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August 14, 2013

Building the #Pack14, Part I



An in-depth look at how NC State has pushed up the recruiting rankings, where they currently stand No. 23 in the nation



When Dave Doeren took the NC State job, he made no secret that he was disappointed so many talented North Carolinians were heading out of state to star on the gridiron. Georgia nearly reached the National Championship game last year when their ground attack was powered by two true freshmen Tar Heel State natives in Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, and that's just the latest example.

"Seeing all the great players from North Carolina starting as freshmen at other schools is upsetting," Doeren noted in his introductory press conference on Dec. 2. "It is, and I am going to fight for those guys, and we're going to do it the right way.

"We're going to get them here, get them to our games, and we're going to make it very difficult [for them to leave the state]. That's what you do."

It was not the first time that a new coach has taken a job in North Carolina and proclaimed that he would keep the state's top football prospects from escaping the borders. Doeren had quite an uphill battle - the program had signed just three top ten players from the state from 2010-2012 and 13 total since the class of 2003, which is as far back as the Rivals.com database goes.

During that same 11-year time period, North Carolina led the way by inking 28 top 10 North Carolina natives, while Clemson tied NCSU for second with 13. South Carolina nabbed 12 while Florida, Georgia and Notre Dame, each totaled six.

NC State has landed just one top 10 player in the state so far this summer (No. 8 Germaine Pratt), but they are major players for all four of the state's uncommitted prospects remaining at the top of the list - five-star defensive end Kentavius Street (No. 2), four-star defensive end Lorenzo Featherson (No. 4), four-star running back Derrell Scott (No. 5) and four-star wide out Trevion Thompson (No. 9).

"Coaching is one thing, but you still have to play with the best players," Doeren admitted at ACC Kickoff. "That's what we've got to work on doing right now."

That is not to say it has not been an impressive group of pledges collected so far by the coach who will make his official debut in Raleigh on Aug. 31.

Rivals.com ranked the top 35 players in North Carolina earlier this year and eight are currently committed to the Pack. North Carolina (five), Duke (two) and Georgia (two) are the only other schools with multiple commits on the list, and 10 of the team's current commits were ranked between numbers 14-30 in the state by The Wolfpacker.

That is called wasting no time to make a statement, with an emphasis on the first five letters of the word. The Pack have not landed more than four of the state's top 30 players since 2008, when they inked eight, and seven currently make the cut (tight end pledge Garrett Bradbury is listed at No. 33).

"I think if you asked the high school coaches right now and follow our recruiting, we've made a lot of strides, particularly in our own state," Doeren said at ACC Kickoff. "They feel the excitement about what's going on within our program and with what we're doing, what we're talking about and the vision we have for what NC State is going to be."

The success is not limited to the state's borders, either. Four-star defensive end Justin Jones is one of several talented Georgia prospects already in the fold. NC State has not signed multiple four- or five-star talents in the same class since 2010 (one five-star and four four-stars), and a pipeline has taken off in Florida if you include transfers Jacoby Brissett (a former four-star ranked as the No. 75 overall player in the class of 2011) and Travares Copeland, (a former high three-star ranked as the No. 28 athlete in the class of 2012), a pair of Sunshine state natives.

NC State has already beaten Florida State, Georgia, Miami, Tennessee, Mississippi State, Auburn, Nebraska and Notre Dame for commitments this season - some multiple times.

How did they do it? With the class currently standing 22 strong and ranked 20th in the land by Rivals.com, The Wolfpacker takes a look back at how it happened.

Planting the seeds for success


Doeren became a noted recruiter in the college football world after he served as the recruiting coordinator at many of his early coaching stops, including on the FCS national championship team at Montana, then later at Kansas and Wisconsin.

He served as either a recruiting coordinator, co-defensive or sole defensive coordinator every year from 2000-2010 before he was hired away to lead Northern Illinois. Despite a long coaching history in the Midwest, he had extensive experience mining Florida for talent and still enjoys several relationships in the Sunshine State that are numbered in years.

Doeren used both of those roots, while also beginning to develop in-state relationships, to close strongly in the class of 2013, which finished ranked No. 47 in the country with 19 three-star prospects and 24 total additions, including JuCo lineman Quinton Schooley, who joined the group in July.

It wasn't a group that grabbed headlines, but it was a promising start for a program that is now fun to follow on the recruiting trail, and signs came early that would be the case. Despite just a few weeks on the job, the new staff brought in some of the class' highest ranked recruits - whether they were not on the radar before the change or re-joined the fold after de-committing - and Doeren raved about the improvements his staff made under center for next year at the ACC Kickoff.

"I do like the fact that when I got here, there were two quarterbacks to deal with and now there are five," he said. "I have better odds of maybe one of them being good enough to get it done and we'll see where it ends up."

The quarterback position was not the only one that received much needed replenishment with the class of 2013. Three-star running back Matt Dayes, who was tied for the team's highest rated addition with a Rivals Rating of 5.7, choose NC State over Vanderbilt after opening up following the coaching change. Two other rookie running backs joined via the class of 2013 and much-needed numbers were also added at wide receiver and defensive back.

