It's been a rocky road in Chapel Hill. First the NCAA investigation that began in the summer. Then the Tar Heels were forced to suspend 13 players for their opening game (a loss to LSU). And most recently, associate head coach and recruiting coordinator John Blake abruptly resigned Sunday, citing his departure as being in the "best interest" of the Tar Heels' football program.
The ripples of this are being felt on the recruiting trail. The Tar Heels, with Blake and coach Butch Davis, had the No. 11 recruiting class working this year. Recruits stayed loyal to UNC when the news of the investigation first came out over the summer, but that might be starting to change.
Losing Blake hurts, especially on the recruiting front. Over the years, he has developed a reputation as one of the country's best recruiters, and he helped North Carolina land running back Giovanni Bernard as well as defensive linemen Brandon Willis, Donte Moss, Jared McAdoo and Marvin Austin, to name just a few.
The program is in a tough spot on the recruiting front. It might be December or January before a permanent replacement is named for Blake. But with more fallout looming from the investigation, it could take a toll on recruits, who undoubtedly will be hearing from other schools more and more. Add in that if the Tar Heels struggle on the field, that could make recruits start to look elsewhere as well.
While there have been no decommitments yet, that doesn't mean players aren't at least going to explore their options a little more now.
"I am pretty solid right now with North Carolina," said four-star OG Kiaro Holts from Indianapolis Warren Central, who committed in June. "The [North Carolina] coaches are telling me to hang tight and see how it works out. But a bunch of schools have been coming at me a little harder. I am still solid with UNC, but I may visit a few schools."
Davis has been able to get top-25 classes to North Carolina in three of his four years, but it is looking like it will be tougher and tougher to match that this year. What's uncovered in the continuing NCAA investigation and the future fallout will greatly impact North Carolina recruiting for the rest of this 2011 recruiting cycle and possibly beyond.
Alabama lands coveted juco DT
The richer got richer as the national champion Alabama Crimson Tide picked up arguably the top junior college prospect in the nation in Jesse Williams, a 6-foot-3, 320-pound defensive tackle from Arizona Western Junior College.
"Alabama has been on him since day one. You compare how they recruited to what everyone else did, and it wasn't even close. They were the very best in recruiting Jesse," Arizona Western coach Tom Minnick said. "You have to really credit Alabama because they made him feel like part of the family. He kind of knew where he wanted to go. Then he visited last weekend and decided on his visit that Alabama was the place for him. He just felt really comfortable with the staff, program and the entire situation."
Williams is freakishly strong, athletic and fast his size. He's from Australia, so the transition to junior college ball was a little tricky, just like the transition from juco ball to the SEC will be for him.
"There was a big transition for him coming from Australia to us, and I am sure the transition from us to Alabama will be huge for him," Minnick said. "But that's a big kid that can run. Jesse plays with a motor that never stop. This is a great kid that always gets after it. Alabama will never have a problem with Jesse Williams."
2012 recruits make decisions
Sept. 1 was the first day schools could extend written offers to players in the Class of 2012, and some prospects wasted little time accepting those offers.
Just last week, two of the top prospects from South Florida in the Class of 2012 made their commitments -- wide receiver Avery Johnson (Pompano Beach, Fla./Ely) to LSU and linebacker Keith Brown (Miami, Fla./Norland) to the Hurricanes. A few weeks prior, Eddie Williams (Panama City, Fla./Arnold) committed to Alabama.
"I grew up a fan of the Canes, and they have a good football program," Brown said. "They have one of the best sports medicine programs in the country. I talked it over with my parents and just said why go through the process when I already know where I want to go."
Brown, 6-1½5 and 214 pounds, plays middle linebacker, and while he missed the season opener with a sprained ankle, he'll be back next week for Miami Jackson.
"I am a smart middle linebacker that loves to hit. I am aggressive and play sideline to sideline," he said. "I believe I can be the next Ray Lewis. This is a burden off my shoulders, and now I can focus on school and football."
Miami coach Randy Shannon went to Norland and also played middle linebacker. Don't think Brown didn't notice.
"That's cool, isn't it?" he said. "We have actually only talked a few times but we hit it off pretty good. The coach there that I have a great relationship with is [LB coach] Michael Barrow."
Johnson will follow his older brother, Patrick Peterson, to LSU. Like Brown, this was an easy decision for Johnson to make.
"I used to live in Baton Rouge, so I am very familiar with the school, facilities and coaching staff," Johnson said. "It's a great school with a great fan base. Tiger fans are the best. I can go in and play early and I like their balanced offense. I just feel very comfortable with LSU and this decision."
Johnson, 6-1½ and 180 pounds, leaned on his older brother for some guidance in the process. Through it all, Patrick wanted to make sure his younger brother made the correct decision.
"He actually told me not to commit," Johnson said. "Patrick told me to take my time and be comfortable with my decision when I am ready. Even when I committed, he asked if I was sure about. Then he welcomed me to the family."
Florida and Florida State already have one 2012 commitment apiece in wide receiver LaTroy Pittman (Citra, Fla./North Marion) and defensive back P.J. Williams (Ocala, Fla./Vanguard). Nationally, both USC and Texas Tech have two apiece.
Taking a visit
There are some monster college football games this weekend, like Penn State-Alabama, Miami-Ohio State and Michigan-Notre Dame. You can bet there will be prospects in attendance unofficially as well as some recruits who will make their official visits.
In South Bend, two of the South's top defensive prospects -- defensive back Wayne Lyons (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla./Dillard) and Stephon Tuitt (Monroe, Ga./Monroe) -- are making official visits to see the Irish.
"Michigan is a big-time rival of Notre Dame, and this is a great chance for me to see Notre Dame football in a great atmosphere," said Tuitt, who is also considering Georgia Tech, Auburn, Clemson, Tennessee and Miami. "This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for me and the first time I will travel up north. I am very interested in talking with the coaches and I really like Notre Dame."
Other notables who are making official visits this weekend are Chris Jones (Adamsville, Ala./Minor), who will trip to Alabama, and Jabari Gorman (Miami, Fla./Pace), who will visit Ohio State. Travis Hughes (Virginia Beach, Va./Kempsville) will visit Maryland, and Ameer Abdullah (Homewood, Ala./Homewood) will visit Vanderbilt.
Jamie Newberg has been covering recruiting both in the Southeast and nationally for 19 years. He can be reached at email@example.com.