Saturday, March 28, 2009

UNC receivers audition for Nicks' spot

CHAPEL HILL -- Twelve different players, including four new receivers, caught a pass in North Carolina's spring scrimmage on Saturday at Kenan Stadium.

The way quarterback T.J. Yates sees it, that's what it will take for the Tar Heels to replace Hakeem Nicks, UNC's career leader in receptions and touchdowns who bypassed his senior season for the NFL.

"You can't replace a guy like that," Yates said. "We're all going to have to work as hard as we can."

Saturday's showcase was a group effort at receiver with sophomore Dwight Jones and freshman Joshua Adams -- two of the targets coach Butch Davis is counting on to replace Nicks -- leading the way with three catches each.

Jones, considered one of the recruiting gems from 2008, had the highlight of the 68-play scrimmage. The big 6-4 target from Burlington got behind the UNC secondary for a 46-yard diving catch, one yard short of the end zone.

"I thought I was in the end zone," said Jones, who finished with three catches for 61 yards.

The Heels have to replace 114 catches and 17 touchdowns with losses of Nicks and seniors Brooks Foster and Brandon Tate at receiver.

Jones and junior Greg Little started with the first-team offense. Little, who began his career at receiver and then switched to running back at the start of 2008 before returning to receiver, is the only receiver on the roster with a career reception. Little was not one of the 12 different players with a catch on Saturday, though.

Adams, a heralded recruit and another big (6-4, 200) target, also showed signs of help for Yates and the offense with three catches for 20 yards. Adams a true freshman, enrolled in January to get a head start on his college career.

"We're going to be just fine at receiver," Yates said. "It's going to be structured differently."

Receiver is one of the few positions of inexperience for the Heels, who have six offensive starters and nine defensive back from last year's 8-5 Meineke Bowl team.

UNC is set at running back with starters Shaun Draughn (866 yards) and Ryan Houston (eight touchdowns) but Davis was encouraged by the effort of redshirt-freshman Jamal Womble (seven carries for 50 yards) on Saturday.

"[Womble] ran very physical and he has the ability to make people miss in the hole," Davis said.

Davis praised his veteran defensive line (senior end E.J. Wilson had two sacks) and new punter Grant Shallock but the new receivers were his main focus.

"We kinda got spoiled the last two years," Davis said. "We're going to have press this receiver corps to be sure they can come in there and make those critical catches that are going to keep drives alive or score touchdowns."

Davis said next year's spring game would be moved to mid-April to avoid any conflict with the basketball team in the NCAA Tournament or weather concerns. Only about 2,000 fans were on hand on Saturday. -- J.P. Giglio

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Moore honored, Speir giving back

On April 2, Appalachian State coach Jerry Moore will be honored by the Texas senate, which will adopt a resolution declaring it "Jerry Moore Day" in the state.

Moore is a Texas native who coached in the state for 19 of his 46 years in the business, but the honor goes beyond that, crediting his contributions to society as a "positive example" to the young people with whom he has come in contact.

Also, assistant coach Mark Speir has been invited to run the 2009 Boston Marathon on April 20. He will do so for charity.

Last year, Speir ran in the Music City Marathon in Nashville, Tenn., and raised over $17,000 for Memorial Christian Hospital in Bangladesh in the process.

This year, he hopes to raise $26,200 ($1,000 for each mile of the 26.2-mile race) for the same cause, which will have its new surgical ward named after Boone native Dr. Lowell Furman.

On April 4, a chicken dinner will be served at the Greenway Baptist Church in Boone (880 Greenway Rd.). Mountaineer players will be available for autographs and photos, school football apparel will be on sale and a silent auction will be held featuring autographed Appalachian football memorabilia and 2009 season tickets.