Three of the other four prospects who were awarded a 5.7 rating were also brought in under Doeren, but they weren't on NC State's radar before the coaching change - Michigan defensive tackle Kenton Gibbs, Michigan safety Joshua Jones and Florida defensive tackle Monty Nelson.

In all, Doeren and company held on to 11 of the former staff's commits and added 13 of their own. They also laid the foundation for the relationships that would spur a recruiting coup in the state of North Carolina just a few months later, thanks to an intense travel schedule that saw NCSU make at least one appearance at every high school in the state.

"I've got nine assistant coaches, and seven of those nine have a part of the state that is their's [in recruiting]," the head man noted at ACC Kickoff. "We were in every single high school - some of them twice. We've had multiple clinics on our campus, we've had coaches work out camps, we've spoken at a couple of different clinics. We've tried to build bridges with the high schools and get as many possible recruits on campus as we can. [We don't] just tell them why we think it's great for State, but we tell them why it's great for their state - they are state residents that grew up in this great state and they should want to play and help the state.

"When you're the hometown hero that helped your home state team do something special, there's something that comes along with that. Those high school coaches I know believe that, too; they have great state pride. I probably speak for all of the coaches in the state of North Carolina, we want to keep our best players at home, whether it's at my University or the other ones in the state. I know they all feel the same way, they would rather see them here than any other conference, so that's what we're trying to do."

Building the buzz



Doeren noted in his Signing Day press conference that, while he was pleased with the team's additions, it was not a day for celebration - he said he and his coaches spent much of the day working the phones for the next class and beyond. They knew they were at a disadvantage time-wise, but that would not discourage the group of young and energetic staffers.

NC State hosted prep coaches, individual players and whole teams - full of potential prospects and others that will never even dream of playing college football - the entire spring. There probably was not a spring practice conducted without unofficial visitors of some sort in attendance. The visit list was impressive and the high volume of prospects looks like a tradition that will continue.

An unofficial visit in the spring helped catapult NC State to the top of five-star defensive end Kentavius Street's list. Countless other four- and three-star players toured Raleigh under the new staff and gave rave reviews of the campus, facility and coaches. Several recruits have mentioned in interviews that the assistants are like father figures, who they can talk with about more than just football. Others have described a family feel. Many others still have noted the staff's persistence and an exceptional ability to relate to the youngsters.

The results may not have come until April 2, when three-star wide out Bo Hines became the pied piper of the #Pack14 class and was the first to pull the trigger, but there was no doubt that a buzz was building around the program and the energy that had been noticeably absent around Wolfpack Country for quite some time had returned in full force.

Getting the ball rolling


The buzz and excitement the coaching staff built around the program could be attributed to many things - the coaches' presence on social media, their enthusiasm and ability to relate to prospects, how many players they got to come visit or the fact that change always brings excitement. There was no one particular reason for the energy about the Pack, but the coaches made sure they were no strangers to fans, recruits and others via social media and a media-friendly approach.

"Twitter is free advertising, that's how people communicate," Doeren explained at ACC Kickoff. "It's a great way for us to be a part of the mainstream and to get our image and our vision out there. It just shows how we can relate to our players, they want to go somewhere they're comfortable and they fit in. Our job is to educate them on what they would get by coming to NC State and I think the more we use social media, the more we can put that image out there."

The now-famed #Pack14 got its start in with the aforementioned Bo Hines, a speedster from Charlotte (N.C.) Christian who chose head coach Dave Doeren and company over Nebraska, among others.

"I definitely want to be that guy that starts the trend and helps them get some guys in-state, as well," Hines told The Wolfpacker after he pulled the trigger. And he definitely delivered on that promise.

Hines' teammate, tight end Garrett Bradbury, a two-star sleeper due to the presence of four-star tight end Jeb Blazevich on the same prep roster, followed suit and pledged to the Red and White less than three weeks later on April 20.

Although neither commitment made recruiting headlines around the nation, it did start to give NCSU a presence in football-rich Charlotte, which had been absent for some time. The Pack signed three-star cornerback Jack Tocho from Charlotte Independence last year, but before him, the last Charlotte native to sign was Sylvester Crawford in the class of 2009. The last time that State inked multiple residents of the Queen City was 2008 - when Tom O'Brien and company landed tight end Mario Carter and offensive lineman Andrew Wallace as well as tackle R.J. Mattes from nearby Concord.

The new staff would continue to build from there, notably in Charlotte. After the first out-of-state pledge came in three-star tight end Micah Till, Wilmington linebacker Coult Culler joined the fray. Till has great size at 6-foot-5, 240 pounds and soft hands, while the 6-5 Culler is a tackling machine, who notched double-digit stops in every game as a junior.

Then, the Pack returned to Charlotte to nab one of their biggest coup in the entire class - high-ceiling quarterback Jalan McClendon, who had also earned tenders from the likes of Florida State, Miami, North Carolina and Tennessee.

A big-time assist in the signal caller's recruitment went to Hines, who became an unofficial recruiter of sorts for the class of 2014 and took an unofficial with McClendon the weekend before he committed. That would not be the only time that happened over the spring and summer.

Check back later for our second part of, "Building the #Pack14"


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