Tar Heels off to hot start

Entering his fourth season, Butch Davis is trying to make North Carolina more than just a basketball school. Many feel the Tar Heels have the talent to challenge for a division and conference championship this year, which is a testament to Davis and his staff's recruiting ability.

Davis, known as a very good recruiter with a great eye for spotting talent, has built the Tar Heels from the ground up through recruiting. Beginning with his first class in 2007, Davis and his staff have brought in top-25 recruiting classes in three of the past four years. This year's class looks like it will continue that trend. Despite a recent NCAA investigation, North Carolina has 16 commits, including eight four-star prospects and six high-three-star players. Few, if any, teams in the ACC have that type of class right now.

Who the Tar Heels have
Headlining this group are four-star athletes T.J. Thorpe and Everett Golson. Thorpe, from Durham (N.C.) Jordan, projects as a future wide receiver at North Carolina and caught 55 passes for 950 yards and five TDs last season. At 6 feet, 180 pounds, Thorpe is silky smooth and makes big plays. He showed that again at the recent Gridiron Kings tournament, where he helped lead his Southeast squad to the title.

Golson, who will likely play both football and basketball at North Carolina, has thrown for over 6,800 yards and 87 touchdowns at Myrtle Beach (S.C.) High School. Golson is already South Carolina's all-time leader in touchdown passes. Golson -- 6 feet, 172 pounds -- has cat-like quickness in the pocket and can extend a play with his feet. With his superior quickness and speed Golson, could convert to wide receiver one day, but UNC wants to get more athletic at quarterback. Golson reminds me a lot of former Clemson star quarterback Woody Dantzler.

Golson isn't the only athletic quarterback heading to UNC. Marquise Williams, a four-star QB from Charlotte (N.C.) Mallard, has totaled 4,400 yards passing, 2,400 yards rushing and a combined 77 touchdowns over the past two years. Williams, 6-foot-3, 215, is bigger than Golson and can throw the ball and make plays with his feet as well.

Travis Riley from Kannapolis (N.C.) Brown is a four-star running back who rushed for 1,924 yards and 32 scores last year as a junior. At 6-1, 210 pounds, he's a big back who runs with power and deceptive speed.

Another four-star talent headed to the Tar Heels is tight end Eric Ebron from Greensboro (N.C.) Smith. Ebron can put his hand down next to the offensive tackle or flex out wide. He has good receiving skills (he averaged 17 yards per catch and scored four TDs last year) and is tough in the air.

UNC filled an area of need across the offensive front with four commitments, including four-star guards Kiaro Holts and Landon Turner, and three-star prospect Jarrod James. Holts, an Under Armour All-American, is from Indianapolis Warren Central, and it marks the second straight year the Tar Heels have snagged the Hoosier State's top lineman (last year it was James Hurst). Holts, 6-5 and 270 pounds, is the No. 8-rated offensive guard and No. 144 in the ESPNU 150. He's strong, tenacious, athletic and is a dynamite run blocker at this stage.

Turner, from Harrisonburg (Va.) HS, is 6-5, 310 pounds and the No. 12 guard in the country. He missed the 2008 season with a broken fibula, but shows good quickness for his size, has good balance, athleticism and may get a look at tackle in Chapel Hill. James, from Pikeville (N.C.) Aycock, is a true guard, while 6-8, 280-pound Jamar Lewter is a tackle with tremendous upside. He's from Washington (D.C.) Ballou, the same school that produced North Carolina star defensive tackle Marvin Austin.

So far the Tar Heels have helped their D-line with commits from defensive end Daquan Romero and defensive tackle Shaun Underwood. Romero, from Hampton (Va.) Phoebus, is just 6 feet, 212 pounds, which is small to put his hand down, and will likely play outside linebacker or be a rush end. Underwood, from Fuquay-Varina (N.C.) HS, is an anchor in the middle at 315 pounds.

Christian Russell is a middle linebacker prospect from Fayetteville (N.C.) Hoke County. He is a high-effort player on both sides of the ball. He recorded 136 tackles and rushed for 1,728 yards and 23 touchdowns last season.

North Carolina hit the safety position hard with commitments from Tim Scott, Brandon Ellerbe and Darien Rankin. Scott, from Stafford (Va.) Colonial Forge, has the versatility to play either cornerback or safety. UNC nabbed Ellerbe, from Wadesboro (N.C.) Anson, from Clemson. He is a hard-hitting strong safety, while Rankin, from Salisbury (N.C.) HS, is a likely free safety. Athlete Kameron Jackson, from Madison (Ala.) HS, projects as a cornerback for North Carolina.

Who the Tar Heels still want
So what's left? Certainly there are some big-time players UNC would love to land for its 2011 recruiting class. Keep an eye on a trio of running backs, including Romar Morris (Salisbury, N.C./Salisbury), a track star who can do a little bit of everything and currently favors North Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia Tech. Jamal Womble, who's at Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College now, could come back play at UNC. He committed once to the Tar Heels but was ruled ineligible and went the juco route rather than sit out. Savon Huggins (Jersey City, N.J./St. Peter's) has North Carolina on his final list of 10. He visited the Tar Heels this past spring.

Looking at wide receivers, North Carolina would love to flip Phillip Dorsett (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla./St. Thomas Aquinas) away from Miami, but that could prove to be a difficult task. Athletes Kris Frost (Matthews, N.C./Butler) and Chris Milton (Folkston, Ga./Charlton County) are possibilities. At tight end, keep an eye on Drew Owens (Charlotte, N.C./Ardry Kell).

North Carolina is staying in the hunt five-star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (Rock Hill, S.C./South Pointe), the nation's top prospect. The Tar Heels are also in on Norkethus Otis (Gastonia, N.C./Ashbrook). At defensive tackle Devonte Brown (Fayetteville, N.C./Jack Britt), Delvon Simmons (McKeesport, Pa./McKeesport) and Kevin McReynolds (Washington D.C./St. John's College) are three to watch.

Linebacker Travis Hughes (Virginia Beach, Va./Kempsville) says he favors North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Maryland, LSU and Clemson. OLB Tremayne McNair (Jacksonville, N.C./White Oak) loves North Carolina, Georgia Tech and Clemson. If he picks UNC he could end up at fullback. North Carolina is playing catch-up with four-star OLB Stephone Anthony (Wadesboro, N.C./Anson Senior) and the Tar Heels are in it with four-star ILB Curtis Grant (Richmond, Va./Hermitage). OLB Conner Crowell (Waldorf, Md./North Pointe) and Keith Lewis (Tampa, Fla./Freedom) are two out-of-staters to watch.

At defensive back, keep a close eye on Dominique Noble (Mount Ulla, N.C./West Rowan) and Alex Dixon (Countryside, Fla./Countryside). The Tar Heels are in good position with Dixon.

Bottom line
Look for this to be a full class for the Tar Heels. They have quietly put together one of the better groups in the ACC and, despite the NCAA investigation, things remain on course for Davis and his staff. North Carolina should close very well between now and national signing day, especially if it breaks through on the field this fall.

Jamie Newberg has been covering recruiting in the Southeast and nationally for 19 years. He can be reached at jamienewbergbw@yahoo.com.