North Carolina stars put on their recruiting hats


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SPARTANBURG, S.C. – The coaches may be gone, but the recruiters clearly remain.
Only a handful of Division I coaches attended Wednesday's two practice sessions leading up to the North Carolina-South Carolina Shrine Bowl after more than 100 assistants stood on the sidelines of Wofford College's practice fields the day before.
But, many of the coaches – who are only allowed to watch one practice for each team – have some help on the inside. Several major recruits that have committed have been busy trying to convince some of their teammates to pick the same school they chose.
That kind of activity was prevalent on the North Carolina's team, which features many of the top-ranked uncommitted recruits in the nation, including running backs Toney Baker and Montario Hardesty.
Jonathan Crompton, the nation's No. 2-ranked pro-style quarterback who committed to Tennessee months ago, has been handing off to Baker and Hardesty for the last three days. He'd really like that to continue for the next four or even five seasons.
"We need a running back, so I've been trying to get Toney and Montario to come to Tennessee a little bit," Crompton said.
Baker isn't revealing much about where he is leaning. The prep star, who finished with more than 10,000 career rushing yards, continues to consider N.C. State, North Carolina, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Tennessee. N.C. State, where he took his first and only official visit earlier this month, may be a slight favorite. Wolfpack running back T.A. McLendon recently announced he will enter the NFL draft.
"I will probably announce where I am committing during the U.S. Army All-American Bowl (Jan. 15)," Baker said. "I have a pretty decent idea of where I am going but I'm not quite sure where I will visit."
Hardesty isn't nearly as guarded with his comments and he recently started to narrow down the schools at the top of his list.
"North Carolina and Tennessee are my leaders right now," Hardesty said. "Virginia Tech isn't far behind and I'm also looking at Notre Dame, Clemson and N.C. State."
Tennessee was the sole front runner until an official visit to UNC earlier this month. Hardesty plans on visiting Knoxville, Tenn., one more time and then announcing his commitment soon after.
Crompton's commitment to the Vols continues to firm up. He stopped accepting phone calls from other coaches despite interest from many of the nation's elite programs.
Four-star tight end Jonathan Hannah talks to a different coach nearly everyday. Hannah is one of the biggest names still available, and he is also starting to narrow his list and decide destinations for official visits. He has already taken official visits to Clemson and Virginia Tech.
"I'm going to South Carolina and it will probably be on Jan. 14.," Hannah said. "I'm also going to visit North Carolina and either Georgia or Florida State."
Several teammates have approached Hannah with their own recruiting pitch.
"Everybody is suddenly a recruiter," Hannah said. "Joe Cox and Mohamed Massaquoi (Georgia commitments) are master recruiters. They have been talking to me a lot."
Another recruiting battle involving UNC and Virginia Tech will also come to an end soon. Defensive back Stephan Virgil plans to commit to one of those two ACC programs sometime next week and UNC appears to have the edge. Nearly half of the Tar Heels coaching staff made an in-home visit to Virgil last week and he will be in Chapel Hill soon.
"Brian Dixon (UNC commitment) is telling me to come to Carolina," Virgil said. "I am going to visit UNC one more time next week and then make a decision."
Four-star recruits Everette Brown and Derek Nicholson are also being hounded by teammates. Neither will reveal if they is leaning anywhere, but Nicholson did say he will take his final two official visits at Miami and Virginia Tech. He is also seriously considering Florida State (where older brother and linebacker A.J. plays), North Carolina and Virginia Tech.
The Tar Heel State may have never produced a better group of prospects. Nine different players are ranked in the top 10 at their individual position. Shrine Bowl coach Dick Cline was an assistant on North Carolina's 1993 and '94 Shrine Bowl teams, and was asked if this team is better.
"I hope so and I really think so," Cline said. "We are certainly better at the skill positions. I think the process we have adapted the last few years with setting up a combine gives us an opportunity to select a more deserving group of players. You start out with over 1,000 invitations and start to narrow it down to about 90 players. Then we had a workout for those players and finished the monumental task of cutting it down to 44. A tremendous amount of great players were left of this team."
A handful of North Carolina's defensive backs were asked who they felt was the toughest receiver to face and without hesitation they all answered Massaquoi. UVa commits Maurice Covington and Brandon Woods have also earned plenty of praise.
James Arnold has added a new position to his arsenal – placeholder. He has also lined up at quarterback, running back and punt returner this week. Ironically, the UNC commit will likely play defensive back at the next level.
North Carolina's defensive backs are responsible for some of the best one-liners in camp. Some of their greatest hits included...
"That's good that you are blocking. You might as well block if you can't catch."
"I'm ashamed you are wearing my number."
"Let's count how many times I burnt you, one, two, three, infinity."
Crompton and Cox were roommates at the Elite 11 camp and now they are competing for the starting quarterback job. Crompton may be higher ranked and have more hype, but it appears to be dead heat at the moment. Crompton took most of the reps Tuesday and Cox took most of the reps Wednesday.
The North Carolina-South Carolina Shrine Bowl is an annual all-star game that pits the top seniors from both states. The game will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday. Rivals.com will continue to bring you coverage of practices and events leading up to the game.