Tar Heels Battle Gamecocks on the Recruiting Front As Border War Looms

Tar Heels Battle Gamecocks on the Recruiting Front
CHAPEL HILL, NORTH CAROLINA - NOVEMBER 17: The North Carolina Tar Heels take the field for their game against the Western Carolina Catamounts at Kenan Stadium on November 17, 2018 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

North Carolina won’t have to wait until its season opener to do battle with the Gamecocks of South Carolina. The two programs have already been battling it out recently for the top recruits in the Carolinas. Now, we perform a deep dive as we look at how the Tar Hells battle Gamecocks on the recruiting front.

Last week, two highly-touted recruits, Tonka Hemingway and Ja’Qurious Conley, made verbal commitments on the same day. Both had narrowed their choices down to North Carolina and South Carolina. Hemingway, a defensive lineman from Conway, South Carolina, chose the Gamecocks. Conley, a safety from Jacksonville, North Carolina, committed to the Tar Heels.

These two programs face off on the gridiron every few years, but their recruiting battles take place every day. Both schools rely on being able to successfully recruit the top high school talent in the Carolinas. New North Carolina coach Mack Brown has made no secret of his desire to keep the best players in North Carolina at home. He wants to bring South Carolina’s best high school players to Chapel Hill as well. Likewise, the Gamecocks have always considered North Carolina to be prime recruiting ground. As both programs seem to be moving in the right direction, which one will win the hearts and minds of recruits in the Carolinas?

A Region Rich in Football Talent

The Carolinas have always had a wealth of high school football talent; any school that can recruit well in both states will have a loaded roster. Brown was able to do that during his first tenure in Chapel Hill, especially as his program started to find success. By the time he left for Texas, Brown was getting most of the North Carolina recruits he wanted, as well as many from other states, including South Carolina.

After Brown’s departure, many high school players from North Carolina took their talents elsewhere. In recent years, the Gamecocks snagged Pharoh Cooper away from the Tar Heel State, while Dexter Lawrence chose Clemson. Todd Gurley left his home state to play at Georgia. Brown is now back in Chapel Hill, and his 2020 recruiting class is ranked inside the top 20. To keep up this caliber of recruiting success, he will have to fend off his former assistant, Will Muschamp, now the head coach at South Carolina.

The Current Recruits

While the Tar Heels’ 2020 recruiting class currently includes only one South Carolina native, it is full of top high school players from North Carolina. Many of these players were heavily recruited by Muschamp’s staff at South Carolina.

A prime example is Myles Murphy, a four-star defensive end from Greensboro. Many observers felt Murphy would be heading to Columbia, especially after his teammate, wide receiver Mike Wyman, committed to the Gamecocks.  However, Murphy took his final official visit to Chapel Hill and announced he would be playing for the Tar Heels. While neither player has signed yet, they both claim to be trying to recruit each other. Wyman vowed to change Murphy’s mind, while Murphy intends to persuade Wyman to join him at North Carolina.

Conley also chose the Tar Heels after being recruited by the Gamecocks. A gifted athlete who plays both offense and defense, Conley will most likely play at safety in college. At North Carolina, he would join former South Carolina high school star Storm Duck in the secondary. Duck is currently a true freshman, signing with North Carolina shortly after Brown’s return.

The Tar Heels missed out on adding Hemingway to the fold when the four-star defensive end committed to the Gamecocks on the same day as Conley’s announcement. Until all of the class of 2020 recruits have signed, both schools will remain hopeful they can flip some of the players they had targeted.

Impact of the Border War

On August 31, North Carolina and South Carolina will square off in Charlotte for the latest edition of the “Border War.” The two schools were once conference rivals until South Carolina left the ACC in 1971. Ever since, the programs have met periodically, with 57 total games in the series.

In the past, the programs’ level of success, both in the series and overall, has had recruiting implications. In 1984, the schools didn’t play each other, but the Gamecocks finished 10-2. That same year, the Tar Heels stumbled to a 5-5-1 record. South Carolina coach Joe Morrison recruited and signed Todd Ellis, a North Carolina native who was ranked as the top high school quarterback in the country. By the early 1990s, the tables had turned. North Carolina was on the rise, while the Gamecocks had slipped into mediocrity. Brown was able to lure Vonnie Holliday, a future NFL Pro-Bowler, away from the Palmetto State.

The Matchup

This year’s meeting means a great deal for both programs as far as momentum in recruiting. While South Carolina is favored by a touchdown, the pressure to win falls on the Gamecocks. Muschamp describes this year’s team as the best he has had at South Carolina, while the expectations are lower for Brown’s Tar Heels after a 2-9 record in Larry Fedora’s last season.

The game comes as more potential as North Carolina signees draw closer to their college choices. At the forefront is Desmond Evans, a five-star defensive end from Lee County in North Carolina. Evans is the top-ranked player in the state, and reportedly leaning toward the Tar Heels. The season opener won’t make or break a program, but a statement win in Brown’s first game back at North Carolina could only lead to more wins on the recruiting trail.

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