By Lee Pace
Tar Heel assistant coaches Chris Kapilovic and Randy Jordan drove to Winston-Salem the first Saturday in December to watch the NCHSAA 3-AA state title game between Northern Guilford High and Charlotte Catholic. The primary object of their attention was T.J. Logan, the gifted Northern Guilford running back who earlier in the summer had committed to the Tar Heels and so far had held strong throughout the fall while every collegiate powerhouse in the nation sought to get a foothold. Scholarship offers came from California on the West Coast, Auburn in the Deep South and Ohio State in the Midwest.
Blink: Logan on a 46-yard reverse for a touchdown. Kapilovic, the Tar Heels' offensive line coach who has as a primary recruiting territory the Greensboro and Guilford County areas, and Jordan, Carolina's running backs coach, applaud the action.
"T.J. was a different kind of kid to recruit," says Kapilovic. "He did not enjoy the process. He has no ego. It's all about his teammates and the offensive line opening the holes. He didn't worry about how many stars he could get, he wasn't interested in going to combines, he was not interested in doing interviews."
Swoosh: Logan for 27 yards and a touchdown. Kapilovic and Jordan are enjoying the show.
"He's an amazing runner because he looks like he's jogging," Jordan says. "He's running faster than everyone else, but he's not breaking a sweat and it looks so effortless."
Boom: Logan runs for seven tough yards inside. Kapilovic and Jordan exchange knowing smiles.
"For all the big runs he had, the play I really remember was an inside zone," Jordan says. "There was nowhere to go, but he put his shoulder pads down, got his pads out in front and got his legs churning in the back. He pushed the pile and slammed it up for about seven yards. That showed me he's not a track guy playing football, he is a football player."
Thwack: Logan high-tails it in his 4.4 speed another 80 yards for his third score of the game. Kapilovic and Jordan are jabbing and nudging one another with fists and elbows. The run was noteworthy at the end because Logan, as he crossed the goal, simply bent over and placed the ball on the ground-not a hint of celebratory histrionics ever.
"He's been to the end zone plenty of times, he doesn't have to make a big deal of it," Carolina head coach Larry Fedora says. "He's knows he'll be back soon."
"It was an amazing display," Kapilovic says. "It was a state championship game, so it was against good-quality competition. Against a top opponent, what he was doing was pretty special."
Pop: There goes Logan out toward the hash, cuts in, dashing 85 yards for yet another touchdown. It's his fourth of the game and the rout is on. By the final whistle, Logan scores eight touchdowns and has 510 yards rushing as Northern Guilford collects its second straight state championship, 65-26. He rushed for 3,146 yards as a senior and no telling how many yards he could have had if he'd played the entire game of lopsided wins; as it was, Logan saw action in only two fourth quarters of 15 games.
"All of a sudden," Kapilovic says, "I figured out my job had just gotten a lot harder. T.J. was already on everyone's radar, but this was going to go national. If they weren't coming after him hard already, they sure were now."
In the end, Logan never budged from his commitment to the Tar Heels and on Wednesday became one of the highlights of the 17-member class signed by Fedora and staff in their first full year of recruiting in Chapel Hill. The group includes four players who have already enrolled, nine offensive players and eight defensive players. That Logan committed so early (he pledged to the Tar Heels in early July 2012) and that his recruiting was void of drama tended to dull the reality of how special a player the Tar Heels got as they approach this fall having to replace Gio Bernard.
"We did get the best guy in the state of North Carolina," recruiting coordinator Walt Bell says. "There's a misconception that we didn't. We did."
Fedora predicted this class, ranked 20th nationally by ESPN.com, "will be the basis for multiple championships at the University of North Carolina," and he cited its athleticism, versatility, high football IQ and the intangibles that are always important but even more so today in the wake of the Tar Heels' much-publicized off-the-field travails since the summer of 2010.
"You look in their chest, and these guys have a will to succeed," Fedora says. "They want to be good not only on the field but in the classroom."
"We hold the players accountable and Coach Fedora holds the coaches accountable," says wide receivers coach Gunter Brewer. "We look under every rock evaluating these kids, on and off the field. We don't want to make any mistakes. We're involved in every facet of their lives-academics, personal, training. Before around here, it was, 'Oh, academics is in charge of that,' or, 'The weight room's in charge of that.' Now everybody's in charge of everybody. It's a personal approach rather than a shot-gun approach."
Carolina signed seven players from the state of North Carolina and traveled further from home for five of its most significant signees-defensive linemen Greg Webb and Dajaun Drennon of Timber Creek High in Sicklerville, N.J., defensive end Mikey Bart of Buford, Ga., quarterback Mitch Trubisky of Mentor, Ohio., and A-back Ryan Switzer of Charleston, W.Va.
