Bob Holliday

North Carolina talent surge hits ACC football rosters

Posted July 24

— Most coaches begin their opening remarks at the ACC Kickoff with a brief overview of the 2017 season. Duke coach David Cutcliffe greeted the media with specific comments about the two players he brought with him to Charlotte:

“Good morning, and first thing I want to say, I'm really thrilled to have two of Charlotte's finest with us," he said. "Both Daniel and Bryon are natives of Charlotte, played high school football here, so I think it's appropriate that they've accomplished so much in their careers.

"They've earned the honor to come back and see you guys on media days.”

Duke, with Daniel Jones and Bryon Fields, was the only school to bring two players from the Old North State to the ACC Kickoff, but the North Carolina-native Blue Devils had plenty of company. Five other schools (NC State and North Carolina, of course, Clemson, Boston College, and Louisville) all featured star players who once toiled under North Carolina’s Friday Night Lights.

Duke upsets No. 15 UNC, 28-27

Of 28 ACC players who met with the media at the league’s preseason football rouser, seven of them hail from North Carolina. No other state, not even talent-rich Florida, topped that.

I put the question to Bryon Fields: What about playing high school football in North Carolina “prepared so many of you,” to play football in the ACC?

“It's extremely competitive starting at a young age," Fields said. "I know I recognized some of the guys from Pop Warner. I know Jaylen Samuels, NC State, I knew (him) up growing up. (I) played with Cameron Phillips growing up, as well.”

Whoa! So Cam Phillips of Virginia Tech, the wide receiver whose flashy vest and sunglasses stole the show on day two of the kickoff also has ties to North Carolina? Yes indeed, he was born in Charlotte, although he now lists his hometown as Laurel, Maryland.

As for Samuels, the versatility he has shown over his years in West Raleigh can be traced to his roots in Pop Warner and North Carolina High School football. This fall the Charlotte native will merge forces with another home state guy, Garner’s Nyheim Hines to provide some new wrinkles in NC State’s offense.

“Yeah, me and Nyheim, we have a lot of versatility that we can bring to the table,” Samuels said. “Me and him, we have a lot of the same kind of skill sets together, being able to move out of the backfield, catch the pass, go in the backfield, run the ball.

"You know, it's going to be kind of scary for defenses to prepare for us next year,” the one the call JaySam threatens. But some of the ACC’s defenses will be scary too.

Boston College defensive end Harold Landry is considered one of the top pass rushers, not only in the ACC, but in the entire country. For Landry, it all began in this state at Pine Forest High School.

“Definitely playing back home in Fayetteville, for Pine Forest, it was definitely a great experience,” Landry said. "I loved high school football. I loved playing night games. I think they're so special. But playing for the coaching staff that I had in high school, it's almost similar to the coaching staff I have now.

"Obviously like I was one of the best players in high school, but my coaches, they kept me humble. They made sure that every day I was working which has helped me out tremendously.”

Landry isn’t the only preseason all star from North Carolina playing his college football out of state. Jaire Alexander patrols the secondary at Louisville, and this Charlottean minces no words about his college recruitment.

"In high school, I was pretty good, AP All-State two years in a row,” Alexander said. But he still feels overlooked. “Not having the scholarship offers from the Triangle colleges motivated me to do better and go harder.”

Clemson, which has recruited the state of North Carolina heavily for decades, brought guard Tyrone Crowder of Marston to the ACC Kickoff. The reigning National Champions also brought junior All America candidate Christian Wilkins of Massachusetts, that kept Wilkins’ wondrous counterpart, Dexter Lawrence from joining the fun. But Lawrence, who of course played/ grew up in the Wake County town of Wake Forest, may be just as good as Wilkins.

Tiger coach Dabo Swinney was only too happy to answer a question big Dexter.

“He showed up big. I haven't had many show up that looked like him," Swinney said. "Just a very gifted young person. He's been at Clemson for right at one year now. He came about this time last year for the second summer session, and he's been incredibly impactful since he got there. He's a great young man, first of all. I mean, just has a great spirit to him.

"He made an impact game one at Auburn with some big plays.”

North Carolina’s big guy is offensive tackle Bentley Spain, who also hails from Charlotte. The Queen-city hometown brings us back to Bryon Fields’ take on why players from the area are enjoying so much success in the ACC.

“It's just so competitive from a young age,” Fields said. “Not only just football but basketball, as well, going into other sports. Charlotte is a growing city but it's still a close-knit community, so a lot of us know each other, grew up playing against each other in different sports, and it's great to see all those guys succeeding at this level.”

Two players who attended the ACC Kickoff hail from talent-rich Miami. Two more players grew up in Virginia’s fertile Tidewater region. But five players featured in the two days of media interviews at the Westin Hotel grew up in Charlotte. For those players, from both the city of Charlotte and the state of North Carolina, this homecoming brought some long-overdue visibility to the improving quality of football players in these parts.

What’s more, 183 players from the state of North Carolina will grace ACC rosters this fall. And get this, every school in the league can count one or more North Carolina players on its roster except Georgia Tech. Here is the rundown:

NC Players on ACC Rosters

NC State: 55

UNC: 51

Wake Forest: 22

Duke: 15

Clemson: 15

Virginia Tech: 9

Miami: 4

Florida State: 3

Louisville: 3

Virginia: 2

Boston College: 2

Pittsburgh: 1

Syracuse: 1

Georgia Tech: 0

Georgia Tech, of course has used players from the Tar Heel State in recent years (quarterback Vad Lee of Durham and running back Marcus Marshall of Raleigh). Both players, ultimately made the decision to transfer to other schools. But here’s betting GT’s Paul Johnson, himself a North Carolina native, will be recruiting here again soon.

The talent is just too good to overlook.

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