Where Are In-State Prep Stars Thriving?
On 2023 Gridiron, Answer Began With UNC
(Duke, NC State Also Produced Multiple Stars)

By David Glenn
North Carolina Sports Network

Every year, on National Signing Day, college football coaches talk about their desire to “put a fence around” their local recruiting territory and the importance of signing as many elite in-state prospects as possible.

In North Carolina, the discussion typically alternates between those years when one of the in-state programs (usually UNC or NC State) signed a particularly impressive number of the highest-rated in-state prospects and those years — and there have been many — when a majority of the most star-studded North Carolina high school prospects cast their lots instead with various out-of-state programs.

According to the 247Sports Composite player rankings for the Class of 2024, for example, the 14 high school seniors in North Carolina who had consensus four-star rankings (out of a possible five) picked the following programs, in alphabetical order: Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Michigan (two), NC State (two), Notre Dame (two), Oklahoma, UNC (three) and Virginia Tech.

In summary, that means only five of the top 14 prep stars signed with in-state teams, while nine chose out-of-state programs. That’s not great news for a state whose four ACC teams have captured — collectively, mind you — only one conference championship (Wake Forest in 2006) since way back in 1989.

“(Recruiting well in-state) is what we were able to do last time we were here to be successful,” said UNC coach Mack Brown, whose 1988-97 tenure in Chapel Hill started with a dismal 1-10 season but ended with back-to-back national top-10 campaigns. “And that’s our plan. That’s who we want to be.”

Another way — some would suggest a more accurate, meaningful and thoughtful way — of looking at recruiting success, in-state or otherwise, is to monitor players’ post-high school career outcomes (e.g., collegiate success, NFL draft status, pro career) rather than simply their recruiting rankings.

After all, what’s really more important to college programs, how many stars a player had next to his name coming out of high school or how well he actually performed while on campus?

With that in mind, below is the North Carolina Sports Network’s 2023 “All-North Carolina” college football team, which consists of 25 collegiate stars — 11 on offense, 11 on defense, and three on special teams — who came through the North Carolina high school ranks, regardless of whether they played for an in-state or out-of-state college program.

(Note: Only the 2023 first-team selections are listed below. For the entire 2023 All-North Carolina offense — with first-, second- and third-team picks, plus honorable mentions — please click HERE. For the entire defense, please click HERE.)

By this standard, which completely ignores recruiting rankings and is based entirely on college-level performance instead, UNC — as well as Duke and NC State, for that matter — fared much better than any out-of-state program in the all-important category of taking in-state prospects and actually helping to turn them into college stars.

2023 “All-North Carolina” College Football Team^
First-Team Offense

QB: Drake Maye, r-So., North Carolina (2024 NFL draft)
2022 All-American, 2x All-ACC, 2-year starter, Charlotte Myers Park
RB: Omarion Hampton, So., North Carolina
2023 1st-team All-ACC, Clayton Cleveland
RB: Will Shipley, Jr., Clemson (2024 NFL draft)
2022 1st-team All-ACC, 2-year starter, Matthews Weddington
WR: KC Concepcion, Fr., NC State
2023 2nd-team All-ACC, Charlotte Chambers
WR: Tez Walker, r-Jr., North Carolina (Kent State 2021-22)
2023 3rd-team All-ACC, 2022 All-MAC, 2-year starter, West Charlotte
TE: Bryson Nesbit, Jr., North Carolina
2023 1st-team All-ACC, Charlotte South Mecklenburg
OT: Delmar Glaze, r-Jr., Maryland
2023 3rd-team All-Big Ten, 3-year starter, Charlotte West Mecklenburg
OG: D’Mitri Emmanuel, r-Sr., Florida State (Charlotte 2017-22)
2023 1st-team All-ACC, 5-year starter, Waxhaw Marvin Ridge
OC: Isaiah Helms, r-Sr., Appalachian State (Western Carolina 2019-20)
2023 1st-team All-Sun Belt, 5-year starter, Lenoir West Caldwell
OG: Jacob Monk, r-Sr., Duke
2023 2nd-team All-ACC, 5-year starter, Wendell Corinth Holders
OT: Mike Edwards, r-Sr., Campbell (Wake Forest 2018-19)
FCS All-American, 1st-team All-CAA, 4-year starter, Hope Mills South View

PK: Joshua Karty, r-Jr., Stanford
All-American. 2x 1st-team All-Pac-12, 3-year starter, Elon Western Alamance
SP: Tucker Holloway, So., Virginia Tech
2023 3rd-team All-ACC, High Point Andrews