The event runs from 11 a.m.-6 p.m., with ASU players in attendance from 3-5 p.m. One hundred percent of all proceeds will go towards the Memorial Christian Hospital. Fans that can’t attend the April 4 event but still wish to support Speir’s cause can visit Olson

Monday, March 23, 2009

Deacons' Curry is no chicken

Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry so solidified his NFL draft position at last month's scouting combine — he's widely expected to be chosen no lower than No. 3 overall on April 25 — that the last thing he needed to do was impress the scouts with another workout today in Winston-Salem.

Such is Curry's confidence that he joined several other college linebackers on the practice field at Wake and was put through a series of position drills. He didn't need to run the 40-yard dash again. His 4.56 seconds at the combine led all linebackers.

Though as many as 40 NFL scouts, coaches and personnel directors weren't talking afterward, Curry didn't appear to do anything that hurt his stock. Considered perhaps the safest pick in the draft, he may even be taken first overall by the Detroit Lions.

"Football's what I do," Curry said, " ... and working out is what I like doing. I like position work. Pro Day is something I've watched happen for the last four years, and I always saw myself being the same shoes. ... And what I do is not always for myself, it's for my teammates. I knew me working out would draw some attention. For my teammates, that's a great thing."

In addition to all of the NFL representatives, several members of the media showed up, including an NFL Network crew, and fans lined the wall at one end of the facility.

The other participants included cornerback Alphonso Smith, who's No. 32 overall on Scout Inc.'s list of available prospects. He'd be higher if he were taller than 5-9.

Pro Bowl receiver Anquan Boldin of the Arizona Cardinals was there to see his brother, Wake receiver D.J. Boldin.

"In this business, the only thing you can ask for is an opportunity," Anquan Boldin said. "I'm pretty sure he'll get in somebody's [training] camp."

By the way, it's safe to say that a network owned by the league has a decided advantage over other members of the media. The NFL Network crew had total access on the field. No one else other than the scouts and coaches did. -- Roger van der Horst, (Raleigh) News & Observer

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Recruiting rankings can hurt lesser football names

It's a complaint I hear often--schools like Wake Forest traditionally have their recruiting classes rated lower by the analysts simply because there is a sense that a really good player will go to Alabama or Georgia or Florida but will not become a Demon Deacon.

That cuts two ways; if a low-rated prospect is suddenly offered a scholarship by Southern Cal or Notre Dame, he may go from three to four stars on some lists.

The Sporting News recently tried to quantify all this. The magazine first took the average ranking of the recruiting classes for each of the BCS schools (66 programs) from 2004 through '08 on It listed them from 1 (Southern Cal) to 66 (Cincinnati).

Then it took the total number of victories for each school over the same period and made a second list. USC was tops again, while Duke was last.

Finally, TSN found the differential. For instance, Florida State was fourth in the recruiting rankings, but tied for 20th in wins, for a differential of -16. Not a good thing.

Obviously, the team with the highest positive differential would have gotten the most production out of the lowest-rated recruiting classes. That would be Cincinnati, which was ranked dead last in recruting but tied those Seminoles in victories, for a differential of +46.

The best of our area BCS schools by far was Wake Forest, ranked 63rd on the recruiting classes list but tied for 32nd in wins, a spread of +31. That made it No.4 on the differential list.

Georgia Tech also did well, tying for ninth at +27. Virginia Tech was 13th at +20. No other area BCS school was more than +2 (Virginia).

Worst of the bunch? North Carolina, which tied Miami and three other schools for 60th overall with a differential of -22. Before you Gamecocks start crowing, South Carolina (-18) wasn't much better, giving it the 57th spot. And N.C. State was -11, Duke was -7 and Clemson, -6.

Either the Deacons consistently make a lot out of not much, or the recruiting rating system has some serious flaws.--Stan Olson

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Ex-UNC QB Sexton picks Catawba

Former North Carolina quarterback Cameron Sexton will transfer to Division II Catawba for his final season of eligibility.

