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January 31, 2013

New staff starts strong out of the gate



It's dangerous to pen an article of this nature before the ink dries on National Letters of Intent on Feb. 6, National Signing Day, but the early returns on new NC State head coach Dave Doeren and his staff's ability to recruit are impressive.

The first bit of evidence came with the transfer of Florida quarterback Jacoby Brissett, a former four-star recruit ranked as the nation's No. 75 overall player in the class of 2011. He picked State thanks to his relationship with Doeren, which dates back to the field general's freshman year at Dwyer High School in West Palm Beach, Fla., and the addition of the signal caller would serve as a shot in the arm for any program.

After redshirting, Brissett will have two years of eligibility remaining to compete for starting duties with Pete Thomas, another transfer who was ranked as a four-star quarterback coming out of high school, and the athletic Manny Stocker, who served as Mike Glennon's back-up as a true freshman this fall.

Some recruits have parted ways with the Wolfpack, but that is to be expected after a coaching change has been made. However, Doeren and company have been able to retain some exciting prospects, such as Florida offensive lineman Tylar Reagan, who was tied for the Pack's best recruit — according to the Rivals' rating system at 5.7 (the highest grade for a three-star recruit) — and is listed as the nation's No. 28 offensive guard; and Georgia running back Joshua Mercer, the No. 53 rusher in the land.

Some of the others who re-upped with Doeren but are not nationally ranked at their position by Rivals are intriguing, like 6-foot-6, three-star athlete Pharoah McKever, a prep quarterback who could end up at a number of different positions on either side of the ball, hard-hitting Florida linebacker Jerod Fernandez or any of the five future Wolfpackers that represented North Carolina in the Shrine Bowl — linebackers Quinton Patterson, who was named his team's defensive MVP in the contest, and Artemis Robinson, cornerback Jack Tocho, and offensive linemen Patrick Roane and Cole Blankenship, who has already enrolled at State.

As soon as news broke Wednesday night that three-star Florida running back Matt Dayes, a hard runner who really emerged as a senior at Weston (Fla.) Cypress Bay, had committed to the Pack, the new staff's closing ability is beginning to impress. One of Doeren's focal points as soon as he landed the job had to be working alongside running backs coach Des Kitchings to bring the talented ball carrier back into the fold, and it was a resounding victory to keep the exciting rusher from suiting up in the SEC.

Dayes' stock exploded after leading his team to the Class 8A Florida State Championship game, and he only helped himself with a 174-yard, four-touchdown performance in the narrow loss. Although the 5-foot-10, 195-pounder is regarded as a three-star recruit, he probably is the crown jewel of the Pack's 2013 recruiting cycle and did nothing to disprove that notion during the fall, when he emerged as one of the top playmakers in Florida's biggest school classification. Dayes should also be able to help the team get closer to the powerful rushing attack that offensive coordinator Matt Canada has envisioned for the Red and White.

However, Dayes is far from the lone impressive prep standout secured by Doeren and company in less than two months on the job. The new pledges began rolling in with teammate cornerbacks Sean Paul, a three-star with both size and speed, and Dravious Wright, a sleeper who may lack some height, but not the ability or desire to lay a hit.

A South Carolina Shrine Bowler named Malcolm Means was next to pull the trigger, and he is a promising 6-foot-2 athlete with great versatility. Means, Wright, Paul and Brissett, were all a part of the new staff's ultra-successful first group of official visitors on the weekend of Jan. 11, which featured the Pack's victory over No. 1 Duke on the hardwood. Of the six visitors that weekend who held tenders, four picked NC State, and the team appears to be in good position for 6-foot-3 wide receiver Marquez Valdes of Florida.

The next weekend's visitors featured a slate of athletes who had, for the most part, already committed to NC State, but included one major undecided prospect in Michigan defensive tackle Kenton Gibbs. A product of the powerful Detroit Cass Tech program, which has won back-to-back state titles, he is ranked as the nation's No. 42 defensive tackle and the No. 15 senior in his home state, and represented the first major victory on the prep recruiting trail for the new staff when he pledged to State.

The Michigan momentum continued a few days later when the nation's No. 29 safety and the state's No. 8 prospect, Joshua Jones, announced his intentions to run with the Pack. He was one of Rivals' biggest risers in the updated positional rankings, rising from his original position as the No. 45 safety in the land, and gave the Pack an unexpected snare of two of the Midwest's best players.

The Pack topped off the early string of success with the re-addition of Dayes, and they aren't finished yet. The Pack will host several official visitors this weekend and add a few more names to the commitment list before Feb. 6. It's not a group that will crack the nation's top 25 in recruiting rankings, but considering the limited time that the staff had and the haul that they look like they will finish with, it has been a successful outing on the recruiting trail.

The even better part is that we're still unsure of what this staff is really capable of. The prep kids seem to enjoy spending time with all of the new coaches and every recruit has raved about the group, although they had just weeks to build relationships with players that were being courted by schools and coaches they've known for years.

NC State's new staff beat out SEC and Big 10 programs, among others, for players like Dayes, Gibbs and Jones. Gibbs was not even on the Pack's recruiting board when Doeren was hired on Dec. 1. Getting Dayes back in the fold is a huge victory, and the addition of Brissett could really pay dividends down the line, while they had to fend off opposing programs for several who were verbally committed when they took the job.

If the staff can duplicate the effort they have given in their short time on the trail so far, recruiting at NC State looks like it is on the upswing. Nothing is signed and delivered yet on the 2013 class, but this staff has shown they are willing to battle for who they see fit for their system, can quickly make an impression and close the deal despite stiff competition.

Truthfully, the jury is still out on a staff that was just completed in late December, but the evidence that has been presented so far shows they have the qualities and desire to do damage on the recruiting trail. It still won't be a completely level playing field because many schools have been working on the class of 2014 for some time, while the Pack has had to scramble and focus entirely on this year's cycle, but this coaching staff will have a full year to prove their mettle by this time next February, and the results could be stunning.


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