reasons why four former Pirates dot the 49ers first roster more than any other high school. And that goes straight to some key recruiting tenets of the 49ers (3-2), who face 25th-ranked Gardner-Webb (4-1) at noon Saturday at Richardson Stadium.
Three of the 49ers former Pirates are redshirt freshmen: starting center Thomas La Bianca, backup quarterback Lee McNeill and backup kicker Stephen Muscarello. Running back Damarrell Alexander is a redshirt sophomore who transferred from UNC Pembroke.
Regardless of where youre recruiting, you want to be in places that know how to win and where youve trust in the coaches and they trust you, said Ratliff. So I dont know if that makes it a coincidence or not. But this is a special group of young men that have come from an excellent program.
Porter Ridge opened in 2005. But it didnt take long for the football team to flourish under former coach Blair Harden, finishing as N.C. 4A state runner-up in 2011 and 12.
Its the same for us here at Charlotte now, Muscarello said. We didnt have traditions at Porter Ridge and we dont have any here yet. But we want to get a winning tradition soon, and were doing it the right way like we did at Porter Ridge. Hopefully that will carry over here.
La Bianca, McNeill and Muscarello grew up together in Indian Trail, just across the Mecklenburg County line southeast of Charlotte in Union County. They played on soccer and basketball teams from elementary school through high school.
One of the reasons Thomas is so successful now is because of his soccer days, said Muscarello of the 6-foot-3, 295-pound La Bianca. Hes so athletic for a big guy. But thats why he stopped playing soccer, when he gained all that weight.
La Bianca and McNeill are roommates at Charlotte. Neither of them originally planned on playing for the 49ers: La Bianca first committed to Coastal Carolina, while McNeill wanted to attend Appalachian State.
Its really nice to have your best friends still with you, said McNeill, who threw for more than 5,900 yards at Porter Ridge and was offensive MVP of the 2011 state championship game. Youve got experience with them from growing up, and now youre experiencing new things with them. Thats very cool.
McNeill is behind starting quarterback Matt Johnson, but has played in all five games. Hes completed 5-of-9 passes for 15 yards. He also had a perfect 4.0 GPA through his first two semesters at Charlotte.
La Bianca is the 49ers starting center and has helped the offense averages 445.4 yards per game. Muscarello hasnt seen any action yet as the backup toanother local product, Blake Brewer of Concords Cannon School.
Alexander plays behind running backs Alan Barnwell and Kalif Phillips. Hes gained 146 yards for the season, averaging five yards per carry.
A fifth player from Porter Ridge, Chris Duffy, signed with the 49ers in February but is attending junior college at Georgia Military this season for academic reasons. Duffys recruitment is open again, but 49ers coaches are hopeful he will re-sign with Charlotte after playing as a defensive back at Georgia Military.
The 49ers arent recruiting Porter Ridge much this season. But that doesnt mean they wont be back.
We want to do a good job on recruiting our local and North Carolina schools, Ratliff said. Its great that we can find players from a winning program like Porter Ridge. That rubs off on our other players.
Scott: 704-358-5889; Twitter: @davidscott14
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