Finding some help along the defensive front was one priority this winter given the departure of Sylvester Williams and the Tar Heels' inability in 2012 to generate a consistent pass rush on the edge. They hope to have addressed that need with Webb, Drennon and Bart, along with Nazair Jones of Roanoke Rapids and Marquis Haynes of Jacksonville, Fla.
"People can't realize down here how good Greg Webb and Dajaun Drennon are," says co-defensive coordinator Vic Koenning. "They are high-profile guys for us. I've watched a bunch of football over the years, and to be honest I'm not sure I've ever seen a tougher guy than Mikey Bart. Those three guys for sure will be impact guys. The others may take a little more time. But I'm very confident those three guys will come in and contribute. With the numbers we have, we're going to have to get help from those guys. We can't have what we had last year-guys going 60 to 70 snaps a game because we didn't have any back-ups. It's not fair."
The recruitment of Trubisky, named Mr. Football in the state of Ohio as the top player across all classifications, and of Switzer, a player that Bell termed "outside the hashes, the most dynamic player in America," each began exactly one year ago as the Tar Heel staff closed its 2012 signing class and began watching junior film.
Offensive coordinator Blake Anderson has a small geographical recruiting area in the state of North Carolina, but his primary job in recruiting is to find quarterbacks-locally and nationally. Trubisky stood out in Anderson's tape review last February and made the list of some 10 quarterbacks he wanted to go see during the spring recruiting and evaluation period. Anderson on his trip to Mentor was convinced that Trubisky's physical ability combined with his intelligence, poise and drive was a good match and he offered Trubisky last spring. Meanwhile, other schools were slow to make up their minds. Trubisky committed to Carolina in May and never wavered during the fall when his 2012 performance-more than 4,000 yards passing-showed other recruiters they'd made a mistake not coming after him sooner.
The Saturday in mid-November after Carolina beat Virginia in Charlottesville on Thursday night, Anderson went to Cleveland to watch Trubisky and Mentor High in the state playoffs against St. Ignatius. Mentor won the game 57-56 in triple overtime, with Trubisky passing for 410 yards, rushing for 140 and accounting for six touchdowns in front of a frenzied crowd of nearly 10,000 fans. Anderson was even more convinced afterward he'd found his man.
"The game was an emotional roller coaster, a lot of people were going crazy," Anderson says. "It was do-or-die, loser-go-home. There was amazing pressure and tension-in the stands, on the sideline, on the field, even with the coaches. They had several third-and-longs, a fourth-and-11. What struck me in the heat of all this was Mitch's poise and demeanor. It never got to him. He was calm and never broke stride. He put his hands up, calmed his guys down and told them what they were going to do. It was unique for someone that young to have the composure he had. That was very impressive."
The Tar Heels had also gotten a commitment back in the spring from Switzer, a 5-10, 175-pound firecracker who was originally leaning toward Penn State. One priority last winter for Anderson and Brewer was finding an "A-back"-so-named for a player's "all-skills" abilities in running, catching and kick-returning. Switzer's abilities stood out as Bell and Anderson were canvassing the reams of tape supplied by one of Carolina's clearinghouse film services.
"Call it luck or divine intervention or whatever, we had a little with Ryan," Anderson said. "His tape came across my desk, I looked at it and it piqued my interest. The A-back was not a position the previous staff used, so we were short on those guys on campus. It was a priority. We were able to get in with Ryan very early."
A serendipitous lunch at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis last February also tilted another domino in the Tar Heels' direction. Brewer attended the combine at the behest of Justin Blackmon, the receiver he coached while at Oklahoma State. Brewer was showing Blackmon tape of Switzer on his phone over lunch-"Watch this kid, he's become a Youtube sensation," Brewer said-when one of Blackmon's agents sitting at the table said he was a neighbor in Charlotte with David Switzer, the principal at Ardrey Kell High and just coincidentally Ryan's uncle.
"You never burn a bridge, because you never know when you're going to have to pass back over that bridge," says Brewer, who spent four years in the state of West Virginia in the 1990s coaching at Marshall. "That lunch started a chain of events with the Switzer family looking into my background at Marshall, looking into what this staff had done with the A-back at other schools. David Switzer talked to Justin about me privately, if I'd be a good fit with his nephew, that kind of thing.
"Blake did a great job getting in the door with Ryan and the family, then I worked it from the back end, so to speak. In the end, it was a great fit for both of us."
As it was with Logan and the rest of the signing class. Fedora was stunned a couple of months ago to receive in the mail a hand-written "thank-you" note from Logan, expressing his gratitude for being given a scholarship offer.
"In 26 years in this business I've never gotten a 'thank-you' note from a kid," Fedora says. "It was so meticulously written and neat that I had to go ask Kap, 'Is this for real?' He assured me it was. I was very impressed. Like I said, this group has the right values, the will to succeed. T.J.'s a great example of that."
Lee Pace has written "Extra Points" since 1990 and reported from the sidelines for the Tar Heel Sports Network since 2004.