Sexton, who in January announced his decision to transfer from North Carolina, informed the Raleigh News & Observer on Wednesday of his new destination. He started six games last season while T.J. Yates was injured, but returned to the backup spot after Yates returned for the N.C. State game late in the season.

The Tar Heels were 4-2 with Sexton starting and also rallied to win at Miami behind Sexton in a game Mike Paulus started. Sexton passed for 1,261 yards and nine touchdowns with six interceptions last season. He expects to earn his bachelor's degree from North Carolina in May. - Robbi Pickeral

Monday, March 9, 2009

Appalachian's next (defensive) big thing

It could be middle linebacker Jacque Roman, who is already a pretty big deal both on the football field (he's all Southern Conference) and off it, at 240 pounds.

While Roman had a huge junior year, safety Mark LeGree captured most of the national defensive attention with his record-setting ten interceptions. For his part, Roman led the Mountaineers in tackles with 130, including 6.5 for losses. He also had five QB hurries, four recovered fumbles, three sacks and two interceptions.

Roman was so good, in fact, that the Appalachian coaches nominated him rather than LeGree for Southern Conference defensive player of the year honors. That was nothing against Mark; they simply were appreciating Roman's entire body of work. Fittingly, both made The Sports Network's all-American first team.

But Roman is more than just a football guy. He's been writing his own rap songs for some time now, and doing a pretty good job of it. So good that Appalachian's baseball centerfielder, Rand Smith, has chosen one of Roman's songs for his introduction music when he comes to bat in games.

Roman, by the way, is a family-friendly wrapper. In the past, he's said he writes songs that his grandmother wouldn't mind listening to.--Stan Olson

Friday, March 6, 2009

Kidd Brewer Stadium is growing up

BOONE--This mountain town is still shaking off a foot or so of snow from earlier in the week, but work crews continue to roar ahead with the finishing touches to Appalachian State's 120,000-square foot Kidd Brewer Stadium Complex addition, which is being amassed above and behind the facility's west stands.

It looks so different now, from the outside apparently ready to open for business and Armanti Edwards' senior year. The outer shell is virtually done, all the bricks in place and the four walls of glass windows that now tower above those seats needing only fans to sit behind them.

But there remains considerable inside work to be done, although the builders tell Appalachian's administrators that the building will be ready to go by Aug. 14, ahead of the former Sept.1 deadline.

When done, the complex will fill so many needs beyond providing 18 luxury boxes and 500 club seats. There will be athletic trainers' facilities to serve all 20 on-campus sports, a locker room for the football team and a new weight room for all athletes. There will be administrative offices from athletic director Charlie Cobb on down, along with offices for the football coaches. There will be academic facilities, again for students participating in all sports.

Oh yeah, did I mention the new press box?

This was originally supposed to cost $35 million. Now the figure is $50 million, but not because of cost overruns. Once the project got rolling, the school continued to expand it, thinking of more things that would help the university's athletics.

So this morning, with the sun already starting to eat away at the grey piles of slush, work continued apace, with panel trucks, big yellow forklifts and a concrete mixer crowding up the driveway that leads to the new addition.

Looking at the new facade, football doesn't seem far away at all.--Stan Olson

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Syracuse pounces on Charlotte Christian LBs

You may already have heard of Charlotte Christian LB Ty Linton; after a strong junior year, he picked up another college offer on Wednesday, as Syracuse joined the club. Linton already had offers from Duke, West Virginia, Illinois and Wisconsin.

North Carolina was after him as well, but assistant coach Tommy Thigpen was Linton's recruiter, and he left the program for Auburn. Because of that move, now the Tigers are showing interest, said Charlotte Christian coach Jason Estep.

Linton, who is 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, played OLB as well as RB last season. He had 68 tackles--eight for losses--as well as 6.5 sacks. On offense, he contributed 1,200 all-purpose yards and had 12 TDs. He was the program's Most Valuable Player.

"He was our go-to guy on both sides of the ball," Estep said.

