- Craig Haubert, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Carolinas are rapidly growing, and as they do, the talent level is getting better and deeper. As recently as ten years ago, an article like this would have included both states, but the talent in each is so good, they deserve to get recognized separately.
North Carolina tends to get labeled as a basketball state, but this is still the South and its people love their football just as much here. The state boasts five Division I football programs, four of which compete in the ACC. The state is also home to back-to-back Division I-AA national champions Appalachian State, which recently grabbed headlines with their upset win over Michigan in Ann Arbor.
Since the inception of the ESPN 150, North Carolina has had at least four prospects in it every year, with a high of nine in the 2007 class. The state also boasts four participants in the inaugural ESPNU High School All-American game with athlete Brandon Barnes (Bunn, NC), safety Spencer Adams (Matthews, NC / Butler), tight end Dwayne Allen (Fayetteville, NC / ) and quarterback Braden Hanson (Charlotte, NC /Latin) all accepting invitations.
Interestingly, the majority of the prospects tend to stay in the South with mainly ACC and SEC programs.
Brandon Barnes, Athlete
Verbal: N.C. State
According to Bunn coach David Howle, the only thing settled about Barnes' arrival in Raleigh is that he will not be playing offensive line or pouring Gatorade. The nation's No. 4 athlete plays several positions in high school, and it is still unclear where N.C. State plans to use him; he's being considered at running back, free safety, cornerback and wide receiver.
Barnes does not express any interest in one particular position, but Howle thinks his best fit in the long haul will be at free safety.
"I just see him on defensive side of the ball. He closes on the ball and jumps well," he said.
Regardless of what he plays, he is a promising prospect who should be an important piece of the rebuilding process for new Wolfpack head coach Tom O'Brien.
The ESPNU All-American participant will be a prospect to keep an eye on in the competitive skills challenge to air on ESPN2 with his combination of good size, speed and excellent hands.
While many could not find Bunn, N.C., on a map, Barnes is actually the second consecutive top-30 prospect from that high school; current Notre Dame defender Kerry Neal ranked No. 26 in the 2007 ESPN 150.
Under the Radar Player
Marquan Brown, Running back
Grays Creek (Hope Mills, N.C.)
Verbal: East Carolina
Sometimes good things come in small packages, but sometimes those small packages get overlooked. Brown falls into that category as a short, stout running back who can fly.
He reminds us some of Garrett Wolfe, the diminutive runner who had great success at Northern Illinois. While Brown may register as small, he is tough. He has a thick build, runs low to the ground, has great balance and vision and can burst through the hole. Like many good small backs before him he will use his size -- or lack thereof -- to his advantage by getting lost behind his offensive line and exploiting tiny creases. He can be dangerous in the open field with exceptional speed and a second gear to pull away from the pack and can also contribute in the passing game as he soft hands.
Brown's size probably scared some schools away, but he can be a productive player. He could end up to be a real steal for the Pirates.
Butch Davis took the Tar Heels job late last fall and quickly made a splash with the class he signed. The man can clearly recruit, but his 2008 Tar Heel class is off to a slow start. He has four high school commitments and has retained a commitment from a 2007 pledge who is currently at a prep school. One of the four is a possible quarterback of the future Braden Hanson (Charlotte, NC / Latin), a tall, lefty pocket passer.
Tom O'Brien left Boston College for conference foe N.C. State and its more fertile recruiting base. So far, he has experienced good success. He has commitments from two ESPN 150 prospects -- Barnes and quarterback Mike Glennon (Centreville, Va. / Westfield). He has also been very diligent in-state, as eight of his 11 high school commitments are from N.C. natives.
Wake Forest burst into the national spotlight in 2006 with an unexpected ACC championship. Riding the wave of positive exposure, the Demon Deacons are assembling a solid 2008 class. Concentration has been heavy in Florida, with six high school commitments including Riley Haynes (Ponte Verda, Fla. / Nease).
Duke has a win and pretty solid class under their belt so far this season. No. 21-rated athlete Donovan Varner (Miami, Fla. / Gulliver Prep) heads a commit class from several different states, including Ohio, Texas and Massachusetts.
The Pirates' focus so far has been solely in-state. Marquan Brown is a good one, and though athlete Darius Spencer (Asheville, N.C./Reynolds) is a verbal commitment, he is still being recruited by other in-state schools.
Christopher Lawlor's Game of the Week
Northeast Guilford-McLeansville (5-1) at Western Alamance-Elon (7-0), Friday, 7:30 p.m. ET
The result will jostle Triad League standings. Western Alamance has outscored opponents, 332-95, averaging nearly 40 points. In a 40-7 victory over Rockingham County, QB Donald Britt passed for four TDs, including two to WR Levon Curtis, and RB Billy Williamson rushed for two scores. Northeast Guilford's RB Tyler Woods is fresh off a 245-yard, five-TD performance in a 49-21 win over Southern Alamance (Graham). --Lawlor