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April 26, 2013

Schools take practice off campus to entice local kids

MORE: Rivals Camp Series presented by Under Armour

Dallas Jackson is the National Columnist for Rivals.com. Email him your comments or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.

College football coaches are a purposeful lot. So when North Carolina decided to move practices from Chapel Hill to Charlotte (N.C.) Mallard Creek and then Greensboro (N.C.) Grimsley, there was clearly a reason.

The program -- much like Duke, N.C. State and Wake Forest -- has struggled to keep top-ranked local players and in an effort to curb the exodus, the Tar Heels are making a concerted effort to take the show on the road.

The early returns of those decisions have yet to be tabulated, but the fact that Charlotte (N.C.) Catholic five-star running back Elijah Hood took notice was a step in the right direction.

"I think that's kind of cool," Hood said. "It's always good to spread your influence and lock down your state.

"North Carolina is a great state for recruiting and I think a lot of SEC teams would be very happy with some of the kids they got out of here and if those kids start seeing North Carolina everywhere they could start committing to North Carolina and that could change the program."

The last time in-state programs closed the borders was with the Class of 2009 when North Carolina and Duke combined to sign eight of the 10 highest-ranked prospects in the state.


In the Class of 2010, only one player in the top 10 went to the SEC. Three went to N.C. State and only one went to North Carolina -- No. 8 T.J. Leifheit.

In the past three years, the SEC broke through the barriers and raided the best from the state.

The Class of 2011 saw four of the top five players from the state go to SEC teams. The highest-ranked player North Carolina was able to secure was T.J. Thorpe at No. 7.

The next season did not change much as the SEC claimed six players within the top 10, including the four highest-ranked. North Carolina teams signed only one player of the top 10, with UNC securing James Summers, who was No. 9.

North Carolina was able to bolster the top end by signing second-ranked T.J. Logan in the Class of 2013, but he was the lone player in the top 10 to go to any school in the state. The SEC signed five players from the top 10.

Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said the aggressive approach might be just what it takes to stem the tide.

NOT JUST UNC
Moving a practice -- or even a controlled scrimmage -- off campus is a statement that a program is looking to dig in its heels to recruit an area. When Ohio State packed up the buses and played its spring game at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati instead of at The Horseshoe in Columbus, well that was a shot across the bow of newly hired Tommy Tuberville and his Bearcats program.

Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said that the message was intended to be delivered loud and clear.

"It is part of the plan for Urban Meyer," Farrell said. "He wants to own Cincinnati because it is a talent bed. Having his spring game there and being active in the area is saying to the high school coaches, 'If Ohio State offers your kid then we expect them to be a Buckeye.'

"Ohio State doesn't have to do that because it owns the state already but it is a huge statement that they did."

Several other schools went away from home to have controlled scrimmages or play its spring game.


Below is the list of those schools:

IOWA: Held a practice at West Des Moines (Iowa) Valley and drew nearly 8,000 fans.

PITTSBURGH: Played its spring game at local Bethel Park (Pa.) High instead of Heinz Field.

SOUTHERN MISS: Due to an F4 tornado, the team played its Black and Gold Game at Petal (Miss.) High.

TEXAS TECH: Went 120 miles south of campus to Midland (Texas) High for an intra-squad scrimmage.

TULANE: Building a new on-campus stadium forced the team to Tad Gormley Stadium for its spring game.

WASHINGTON STATE: Had "Spokane Week" -- including parades -- then played at Joe Albi Stadium.

"It is forward thinking and creative so I am all for it," he said. "To move a scrimmage to Mallard Creek is smart because it is the major program in Charlotte and there is a big alumni base there for them. By doing it like this schools are winning in two ways: they can cater to recruits and fans by coming closer to them and then they are able to give back to the area high school coaches and show them some support."

Mike Palmieri is the head coach at Mallard Creek and he said that if the move was an olive branch to his peers in the region, then it worked.

"A lot of the other local coaches thought it was a great idea," Palmieri said.

"It was a just a practice but it was to show support to the people in our area. They didn't have any access to recruits and it was business as usual for them. They got off the bus and got to work. They had their practice and left. I still think that it was good to have kids be able to see them and for the families to see the team, too."

Mallard Creek also hosted the Charlotte stop of the Rivals Camp Series presented by Under Armour and the turf field and facilities were part of what drew both events to the school.

Of 13 players who have signed since Mallard Creek opened, Palmieri has had three sign with the Tar Heels, and he hopes that the relationship continues with North Carolina.

"I would think they will come back," he said. "It seems to have gone over well on our end and I hope it was good for them, too."

Farrell has his doubts that the move off-campus will be the next big idea in recruiting tactics.

"If this is about feeding the community your product and making relationships with coaches that ultimately will lead to a pipeline to your school, then I believe it could be successful and expanded upon," he said. "If it is just about landing a player or two, then I can't see that the ends will justify the means.

"I think it will have to be tempered and used at the right schools, too. If I am a 17-year-old, it is probably pretty cool to be able to go up the street and see the team, but really it isn't that far of a drive to get to the school if you really want to.

"Also if you are a middle-of-the-road team, then you are feeding a smaller fan base and if you are big school -- the dominant school in the state -- is it really worth the bus ride for the current players who probably hate the idea?"

The current players may not be among the groups whose wishes are taken into account. The North Carolina coaching staff is focusing on filling the bus the next year with Charlotte-area kids and making that 140-mile, one-way bus ride more tolerable for players as they will be showcasing their talents in front of family and friends.



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