With his 4.49 speed in the 40-yard dash, Linton projects as an OLB in college. He is also a fine baseball centerfieder, and hopes to play both sports in college.

Syracuse, though, didn't stop with Linton. The Orange also offered a scholarship to his teammate and fellow OLB, Kelby Brown. Brown, also 6-2 and 200 pounds, was the team's defensive mvp. He totaled 84 tackles, eight for loss, along with a sack, two forced fumbles and an interception that he returned for a touchdown.

"Kelby can really play, but he's been flying under the radar a little bit," Estep said.

Duke's McAfee dies

One of Duke's finest former athletes has died.

George McAfee, who is a member of both the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame, died Wednesday evening in Georgia, Duke announced Thursday. He was 90.

A native of Ironton, Ohio, McAfee was a football letterman at Duke from 1937-39. He helped the Blue Devils to a three-year record of 24-4-1 with two Southern Conference championships. Duke won the conference in 1938 and 1939 and appeared in the Rose Bowl after the 1938 season.

As a senior in 1939, McAfee led Duke in rushing, receiving, scoring, kickoff returns, punt returns, interceptions and punting en route to earning first team All-America honors as the Blue Devils went 8-1.

In the spring of his senior year, McAfee batted .353 while playing centerfield on Duke's baseball squad that went 16-7 and also captured the 100-meter crown at the Southern Conference track and field championships. – Ken Tysiac

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

South Carolina's next big prospect?

It could be junior running back Marcus Lattimore of Byrnes High in Duncan. Lattimore is 6-feet tall and already a well-muscled 210 pounds, and schools all over have quickly noticed.

He's planning to attend Clemson's junior day Saturday, and possibly take an unofficial visit to Tennessee on Sunday. He's been to South Carolina's junior day and plans to attend the Gamecocks' spring game.

And Lattimore isn't slowing down. On the schedule are March trips to North Carolina and Georgia, and an April outing to LSU. He already has offers from virtually ever ACC and SEC school. Auburn and Notre Dame most recently joined the crowd.

Lattimore rushed for over 2,300 yards and scored 30 TDs last season, and has already been invited to participate in next year's Army All-American prep all-star game.--Stan Olson

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Pay cut for Butch Davis?

CHAPEL HILL — Four days after basketball coach Roy Williams was asked if he would be willing to take a pay cut to help the university, North Carolina football coach Butch Davis faced a similar question from the same local TV station during his news conference today.

Davis' answer, in a nutshell: His football program is trying to find a way to make cuts; he gives back to the community, the university and his church; that's a better question for the university's leadership to face.

Davis, like Williams, averages more than $2 million a year in salary, but neither coach is paid entirely from state funds.

Here's the extended text of his comments:

Do you have any concerns with the budget crises at the university at this time, and would you be willing to participate in an involuntarily furlough or take a pay cut?

Davis: "That's a very, very interesting topic all across the country. There's no question everybody recognizes that we are in very challenging and difficult economic times.

"I can tell you there's not a day that goes by in this athletics department, and especially in this football program — we are always looking for ways that we can be smarter and more prudent about our budget: last year, busing to Virginia as opposed to flying to Virginia.

"This year, we just had a significant meeting about ways — whether it's hotels, meal plans, the number of players that travel ... the way we do training camp, are their smart ways that we can be prudent about that money that we have? I will tell you that I feel unbelievably blessed and fortunate to be a coach and be in this situation.

"And I will tell you that every single place that I have coached, my wife and I have given back not only to the community and not only to our church, we have given back to the institution itself. Long before it was economically in a crisis, we were doing that, and we look forward in the future to always being in a position to be able to do that, to give back to this university, to the community and to our church.

Would you take a paycut, though, or participate in a furlough?

Davis: "That's not a question — that's a political hot button, and not really a question that any coach should be put in a position to have to answer. ... The leadership of the university, that's probably more in line with a decision they would need to make."

