Feb 8, 2013
Tarboro defensive end Tyquan Lewis verbally committed to Ohio State on Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012, during a press conference at Tarboro High School.
On Wednesday I covered my seventh National Signing Day here at WRAL and HighSchoolOT.com, and two of the biggest talking points have never changed.
Why don't we have the level of talent other states have? And why doesn't the talent that is here stay here for college?
The first question is one that I laugh at. There is talent in this state, a lot of it actually. The best, most recent example of that would be the two freshmen running backs lighting up the SEC at Georgia – Todd Gurley (Tarboro High School) and Keith Marshall (Millbrook High School).
There are many others. Kendall Moore (Southeast Raleigh High School) was a linebacker on the Notre Dame team that lost in the BCS National Championship to Alabama, who features Jeremy Shelley (Broughton High School) as the kicker. In fact, Shelley has won three rings in his time with the Crimson Tide.
Talent isn't the problem. Perception is. Perhaps I'm not old enough or wise enough to know where this perception came from; maybe it's because we don't have high school stadiums that seat tens of thousands, or because we don't pay our coaches six-figure salaries, I don't know. But there is a very inaccurate perception that talent is hard to come by in this state.
I believe part of the problem is the way we rate talent. Recruiting websites rate and rank players from across the country. They may put one player from California ahead of a player from Georgia, but behind both of them is a player from Ohio, then a player from North Carolina. These players never play each other, yet they're given ranks and stars as if there is a fair comparison.
There's not a fair comparison. Especially in football.
People will say combine results are a fair way to compare players. They're not. How many times in a football game are you running with track shoes on, without shoulder pads, without a helmet, not carrying a football? Never.
While many in this state (and some "experts" outside this state) buy into this false perception, the people who are winning at a high level don't. And that's what doesn't make sense to me.
In one breath we have people say there's not enough talent in North Carolina, but in the next they're talking about our talent leaving the state to play in other college programs.
If you grew up playing high school football in North Carolina and all you heard was how the talent isn't that great, why would you stay here when other people outside the state are talking you up?
Let's be real with ourselves. Specific programs from around the country, especially south and west of North Carolina, come into our state and can pretty much take whatever talent they want. We don't see our in-state schools winning many recruiting battles with out of state schools, not just schools in the SEC, but even other ACC schools.
I get emails, tweets and phone calls from people on a regular basis asking why kids don't stay here? Why do they want to leave the state? Why do they turn their backs on our programs?
This isn't about the kids. The kids are going where they believe they have the best chance to succeed. They go where they feel comfortable, where they feel welcomed. This is about the schools.
In-state schools have a responsibility to make the kids feel like this is the best place for them. Sure, part of that comes from winning games, but it also comes from building relationships, making them feel important, and showing support.
Relationships between the college coach and the high school coach are very important. While talking to one area high school coach about NC State's in-state recruiting and the "wall around North Carolina" that they want to build, the coach said, "The only wall they've had lately is the one around the Murphy Center."
That's a problem. If coaches feel that way, how do you think kids feel?
Fan support is also important. I can't tell you how many times I've talked to a kid who is going to play at an SEC school and he talks about the difference in watching an SEC game and an ACC game. And there is a difference.
One in-state kid who ended up playing with an SEC school told me that he almost fell asleep during a game on a visit to UNC.
Again, that's a problem.
I know some people are probably thinking to themselves that this stuff shouldn't matter. The reality is different though.
Let's put this in basketball terms. Why do kids like coming to play basketball in the ACC, particularly here in North Carolina? Three of the schools in North Carolina have won multiple NCAA championships, the rivalries are intense, the game atmospheres are one of a kind, and they feel important and wanted in those programs.
There is a problem with in-state recruiting, but to fix it, it's going to take the colleges to make a big push. Don't blame the kids. The kids are doing what they believe is best for them, and that's what they should do.
Here's to hoping that sometime in the future, I can write a post-National Signing Day column about how our in-state schools scooped up the best in-state talent.