First-Team Defense

DE: James Pearce Jr., So., Tennessee
2023 1st-team All-SEC, Charlotte Chambers
DT: Aeneas Peebles, Sr., Duke (Virginia Tech in 2024)
2023 3rd-team All-ACC, Knightdale High
DT: Myles Murphy, Sr., North Carolina (2024 NFL draft)
2023 HM All-ACC, 3-year starter, Greensboro Dudley
DE: Nate Lynn, r-Sr., William & Mary
3x FCS All-American, 3x 1st-team All-CAA, 3-year starter, Charlotte Vance
LB: Payton Wilson, r-Sr., NC State (2024 NFL draft)
2023 All-American, ACC DPOY, 3-year starter, Hillsborough Orange
LB: Cedric Gray, Sr., North Carolina (2024 NFL draft)
2022 All-American, 2x 1st-team All-ACC, 3-year starter, Charlotte Audrey Kell
LB: Tre Freeman, r-So., Duke
2023 2nd-team All-ACC, Northern Durham
S: Malik Mustapha, r-Jr., Wake Forest (Richmond 2020; 2024 NFL draft)
2023 2nd-team All-ACC, 2-year starter, Matthews Weddington
S: Brandon Johnson, Jr., Duke (in transfer portal)
2x HM All-ACC, 2-year starter, Newton-Conover High
CB: Aydan White, Sr., NC State (in transfer portal)
2x All-ACC, 2022 1st-team All-ACC, 2-year starter, Asheville Christ School
CB: Malik Dunlap, r-Sr., Texas Tech (NC State 2018-20)
2x All-Big 12, 2-year starter, Charlotte Harding

P: Ben Kiernan, r-Sr., North Carolina
2022 3rd-team All-ACC, 5-year starter, injured 2023, Raleigh Wakefield

Interestingly, 17 of the 25 most decorated North Carolina prep products were those who “stayed home,” meaning they either signed with an in-state college program directly out of high school or they ended up transferring to one. The latter group included UNC wide receiver Tez Walker (Kent State) and Wake Forest safety Malik Mustapha (Richmond).

First-Team Stars From In-State Teams: 17
First-Team Stars From Out-Of-State Teams: 8

Two more players performed well for an in-state program before doing their best work elsewhere: Texas Tech cornerback Malik Dunlap (NC State) and Florida State guard D’Mitri Emmanuel (Charlotte). Two standout offensive linemen, Appalachian State center Isaiah Helms (Western Carolina) and Campbell tackle Mike Edwards (Wake Forest), transferred from one in-state program to another.

“All-North Carolina” First Team
(By 2023 College Program)

7 — North Carolina
4 — Duke
3 — NC State
1 — Appalachian State
1 — Campbell
1 — Clemson
1 — Florida State
1 — Maryland
1 — Stanford
1 — Tennessee
1 — Texas Tech
1 — Virginia Tech
1 — Wake Forest
1 — William & Mary

While Brown hasn’t yet been able to get the Tar Heels past the nine-win threshold during his second tenure in Chapel Hill, he clearly has not lost his in-state recruiting touch.

In the 1990s, Brown’s best Carolina players included in-state signees such as wide receiver Bucky Brooks, wide receiver Na Brown, defensive end Greg Ellis, cornerback Jimmy Hitchcock, running back Leon Johnson, defensive end Marcus Jones, running back Natrone Means, linebacker Mike Morton, linebacker Brian Simmons, cornerback Thomas Smith, defensive end Oscar Sturgis, defensive tackle Rick Terry, safety Bracy Walker and cornerback Robert Williams.

Brown also recruited legendary UNC star Julius Peppers to Chapel Hill, although Brown left to take the Texas job during the winter before Peppers arrived on campus.

During his current tenure, Brown has signed arguably the two best NFL quarterback prospects in Carolina history, in both cases after they had committed to prominent out-of-state programs: Sam Howell (who had pledged to Florida State) and Drake Maye (Alabama). Both were in-state prospects from the greater Charlotte area.

Brown said in-state recruiting will be a very high priority for as long as he’s coaching at UNC.

“I’ve always felt like, especially if you’re going by the rules, which we are, it’s easier to get a guy close to home than it is all the way across the country,” Brown said, “because the more schools he has to drive by or fly by to get to you, is problematic.

“I want guys where their parents can see them play. I want guys where their friends can see them play, their high school coaches can see them play. And then I’d love for guys to play on our team, by and large, that are going to live in that area when they get through, because it’s easier for them to get jobs.”

While this year’s signing day results show that neither Brown nor any other coach has succeeded in “putting a fence around North Carolina,” according to this very important 2023 measuring stick, he’s once again doing a better job with in-state recruiting than anybody else.