-- Robbi Pickeral

Tar Heels name 3 assistant coaches

CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina announced three new football assistant coaches on Tuesday: Troy Douglas with coach defensive backs, Art Kauffman will coach the linebackers and Allen Mogridge will coach the tight ends.

“We are thrilled to add Troy, Art and Allen to our staff,” head coach Butch Davis said in a prepared statement. “All three have exceptional character and a proven record of success. They are tremendous teachers and dynamic recruiters who bring fresh ideas and thoughts to our program. Each coach also has an element of expertise on special teams that will benefit our program. We welcome them to the Carolina family.”

Mogridge played at UNC from 1996-99, and most recently was an assistant at Buffalo.

“Chapel Hill is home for me and I’m thrilled to join this outstanding coaching staff,” Mogridge said in a statment. “I now have the unique opportunity to go recruit kids to the university I fell in love with as a high school senior and where I spent four wonderful years. Carolina is a special place with great people who value the combination of a great education and outstanding athletics.”

Douglas served the last three seasons at South Florida; Kauffman is a 25-year coaching veteran who most recently served on the Southern Miss staff.

Junior college players recommit to Wolfpack

N.C. State has again received football commitments from two players who signed with the Wolfpack in 2008 but failed to qualify.

Tobais Palmer and Roy Mangram both played at Georgia Military College this past season, and will do so again next fall. They will join N.C. State’s program in 2010 and have two years of eligibility remaining.

Palmer was an in-state standout at Northwood High in Pittsboro. A 5-foot-10, 170-pound running back/receiver, he carried 43 times for 311 yards (7.2 average) at Georgia Military. He also caught 13 passes for 259 yards, almost 20 yards a catch.

“He split out as much as he played running back,” said Georgia Military coach Bert Williams. “We look for a tailback who can basically give us what we want as a receiver. He does a very good job with that.”

Palmer has 4.45-second speed in the 40-yard dash. He had almost 1,600 yards rushing and 25 TDs as a high school senior.

Mangram was formerly at Glynn Academy in Brunswick, Ga. He’s 6-1 and 200 pounds. A defensive back in high school, he bulked up and eventually moved from safety to linebacker.

He had 19 tackles – three for losses – and a sack. He also returned a fumble for a score and had an interception in limited playing time on a 9-2 team.

“We moved him to linebacker probably the last quarter of the season,” Williams said. “He did a good job for us. We need Roy to step up next season because we lost just about everybody and we believe that he will. He’s a very good player. He’s got a lot of talent.”

-- Stan Olson

Monday, March 2, 2009

A beefy recruiting target for almost everyone...

Wilmington Hoggard High offensive lineman T.J. Leifheit has become a national recruiting target, but that simply means in-state schools are going after him all the harder. Leifheit, who is 6-foot-7 and 300 pounds, attended North Carolina's junior day last weekend, and has also been to junior days at Duke and N.C. State. He visited Wake unofficially.

Now check out this list of offers Leifheit already has tucked in his pocket, in addition to the four schools mentioned above and East Carolina: California, Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Maryland, Stanford, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas Tech.

Because he has been able to visit in-state schools on his own, his official visits will be elsewhere, tentatively set for California (who wouldn't?), Clemson, Florida State, Texas Tech and Tennessee.--Stan Olson

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Ex-N.C. State player among missing

CLEARWATER, Fla. - Former N.C. State football player Corey Smith is among four missing boaters the Coast Guard was searching for in the Gulf of Mexico Sunday.

Smith and three friends did not return from a fishing trip Saturday after leaving a boat ramp in a 21-foot center console boat. The Coast Guard was searching an area of 750 square miles for the missing boaters Sunday.

A defensive end, Smith last played for N.C. State in 2001 and ranks seventh in career history with 15.5 sacks. He plays for the Detroit Lions.

Another one of the missing men, Victor “Marquis” Cooper, plays for the Oakland Raiders.
– Ken Tysiac