OPINION: North Carolina gaining national exposure
August has arrived.
For red-blooded American males in 50 states and a few territories in the shadow of a star-studded flag, this means football season is here. The top prize will not be awarded for another six months, but that does nothing to hamper the excitement for aficionados of college athletics.
On the final day of this month, Georgia will face Clemson in what is considered by many in the southeast to be the most important non-conference game of the season. The ACC-SEC clash will feature several players from the area, but one will star will likely shine brighter than the rest.
Fans in North Carolina may remember Todd Gurley for leading Tarboro to back-to-back 2-A state championships. Those titles were awarded at the conclusion of his junior and senior seasons, the only two years he started in high school. A late bloomer, the 6-foot-1-inch, 218-pound tailback has more than made up for lost time at Georgia, setting school records as a freshman.
His backfield partner, Keith Marshall, also hails from the Tar Heel state. The pair combined for over 2,000 yards last season for the Bulldogs in what was the true freshman season for both running backs. Marshall excelled at the 4-A level during his time at Millbrook High School in Raleigh and actually came into last season as a five-star recruit, more highly touted than his larger counterpart.
Both flourished in their roles and added a dynamic second dimension to an already-explosive offense led by Aaron Murray. As a result, Georgia came within five yards of notching a SEC championship and clinching a spot in the National Championship. In no small part, the backfield of North Carolina natives has contributed to a golden era of sorts for Mark Richt's program.
Less than 400 miles south, SEC East rival Florida has also seen a resurgence. The Gators' loss to Georgia was their only blemish in the regular season en route to a BCS bowl bid. This season, head coach Will Muschamp loses eight starters on defense, half of his starting offensive unit and will rely on an influx of young talent stepping into the lineup.
A pair of five-star recruits from the class of 2012, D.J. Humphries and Jonathan Bullard, are expected to become cornerstones on both sides of the ball. Humphries is penciled in as the team's starting left tackle, while Bullard will operate within a 3-4 scheme from the defensive end position. Humphries and Bullard graduated from Charlotte-based Mallard Creek and Shelby Crest, respectively.
For several seasons, perennial powers in the Triangle and Charlotte areas have produced individual stars. Many in Davidson County had given up on having the chance to see one of its own go on to perform at the next level. Those folks should tune back in over the next two seasons, however, as the patience of witnessing greatness on the gridiron is being rewarded.
Shy Tuttle, a 6-foot-3-inch, 300-pound defensive lineman at North Davidson, has received offers from every major football program east of the Mississippi. He will likely join Gurley, Marshall, Humphries and Bullard as North Carolina natives who leave the state to propel a team to national contention. Good news for football fans in the Piedmont is that he will not be doing so for another two years; Tuttle is only a junior.
With the type of talent migrating south recently, North Carolina has emerged as a viable home for elite-level athletes to hone their skills. Perhaps the state does not yet compare with the likes of Texas, California or Florida in terms of consistently churning out the best in the land year after year. Outside of the big three, though, it seems there may not be a greater pipeline for out-of-state powers to poach players.
Just be watching Aug. 31 to see for yourself.
Staff Writer Daniel Kennedy can be reached at 888-3575, or firstname.lastname@example.org.