Larry Fedora experienced a couple of “firsts” at North Carolina on signing day.
To start, the Tar Heels left the fax machine languish in the storage closet. There was no use for the antiquated device that’s become obsolete just about everywhere but the college football domain. All of the school's letters of intent were received via text message.
Fedora also didn’t have to answer questions from prospects about NCAA investigations or combat negative recruiting.
“We didn’t have to deal with it this year,” Fedora said. “That was something people couldn’t use against us. It was never an issue for these kids. That’ll get easier and easier as we go.”
The NCAA case involving UNC athletics still has not been resolved and might not be for many more months, but Fedora said he didn’t encounter the same concern from recruits as he did in previous years. The football program was previously sanctioned for violations occurring before Fedora’s tenure, but the team was able to sign a full class Wednesday.
Recruiting classes are always better evaluated three or four years in the future, but the Tar Heels finished No. 34 on signing day. The 2016 group lacks the handful of ESPN 300 commitments of the previous years -- one signed in 2016, compared to 12 in the last three classes combined -- but it nearly led to another first for North Carolina.
Since the advent of ESPN’s rankings in 2006, North Carolina has never signed an ESPN 150 or 300 recruit from Florida. It entered last weekend in the final group of No. 2 receiver Nate Craig-Myers and No. 7 running back Amir Rasul, both Florida natives and among the top 100 players in the ESPN 300.
Rasul opted to stay with Florida State and Craig-Myers recommitted to Auburn, and while there are no consolation prizes in recruiting, it indicates to Fedora that the Heels are seen as a contender. Of their five 2017 pledges, three are ESPN Junior 300 prospects.
Uninhibited by the NCAA investigation and having shaken off a label as an underachiever, North Carolina could emerge as more of a recruiting threat and keep the elite in-state prospects from leaving. In 2015, the Tar Heels won 11 games in a row, won their division and were playoff hopefuls until a loss to undefeated Clemson in the ACC championship.
“To have the success we had this year, they all saw it. You couldn’t turn on the TV during championship week without seeing North Carolina, and everyone was talking about us in the national picture for the playoff,” Fedora said.
Ten years ago, it might have taken another year or two for that season to impress recruits. Then, North Carolina might have been able to start fish for blue-chip prospects outside its region. And while much of the 2015 season’s impact will be felt in 2017 and beyond, when North Carolina has a full year to highlight its résumé to recruits, the response was immediate for some those waffling 2016 prospects, too.
Fedora said the Heels are the beneficiaries of an era when most every game is on TV, social media can quickly dispense messages and recruiting material and interest continues to multiply.
“We had a kid in California that’s been killing for us to look at him because he loves North Carolina and he has no ties to us,” Fedora said.
That’s the situation Fedora now finds himself. While North Carolina still doesn’t have the same national influence in football as Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State, it’s growing. Fedora has always touted the Carolina blue brand, but he believes it’s strengthened by the program’s first season with double-digit wins since 1997. He doesn’t feel hamstrung by NCAA issues, either.
Among ACC teams, only Clemson, Florida State and Miami signed more blue-chip players the last four cycles than North Carolina, so the Tar Heels have the roster to win a conference championship.
“That always helps you,” Fedora said, “when everyone realizes you’re a legitimate contender.”