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Where Are Losers On Signing Day?

February 10, 2009

By Jim Young

Ralph Friedgen got a huge recruit on National Signing Day when offensive lineman Pete White chose Maryland over Miami and Tennessee.       (Mitch Stringer/PressBox)
Why is National Signing Day for prospective college athletes so popular? What makes grown men anxiously await the decisions of 17- and 18-year-olds, even though the impact of those decisions likely won't be known for at least another three years?

Perhaps it's because everyone wins on National Signing Day. When was the last time a coach came to the podium after all the hats were donned and the papers signed and uttered something similar to this:

"Well, I'm disappointed. We just didn't get it done on the recruiting trail. Obviously we'll have to work extra hard next season to make up for all the talent we failed to bring in this time around."

That will never happen.

Every coach is -- at least publicly -- thrilled with the collection of recruits his team brings in on National Signing Day, and fans usually follow suit. If the backup quarterback is always everyone's favorite player, the incoming recruit can't be far behind in the pecking order.

Maybe everyone does win on National Signing Day, but some programs clearly win more than others. Here's a look at some of the winners in the ACC.

Maryland got a huge -- both literally and figuratively -- recruit when the Terps landed Washington offensive lineman Pete White. Will the 325-pound behemoth turn into an all-conference stud? Who knows? But beating out Miami and Tennessee for White was a major symbolic victory for Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen, who has taken criticism in the past for failing to protect the talent in his backyard.

In-state recruiting is the major reason why the University of North Carolina has to be considered a big winner in this recruiting cycle, landing eight of the top 12 recruits in the Tar Heel state, according to That's a two-fold accomplishment. First, UNC was able to get a lot of commitments last spring and summer, when all Butch Davis had to sell was a 4-8 season. Second, the top in-state players that the Tar Heels landed later -- like Gastonia wideout Jheranie Boyd -- often chose UNC over some big-name suitors.

Does the success of UNC therefore mean that N.C. State came up short on signing day? Not necessarily. Not when Wolfpack coach Tom O'Brien, who has built a well-deserved reputation for developing lesser-known recruits into top players, is involved.

The UNC-N.C. State rivalry will provide an interesting case in future years to test two opposing theories about recruiting. UNC fans think they'll come out on top because Davis is bringing in classes loaded with four- and five-star recruits. Wolfpack fans believe that O'Brien recruits to a system and develops players so well that he renders recruiting rankings irrelevant.

That's pretty much what O'Brien did at his previous job at Boston College. It looks like new BC coach Frank Spaziani will have to follow a similar path because most analysts have ranked his first recruiting class last in the 12-team ACC. That happens when you only sign 17 recruits, only one of which was rated as a four-star prospect by and

Of course, 17 seems like a tidal wave of recruits compared to the 12-player class that Clemson signed. While the prospects the Tigers did bring in are highly rated, Clemson fans had to be wondering about the ones that slipped away during the turmoil of the mid-season coaching change. Adding insult to those recruiting injuries was the fact that bitter rival South Carolina was a beneficiary, picking up several players who backed away from their commitment to Clemson after coach Tommy Bowden's resignation.

Not that new Clemson coach Dabo Swinney showed any disappointment at his press conference. He has already taken to calling his class the "Dandy Dozen."

Why shouldn't Swinney be excited? He had just been through his first National Signing Day and, like all of his fellow coaches nationwide, he emerged undefeated.

Jim Young is the editor of

Issue 134: February 2009