NC State, UNC, Others Helping In-State
Prospects Turn NFL Dreams Into Reality

By David Glenn
North Carolina Sports Network

As the National Football League’s 2023-24 campaign nears its conclusion, it’s worth celebrating each of the 14 North Carolina-based college football programs that helped one or more in-state high school gridiron prospects on their way to making their NFL dreams come true this season.

NC State leads the way in this regard (see complete list below), with 12 in-state high school players who represented the Wolfpack on their way to the NFL. UNC ranks second, with five in-state signees who competed for the Tar Heels before jumping to the professional ranks.

Appalachian State, Campbell, Charlotte, Duke, East Carolina, Elon, Fayetteville State, Lenoir-Rhyne, UNC Pembroke, Wake Forest, Western Carolina and Wingate also contributed to the “All-North Carolina” NFL theme this season.

Campbell, Elon and Western Carolina are Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) programs. Fayetteville State, Lenoir-Rhyne, UNC Pembroke and Wingate are Division Two programs.

NC State coach Dave Doeren and UNC coach Mack Brown both have emphasized in-state recruiting during their tenures in Raleigh and Chapel Hill, respectively.

Doeren, the Wolfpack’s head coach since December 2012, has claimed in-state recruiting championships of sorts in some years on National Signing Day, and State’s 12 NFL representatives on the list below all played for Doeren during their time in Raleigh.

“We led the state,” Doeren said on Signing Day in 2022. “Out of all the ACC schools, there was 23 in-state signees in our conference, and we had the most of all the schools, all 14 schools in the ACC. We had seven, the next school had six, and then five and then four.

“I feel good that we continue to take care of our own more than anybody in the state. And that’s something I’ve said I would do nine years ago and have lived up to my end and will continue to do that.”

When considering all players, regardless of where they played their high school football, NC State also had more of its former players (eight) on 2023-24 NFL playoff rosters than any other North Carolina-based program. The Wolfpack ranked fourth in the ACC in that regard, behind only Clemson (14), Miami (11) and Florida State (nine).

NC State also recently had two of its former stars selected to the NFL’s 2024 Pro Bowl: Las Vegas Raiders punter AJ Cole and Kansas City Chiefs guard Joe Thuney. (They are not included on the list below because they were not North Carolina high school football players.) The only other in-state college program that will be represented at this year’s Pro Bowl is Wake Forest, with Atlanta Falcons safety Jessie Bates III.

The only North Carolina high school prospects selected for this year’s Pro Bowl were Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen and New York Giants defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence II. A former Greensboro Northern Guilford star, Allen played collegiately at California. A former Wake Forest High School star, Lawrence played collegiately at Clemson.

Meanwhile, the Tar Heels did the best job of turning in-state prospects into elite college players (and, in some cases, high-ranking NFL prospects) during the 2023 season, with quarterback Drake Maye (Charlotte Myers Park), running back Omarion Hampton (Clayton Cleveland), wide receiver Tez Walker (West Charlotte) and tight end Bryson Nesbit (Charlotte South Mecklenburg) leading the way, suggesting that UNC will be increasing its number on the list below in the coming years.

The North Carolina Sports Network recently tracked the college careers of more than 1,000 in-state high school football prospects and selected “All-North Carolina” teams on offense and defense for the 2023 season. UNC (seven), Duke (four) and NC State (three) had the most first-team selections.

North Carolina’s “Home-Grown” NFL Players
(High School AND College In NC Before NFL)

Appalachian State (2)

Akeem Davis-Gaither, LB, Bengals, 4, Thomasville HS
Kendall Lamm, OT, Dolphins, 8, Matthews Butler

Campbell (2)

Brevin Allen, OLB, Chargers, R, McLeansville Northeast Guilford
Julian Hill, TE, Dolphins, R, Fayetteville Pine Forest

Charlotte (2)

Alex Highsmith, LB, Steelers, 4, Wilmington Ashley
Larry Ogunjobi, DT, Steelers, 7, Jamestown Ragsdale

Duke (2)

Jamison Crowder, WR, Commanders, 9, Monroe HS
Daniel Jones, QB, Giants, 5, Charlotte Latin

East Carolina (1)

Ja’Quan McMillian, CB, Broncos, 1, Clemmons West Forsyth

Elon (1)

Olisaemeka Udoh, OG, Vikings, 5, Fayetteville Sanford

Fayetteville State (2)

Kion Smith, OT, Dolphins, 1, Lumberton HS
Joshua Williams, CB, Chiefs, 2, Fayetteville Britt

Lenoir-Rhyne (1)

Dareke Young, WR, Seahawks, 2, Apex Middle Creek

North Carolina (5)

Dyami Brown, WR, Commanders, 3, Charlotte West Mecklenburg
Sam Howell, QB, Commanders, 2, Monroe Sun Valley
Mike Hughes, CB, Falcons, 6, New Bern HS (finished at UCF)
Chazz Surratt, LB, Jets, 2, Denver East Lincoln
Javonte Williams, RB, Broncos, 3, Teachey Wallace-Rose Hill

NC State (12)

Garrett Bradbury, OC, Vikings, 5, Charlotte Christian
Ikem Ekwonu*, OT, Panthers, 2, Charlotte Providence Day
Trenton Gill, P, Bears, 2, Hillsborough Cedar Ridge
BJ Hill, DT, Bengals, 6, Oakboro West Stanly
Nyheim Hines, RB, Bills, 6, Garner HS
Zonovan Knight, RB, Lions, 2, Bailey Southern Nash
Alim McNeill, DL, Lions, 3, Raleigh Sanderson
Larrell Murchison, DT, Rams, 4, Elizabethtown East Bladen
Germaine Pratt, LB, Bengals, 5, High Point Central
James Smith-Williams, DE, Commanders, 4, Raleigh Millbrook
Kentavius Street, DL, Eagles, 5, Greenville Rose
Drake Thomas, LB, Seahawks, R, Wake Forest Heritage

UNC Pembroke (1)

Domenique Davis, DT, Bengals, 1, Laurinburg Scotland

Wake Forest (1)

Blake Whiteheart, TE, Cardinals, R, Winston-Salem Mount Tabor

Western Carolina (1)

Keion Crossen, DB, Dolphins, 6, Gaston Northampton County

Wingate (1)

Ethan Evans, P, Rams, R, Mount Airy North Surry

*—pictured atop this post