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Aaron Schoonmaker

Gurley the latest in-state recruit to spurn local schools

Posted January 13, 2012

— “It’s not about the place that I would get the most playing time, it’s where I would be the most happy.”

Those words spoken by Todd Gurley, a highly-recruited running back out of Tarboro High School, prompted confusion, ire and a host of other emotions from Triangle-area college football fans Friday.

The superficial notion that leaving home can make somebody happier than staying close to what they know and have grown up with is perplexing. Even more so, it is the second time in the last month that a top running back from North Carolina has spurned in-state schools for the University of Georgia.

In fact, according to Rivals.com, only one of the top 11 prospects in the state of North Carolina is staying in-state to play college football next year.

J.J. Patterson, an offensive lineman ranks ninth on the Rivals in-state list and has committed to UNC. Of the other 10 players, three have committed to University of Florida – including each of the top two and the only two five-star prospects – two a piece are going to Georgia, Clemson and South Carolina. Linebacker Nick Dawson (No. 6) has committed to Louisville.

North Carolina State’s top in-boundary haul-in to date is defensive tackle from South Lenoir High School K’Hadree Hooker (No. 19). Of North Carolina’s top-30 recruits according to Rivals, UNC has commitments from six, NC State has three and Duke has one. SEC schools have lassoed seven and out-of-state ACC schools have pulled away four others. Five remain uncommitted.

So what’s the issue? There isn’t just one (and the reasons listed below are just a few that Gurley helped highlight Friday).

Working against all schools in the state – ACC schools not excluded – is the level of competition.

“I wanted to be able to play against the best competition and that would be the SEC, of course,” Gurley, who plans to major in business, said.

Until the ACC improves or the SEC falls off – or both – this is a matter of fact. The ESPN’s of the world slap the masses in the face with it, but it’s hard to argue otherwise,

Working against UNC, specifically, is the expected punishment from the NCAA as well as a new coaching staff.

“When coach Butch Davis was there, I was loving UNC a lot,” Gurley said. “It happened (the NCAA investigation and impending punishment) to open up my decision. God closed those doors for a reason and it just opened up another school for me to be at.”

Head coach Larry Fedora also overhauled the staff at UNC, which includes not retaining long-time recruiting coordinator Ken Browning, who was the one responsible for even making the Tar Heels an option for Gurley.

Gurley still said that ultimately it came down to Georgia and Clemson – the school he always wanted to go to.

NC State, a team that has been on the cusp of “the next level” for a few years, annually seems to be a top-recruit away. Nothing against recruiting coordinator Jerry Petercuskie, who has been with head coach Tom O’Brien since 1995, but he hasn’t shown the draw Georgia’s Rodney Garner, or similar-there-to, has.

Same can be said for the coaches in general at all North Carolina schools. NC State and UNC hats were each left on the table when Gurley opted for the Bulldogs and he, on more than one occasion, mentioned the Georgia staff.

For Gurley, the single biggest draw was “the relationship I had with coach (Mark) Richt and (running backs) coach (Bryan) McClendon.”

Even the fact that Gurley knew going in that he would be one of at least four underclassmen running backs battling for playing time didn’t deter the coaching relationship.

Gurley said that he bonded with Millbrook running back Keith Marshall, who also committed to Georgia, because, “there are not really that many people around here getting highly recruited like that.”

And those that are getting ‘recruited like that’ are finding it more appealing to leave rather than stay.

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