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UNC, Fedora turn time and relationships into signing day haul

By Andrew Carter
acarter@newsobserver.com
CATHOLIC_COUNTRYDAY_11
Jeff Siner - jsiner@charlotteobserver.com
Five members of the 2014 UNC football recruiting class already were on campus Wednesday as early enrollees – including Elijah Hood, above, the running back from Charlotte Catholic who is considered one of the top prospects in the nation. The remaining recruits sent in their signed letters of intent before 9:30 Wednesday morning.

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CHAPEL HILL North Carolina coach Larry Fedora scrambled to put together his first recruiting class in less than two months. More than two years later, he spoke with pride about a recruiting class that, in some ways, has been years in the making.

Time and experience have been assets in many ways for Fedora, but perhaps in recruiting most of all. UNC introduced its class Wednesday on national signing day, but the class was mostly finished six months ago.

“Probably the best thing about the entire class is that all but two of these guys were locked in before July,” Fedora said of the 22-player class, which is ranked fourth-best in the ACC. “So our coaching staff did an unbelievable job getting out there and working extremely hard and getting these guys in the boat very early.”

Nationally, signing day came with its usual intrigue and suspense. At UNC, though, there was none.

Five members of the class already were on campus as early enrollees – including Elijah Hood, the running back from Charlotte Catholic who is considered one of the top prospects in the nation. The remaining recruits sent in their signed letters of intent before 9:30 Wednesday morning.

UNC’s class, which Rivals.com ranks 23rd in the nation and fourth in the ACC behind Florida State, Clemson and Miami, was the result of years of relationship building that Fedora began when he was hired. This was the Tar Heels’ first class to reflect that kind of long-term work.

“So this one, you could say we were able to recruit these kids, actually, for two years,” Fedora said. “I mean, other than the last few that we got on late. But a lot of these guys we were able to recruit for a good full two years. And now you’re talking about establishing relationships.

“Now you not only know Robert Dinkins, you know his mom, you know his dad – you know everybody in the family, you know everybody that’s important to him. … And then he knows us.”

Dinkins, a defensive lineman from Charlotte’s Olympic High, was one of UNC’s earliest commitments. Fedora said Dinkins had visited campus so many times he already had a good understanding of Fedora’s personality.

“He knows every flaw that I have,” Fedora said. “Because he’s been around me. There’s no way I can put on a show for him every time he’s on this campus. So he’s been here so many times, he knows coach Fedora inside and out. He knows I’m a lot nicer when I’m sitting on the couch talking to him than when I am on the football field.”

Fedora and his staff did plenty of good work in living rooms in recent months – especially those in Charlotte. Dinkins is one of five signees from Charlotte, and UNC successfully recruited two of the best players in the state from Charlotte to Chapel Hill.

Hood backed out of a commitment to Notre Dame in the fall before picking UNC. The Tar Heels didn’t have to travel far to find another player, Bentley Spain, whom they hope will have a hand in Hood’s success.

Like Hood, Spain, a 6-foot-6 offensive lineman from Charlotte’s Providence High, enrolled early. Fedora described Spain as “by far the best offensive lineman in the state.” Hood’s arrival, though, has been the most anticipated.

Hood was considered the top prospect in the state, and he’ll join a backfield that includes sophomore Romar Morris and freshmen T.J. Logan and Khris Francis.

“We want to keep the best players in the state at home,” Fedora said. “And I think you got him, you’ve got Bentley Spain. Guys like that – those eight guys from the state are actually seeing what’s happening here in Chapel Hill. They see the future. They understand what we’re preaching, and they’re seeing it on the field.”

As most coaches are prone to do on national signing day, Fedora raved about a class that he said filled his team’s needs – a class with 10 defensive and 12 offensive players. This was UNC’s final class, too, to be subject to scholarship limitations levied as punishment for impermissible benefits and academic fraud.

Because of those sanctions, UNC had three fewer scholarships to use and couldn’t take chances.

While some coaches anxiously spent signing day waiting on recruits to make up their minds, Fedora spent a large portion of it making calls. He said he and his assistants spoke with “somewhere around 80 kids” from the class of 2015.

“So I have done a lot of talking today,” he said, “and I’m tired of talking, actually.”

Carter: 919-829-8944; Twitter: @_andrewcarter
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